NEW YORK -- Jose Valverde is the Mets' closer.
Don't bother asking for how long, and don't bother asking where anyone else fits into the Mets' suddenly uncertain bullpen in the wake of Bobby Parnell's elbow injury. And certainly don't ask how the bullpen will look a month from now, or whether it can support a team that is supposed to have bigger goals.
A day after announcing that Parnell has a partially torn medial collateral ligament in his right elbow, the Mets spent Wednesday afternoon leaving the door open for almost anything -- including a possible Parnell return.
General manager Sandy Alderson said doctors believe Parnell has some chance at avoiding Tommy John surgery, in part because the tear is in a thicker part of the ligament (a different spot from where Matt Harvey's ligament was torn, for example). Parnell will miss considerable time, regardless, but the Mets may not know for six weeks whether he'll be lost for the entire season.
"There's always the risk that it will completely tear," Alderson said. "But because of the location, the doctors were comfortable with the conservative approach."
Alderson seems to be taking a similar approach in rebuilding the bullpen while Parnell is out.
Manager Terry Collins confirmed Wednesday that Valverde will get the first chance to close games. Collins said he'll likely mix and match with the eighth-inning role that was to be Valverde's but wasn't able to say who is likely to get the first shot at it.
Several veteran pitchers remain on the free-agent market, some still working to come back from injuries themselves. But Alderson suggested that the Parnell injury hasn't encouraged the Mets to move toward signing any of them.
"We want to see how things shake out over the next several weeks," he said.
The Mets will also consider promoting one or two of their young pitching prospects to fill a bullpen role (not top prospect Noah Syndergaard, but perhaps Rafael Montero or Jacob deGrom). But that's unlikely to happen soon either. Alderson said the plan is for the young pitchers to continue as starters at Triple-A Las Vegas for most of April before beginning to get some minor league work out of the bullpen.
Valverde's 286 career saves are more than all but two active closers (Joe Nathan and Francisco Rodriguez), but he's 36 years old and failed in the closer role last year with the Tigers. Valverde did pitch well for the Mets on Opening Day against the Nationals.
"I feel bad for Bobby," Valverde said. "What I want is for Bobby to be OK. I saw in spring training that he's a great guy and a good teammate. I want this guy to come back soon. I want him closing games for the Mets."
Maybe that could still happen this season. But like everything else with the Mets' bullpen, don't count on it.