Mets' options to replace Parnell plentiful, uncertain
Valverde the closer while Alderson keeps tabs on Minors, free-agent market
NEW YORK -- Sunday's news that Bobby Parnell will undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery did not exactly send ripples through the Mets' front office, as Parnell admitted last week that there was a "50-50" chance he would eventually undergo the procedure.
The more he thought about it, apparently, the more it made sense. And by scheduling the operation for Tuesday, Parnell greatly increased the chances that he will be ready by Opening Day 2015.
With that in mind, the Mets are not making any grand plans to replace Parnell. General manager Sandy Alderson continues to monitor the closers on the open market, according to one team executive, but he is not ready to pounce on one just yet -- or, perhaps, ever.
Two factors explain Alderson's hesitancy. First, the Mets are genuinely curious to see what three-time All-Star Jose Valverde can give them in the ninth inning. Considering Valverde's successful 12-year history of closing games and his early success out of the bullpen this season, there is reason to believe he can be just as effective as Joel Hanrahan, Ryan Madson or any other free agent working his way back from injury.
Manager Terry Collins is also smitten with the way Valverde worked with the younger Latin pitchers in Spring Training, mentoring Jeurys Familia, Gonzalez Germen, Jenrry Mejia and others. Booting Valverde from his role would damage that dynamic.
"He's been very impressive," Collins said of Valverde, who is unscored upon in 3 1/3 innings this season, with six strikeouts and a walk. "He really commands some respect from the younger pitchers, especially the Latin pitchers. He's a true leader. He's very open with stuff. Tremendous work ethic."
That does not mean Valverde is infallible, however, particularly at the age of 36. That is why the Mets are mapping out a plan to see some of their top starting pitching prospects -- Rafael Montero, Jacob deGrom, et al -- out of the bullpen at Triple-A Las Vegas. The hope is not only to limit the innings of that group early this summer, but also to position its members for potential relief cameos as soon as May.
Teams such as the Cardinals have a long history of successfully breaking top starting pitching prospects into the big leagues as relievers, and the Mets could soon follow that blueprint.
"We're looking down the road, that perhaps they're going to have to come up here and pitch out of the bullpen," Collins said of Montero and deGrom in particular. "The first thing you want to do is get them out there and get them comfortable. Get them a couple of starts. And then at some time, they're going to pitch out of the bullpen in Triple-A, so when they get here, they're accustomed to it. They know how to warm up. They get themselves ready."
Even if neither of those plans works, the Mets by that time should have better reads on Familia, Germen, Vic Black and the other young relievers who have closing potential. Only after exploring those options will the Mets seriously consider signing someone from outside the organization.
Hanrahan, 32, would be the most obvious choice considering the Mets scouted him this winter. But the former Pirates and Red Sox closer is still just 11 months removed from his own Tommy John surgery, so he may not be a meaningful contributor right away. Madson, 33, also has questions regarding his elbow health, and Kevin Gregg has been less reliable than Valverde in recent years.
If the Mets remain competitive deep into the summer, signing one of those free agents might make more sense than it does now. But all of them could be off the market by then, and if the Mets are indeed competitive at that time, it will probably mean they found a reliable closer from within the organization.
That could be Valverde. It could be Kyle Farnsworth. It could be Montero, deGrom, Familia or Black.
All the Mets know right now, as Parnell prepares for surgery, is that the options to replace him are as uncertain as they are plentiful.