Japanese right-handed reliever Ryota Igarashi may be close to a deal with the New York Mets, depending on when you last checked your Twitter timeline. Even if he decides to sign with the Red Sox instead, I’d have to classify the team’s pursuit of Igarashi as a success. It’s a indicative of a shift in philosophy the Mets have made toward building a bullpen.
Last year, Omar Minaya, haunted by an inflammable bullpen, placed a premium on relief pitching. He signed Francisco Rodriguez to a three-year, $37.5 million dollar contract and traded a haul of useful players for the right to pay J.J. Putz five million dollars. Neither deal really worked out, despite what the team would have you believe about K-Rod’s 2009 season. This year, instead of targeting other team’s closers or high priced middle relief flotsam, the Mets appear to be pursuing other alternatives to improve the ‘pen.
Minor League Free Agency: Last week, the team signed 25-year old Clint Everts, former 2002 first round draft pick of Omar Minaya in Montreal. He pitched to a 2.97 FIP in just less than 60 A+/AA/AAA innings for the Nationals organization. He’s shown the ability to induce ground balls and generate strikeouts against both left and right handed hitters. He has a bit of a control problem, especially against left handed hitters, but his strengths would suit him well in a bullpen role. Of course, this is all contingent on his ability to handle major league hitters, but you have to like this signing.
Japan: Ted Berg wrote a little bit about Ryota Igarashi here. He throws hard, strikes people out, has an assortment of pitches and is pretty wild. Again, strikeouts are the key here and paramount to successful relief pitching. Taking a flier on the Japanese Fernando Rodney for $2M-$3M is much more palatable than signing the real one to a market rate contract.
Reclamation Project: An ace in his own right behind John Lackey, Kelvim Escobar was a lynchpin of the Angels pitching staff from 2004-2007. Sidelined for virtually two seasons due to shoulder surgery, Escobar wants to return in a relief role and that shouldn’t be a problem. Escobar closed for the Blue Jays as 21-year old rookie in 1997 and later in 2002. While it’s doubtful that he’ll strike out a batter an inning again, a return to his pre-injury level of 7.00 K/9 complimented by respectable walk and ground ball rates and no significant platoon split, Kelvim would make a fine high-leverage bullpen option.
While none of these players are any guarantee to contribute positively to the Mets in 2010 (and at this time, only one is even signed), I come away impressed with the team’s willingness to target relatively cheap bullpen options with legitimate upside. Pitchers like Brandon Lyon and Latroy Hawkins have signed multi-year, multi-million dollar deals because they have the “experience” and they’ve “pitched in big spots” despite mediocre results. Their output can be matched or bested easily and inexpensively using the tact the Mets appear to be employing. I’m not sure if this is a case of budgetary restriction or the team finally learning their lesson, but I’m at least encouraged by this development.