Bullpen Idol – The Mets search for a closer

Posted on 04 February 2013 by Trish Vignola

The way things are going…Mr. Met might be the closer.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, second from left, high-fives Mr. Met as Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, left, and New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon, right, look on after it was announced that the 2013 All-Star game will be hosted by the Mets at Citi Field, during a news conference at New York's City Hall,  Wednesday, May 16, 2012. The Mets last hosted the All-Stars in 1964, the year Shea Stadium opened. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

Frank Francisco‘s time as Mets closer looks like it’s coming to an end. General manager Sandy Alderson signed veteran relievers Scott Atchison and LaTroy Hawkins to Minor League deals earlier this week and they still aren’t done adding bullpen help. As per mlb.com, Alderson has made “no secret” that he would like to add at least one veteran reliever to a Major League deal.

Several intriguing options are available. The Tigers did not make a serious attempt to sign Jose Valverde. Their former closer lost his ninth-inning duties during Detroit’s World Series run last season. Although 33, Valverde saved 35 games in 40 chances with a 3.78 ERA last season. Statistically speaking, that was technically his worst season in years. Valverde has saved 277 games over a 10-year career with the D-backs, Astros and Tigers. He posted a 3.11 lifetime ERA with more than a strikeout per inning.

The Mets are still gauging the health of Brian Wilson. They have scheduled a second visit to watch the former Giants closer pitch. Whether the Mets sign Wilson depends in large part upon how they assess his recovery from Tommy John surgery. In a telephone interview with mlb.com, Alderson confirmed the team’s continued interest.

Brandon Lyon is available. His checkered career includes ninth-inning duties in Arizona and Houston. Familiar face Francisco Rodriguez is available as well. He served as the Mets’ closer from 2009-11. Only 31 years old, Rodriguez could help the Mets. He would though have to accept a significant decrease from the $8 million he made last season. Francisco is infamous in New York for assaulting his girlfriend’s father following a 2010 game at Citi Field.

Rodriguez and Valverde are both represented by Scott Boras, notorious for extracting top deals for his clients. Nonetheless, mlb.com reports the Mets have made it clear that they are not going to overpay for their bullpen.

Compromise is possible. Kyle Farnsworth‘s recent deal with the Rays signaled that the market for relief pitchers has softened considerably. Farnsworth, a former closer, can make no more than $3 million through base salary and incentives.

“There are still a bunch of names out there,” the insider reported to mlb.com, indicating his club’s preference to acquire one big name as opposed to two lesser ones. “The value now with the Farnsworth signing, it’s obviously changed considerably from where it was earlier in the winter. There are still several — maybe even more than that — guys that we think can help us at the back of the bullpen.”

If the Mets sign even one of them, it could spell the end of Francisco’s time as closer. Alderson has made it abundantly clear in recent weeks that he is not committed to his incumbent ninth-inning man, who still has one year and $6 million remaining on his contract.

Francisco fell out of favor with the organization after posting a 5.53 ERA in 48 appearances last year. He then underwent surgery after the season to remove a bone spur from his right elbow. Speaking on SNY’s Hot Stove show Thursday evening, Alderson went as far as to say he is not “terribly comfortable” with the idea of Francisco as his Opening Day closer.

“Coming out of last season, looking with what Frankie has been dealing with in the offseason as far as his elbow is concerned, I don’t know that we could have a lot of confidence in where we are,” Alderson said. “I hope that Frankie is able to step up. We’ve taken a lot of the time to look at other possibilities and ways that we can shore this up. At this point, we have added some pitching, but more at the front end of the bullpen as opposed to the back end.

“I think we’re going to have another guy or two between now and Spring Training. Now whether it’s a back-end guy that will really compete with Frankie, or whether Frankie is the guy going in and the competition comes from Bobby Parnell or someone else, who knows? We’ll just have to see.”

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