FRANK FRANCISCO, RHP
PRESEASON EXPECTATIONS: The Mets thought they plugged two serious bullpen holes with the signings of Jon Rauch and Frank Francisco, both of whom pitched effectively at times for Toronto in 2011. The two combined for 107 appearances, so the Mets knew they were getting some reliability. However, obviously overlooked by the Mets were the reasons why they weren’t brought back by the Blue Jays in the first place. Francisco walked 18 and gave up seven homers in 50.2 innings. And, he did it for $4 million. Rauch gave up 11 homers in 52 innings. In Rauch, the Mets had to deal with a pitcher who didn’t pitch after Sept. 2, 2011, with a knee injury. And, he did so at the bargain rate of $3.5 million. The Blue Jays decided they could get mediocre production for less. Meanwhile, the Mets decided to give Francisco and Rauch $5.5 million and $3.5 million, respectively. For that kind of money, the Mets had a right to expect holes would be filled. With the Mets no longer sold on Bobby Parnell at the time, they envisioned Rauch in the set-up role and Francisco as the closer.
2012 SEASON REVIEW: It was hit and miss all season for both. Rauch got off to a good start going 3-0 with three holds and a 2.53 ERA in April, but was 0-4 with a 5.56 ERA in May. Rauch was strong in July and August, but was hammered in September, giving up four homers in nine innings. For the season, Rauch had a decent 1.22 WHIP, but also blew four saves and gave up seven homers. Francisco was strong at the start of the season when the Mets’ bullpen was decent, but struggled in the second half, went on the disabled list and ended the season with a strained side muscle watching Parnell close for much of September. Francisco saved 23 games, which any closer should get by accident. Francisco averaged 14.5 base runners per nine innings (10 hits and 4.5 walks), so he was always in trouble. A 5.53 ERA says the same thing.
LOOKING AT 2013: Francisco will be back simply because he is signed for $6.5 million. His is a contract the Mets would love to scuttle, but he’ll be back in the closer role. Rauch was erratic to the point where the Mets won’t be inclined to bring him back as they know they can get similar production for less money on the free-agent market.
NEXT: Josh Thole
BOBBY PARNELL, RHP
PRESEASON EXPECTATIONS: Actually, considering his new role entering spring training, the expectations of Bobby Parnell – he of the fastball of 100 mph. – were minimal. Parnell could not seize the closer, set-up and even starter roles when given the opportunity in previous seasons, so the Mets dropped him to the seventh inning in the wake of signing Jon Rauch (set-up) and Frank Francisco (closer) from Toronto in the offseason. Parnell has exceptional stuff capable of three figures on his fastball, but hasn’t consistently commanded his secondary pitches or been able to challenge hitters with his location and pitch selection. In addition, that overpowering fastball often didn’t have movement and looked like it was on a tee. Anybody’s fastball can be hit if there’s no lateral or dip movement. So, knowing his inconsistencies, despite his potential, the Mets penciled Parnell in for the seventh inning role.
2012 SEASON REVIEW: Parnell struggled early as five of eight inherited runners scored against him in April. However, Parnell righted himself and only four more out of 20 scored the rest of the season. When Rauch hit the skids and Francisco was injured and erratic, Parnell inherited their roles and was exceptional. Parnell was 1-1 with two holds and three saves (no blown saves) in September, and went 2-1 with a save in August. Parnell still had his fastball, but his sinker and command was much better as the season progressed. Parnell finished at 5-4 with a 2.49 ERA and 1.23 WHIP. Parnell had streaks of wildness in the past, but last season walked only 20 in 68.2 innings pitched. He also struck out 61 and batters hit .249 off him with a .303 on-base percentage. The batting and on-base averages were career bests.
LOOKING AT 2013: Parnell made $504,000 last season, and should be offered arbitration for 2013. With Rauch not expected back and Francisco another year remaining on his contract to close, expect Parnell to be slotted into the eighth-inning set-up role, or close if Francisco isn’t physically able. The Mets have given up on Parnell as a potential starter and now figure him as their closer-of-the-future – again. It takes some pitchers longer than others to reach their potential and Parnell had been erratic since 2008 until the end of last season. The Mets’ bullpen unraveled late last year with the exception of Parnell and Manny Acosta late. I don’t know if Parnell will ever fulfill his long-range expectations, but for the first time in several years the Mets aren’t pulling their hair out over him. That has to be a plus, right?
National League fans have known for years how exciting a player David Wright can be. This weekend, Toronto gets to see the National League’s best third baseman, and arguably the best in the majors.
WRIGHT: On fire. (AP)
At least this year he has been. Another day, another key hit by Wright, who is in one of the hottest stretches of his career. His average is over .400 and his on-base percentage is over .500. Terry Collins wasn’t just blowing smoke when he compared Wright to Barry Bonds.
While Wright hasn’t hit with Bonds’ power, he is displaying the a similar plate presence and patience. Wright is laying off the down and outside pitch; he’s going the opposite way when he needs to; and he’s yanking the inside pitch down the line. And, when the pitch isn’t to his liking, he’s taking the walk.
Today, he had three of them in reaching base five times.
I watched a SNY special last night on the 50 greatest Mets. Wright was in the top ten, ahead of Jose Reyes. Before his career is over, and I’m betting he’ll finish it in Flushing, he could be second or third behind Tom Seaver and Dwight Gooden.
There was a crispness to the day. Both in the weather and the way the Mets played. It was a delightful day, one that gave us a glimpse of what could be when they put it all together. Hopefully, Mike Pelfrey was taking notes on Johan Santana and pitching out of trouble as he did in the fifth.
The talking heads on SNY – and I’m not talking the play-by-play team – were in their bombastic best yesterday, saying this is how it is going to be all year with Santana and the bullpen.
How do they know that?
It would be great if that were the case, but remember, Santana is coming off a complicated surgery and the bullpen is a patchwork group. Jon Rauch and Frank Francisco were good yesterday, but if they were that good Toronto would have kept them.
Tim Byrdak was key, but how much of that was adrenalin?
I hope what they are saying happens. Damn, I want this to be a good year for the Mets. I don’t want to rain on the parade, but I guess that’s what I am here for – to put some objectivity to the picture.
Yesterday was fun. It was memorable. But, tomorrow is the real opening day.
It isn’t as if the Mets want to trade Jon Niese, but he’s one of the few valuable chips they have to deal. Left-handed starters are always a premium and the Mets are hoping to bring back a starter, catcher and infielder. Niese ended the season on the disabled list, so his health is a concern making it doubtful they’ll get that much.
And, if they don’t, what’s the point considering pitching is their biggest need.
Reportedly, the Yankees, Boston, Toronto, San Diego and Colorado inquired. If this is the fire sale it seems to be, I don’t see them dealing with the Yankees unless they overpay.