By Rich Coutinho
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It has been well documented that Sandy Alderson’s plan was to reconstruct a Mets bullpen that was horrendous in the second half of the 2011 season. He could have given all of that budgeted money to one “name closer,” but instead he decided to bring in three new faces to the ‘pen in the hopes that they could provide the depth that Terry Collins would need late in the game.
Two free agents signed with the team and both should contribute in a positive way. Frank Francisco, who averaged over a strikeout per inning last year, certainly has the heater to be a good closer as his 17 saves would suggest. He does need to be more consistent but his bullpen sessions down here have proven the stuff is there. Francisco’s ex-teammate with the Blue Jays, Jon Rauch, was also picked up, and he certainly has an impressive mound presence standing at an inch under seven feet tall. My thoughts on Rauch are that if he is used properly, he can be effective in the 7th inning role. Manny Acosta could share that chore with Rauch, as he really emerged in the final two months of the 2011 season for Collins.
And then there is Ramon Ramirez, whom I think could be the hidden jewel of the bullpen. He has a wicked slider and a competitive fire that was best illustrated when he took on the hot-headed Shane Victorino in a game last year. That alone should make him a fan favorite at Citi Field. But his numbers are very impressive — 68 2/3 innings pitched, 54 hits, 66 strikeouts. Those stats really jump out at you and make me believe he will be as good an 8th inning guy as there is.
I think if Francisco falters at all (and I don’t expect him to), Ramirez has the makeup and mindset to close, so that will be something to watch for. Tim Byrdak gives the team a solid left-handed specialist, and possibly Bobby Parnell or Pedro Beato could provide additional bullpen depth.
So what does this all mean for the Mets? Well, just think about the second half of last season, when so many games were coughed up late. This group has a chance to correct that malady, and at the same time compete with the bullpens of the National League East, all of which are all highly talented. This Mets relief corps does not have the names that others in the division possess. There are no Heath Bells or Jonathan Papelbons in this group, but make no mistake about it — this is a talented group.
We all saw how a talented back end of the bullpen made a big difference for the Braves, despite their late-season collapse. The Mets will be hard-pressed to duplicate the numbers of the talented Atlanta trio, but this Met bullpen has a real chance to make a big difference for Terry Collins. And that could go a long way towards closing the gap between the Mets and the other teams that reside in the tough NL East.