From Left Field: Can The Strategy In The Bullpen Work?

The Mets seem to be rolling the dice when it comes to bringing in veterans on minor-league deals to compete for spots in the bullpen.

The team will likely head north in about two months with seven relievers, but spring training will decide who those lucky seven are.

LaTroy Hawkins and Scott Atchison were recently signed to minor-league deals. Do these guys have enough left in the tank to be contributors to this year’s bullpen?

Seriously, what do the Mets have to lose? At the very worst, Hawkins and Atchison will light a fire under the younger relievers who are battling for a roster spot.

Robert Carson and Josh Edgin had strong moments in 2012 but were inconsistent for the most part. Bobby Parnell is expected to keep progressing, and Jeremy Hefner will likely latch on as the long man in the pen.

The Mets signed side-armer Greg Burke to a minor-league deal early in the offseason, so we’ll see what he’s got this spring. Youngsters Jeurys Familia and Elvin Ramirez will also be given a long look.

With the exception of Parnell (who has been inconsistent in his own right), none of the above in-house bullpen candidates are proven commodities. But since relief pitching in general is such a volatile position, the Mets could either have the makings of a solid bullpen, or they could completely tank.

If a few of these arms can get hot at the right time, they could form a strong unit, especially if either Hawkins or Atchison (or both) can be effective. With the team’s lack of offense, it will be imperative for the bullpen to hold rare leads late in games.

And then of course there’s Frank Francisco. The Mets took a gamble bringing him in last year, and for the most part that backfired. But it wasn’t just a one-and-done with Frankie; he signed a two-year deal.

I wish the Mets would bring in some legitimate closing competition for Francisco. Parnell is on the doorstep of becoming a closer, but he needs to work through his inconsistencies to take the next step.

On the free-agent market, Brian Wilson, Matt Capps and Jose Valverde are still available. Valverde fell out of favor with Detroit in last year’s playoffs, while Wilson has already auditioned for the Mets but seems unwilling to accept a minor-league deal.

But as spring training nears, Wilson may be forced to lower his demands and prove that he can still close.

On a minor-league deal, I would love to see the Mets sign Wilson. Nothing would be guaranteed, and he would have to show the organization in spring training that he’s still got it.

Maybe Capps could be a guy the Mets bring in to push Francisco. However, he missed several months last season with the Twins dealing with shoulder inflammation.

Capps will probably draw interest on a Major-League deal, but again as the clock keeps ticking, he too may be forced to swallow his pride.

Signing one of these two closers to a minor-league deal would fit with Sandy Alderson’s theme of trying to piece together a bullpen of reclamation projects trying to resurrect their careers.

The good thing about this plan is that if it falters, not only would it be a short-term problem, but also none of the contracts would be guaranteed.

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