DALLAS -- Unable to secure Jose Reyes, lacking the money to pursue a big name free agent, perhaps unwilling to trade David Wright and commit fully to a rebuilding project, the New York Mets instead turned to Plan D, or maybe Plan E or F, at the winter meetings: Collect a bunch of right-handed relievers for the bullpen.
In a flurry of moves over an hour or so, the Mets signed relievers Frank Francisco (2 years, $12 million) and Jon Rauch (1 year, $3.5 million), and reportedly traded center fielder Angel Pagan to the San Francisco Giants for reliever Ramon Ramirez and outfielder Andres Torres.
Certainly, bolstering the bullpen without blowing K-Rod money makes sense: In 2011, Mets' relievers posted a 4.33 ERA, 28th in the majors. Their .267 batting average allowed ranked 28th, their 24 blown saves ranked tied for 23rd (18 more than NL East rival Philadelphia) and their .344 on-base percentage allowed ranked 28th. They fared a little better in categories like strikeout rate and strikeout-to-walk ratio, but no matter how you slice it the pen wasn't good.
A quick capsule of the players they acquired:
Francisco: He'll assume the closer duties, relying on his 93- to 96-mph fastball and split-finger. He's solid if unspectacular and earned the coveted "closer" label primarily by lucking into the job with the 2009 Rangers. He was a flyball pitcher early in his career, but has increased his ground-ball percentage the past two seasons. The biggest concern is that he usually lands on the disabled list once or twice a season and hasn't pitched more than 52 innings in any of the past three years. So even if you make him the closer, you'll likely need a backup closer for 15-20 innings or so.
Rauch: Once named Baseball America's top prospect in the minor leagues (ahead of Albert Pujols), Rauch will be joining his fifth team in five seasons. He's a serviceable middle guy who has closed at times (58 career saves), but has been pretty hittable in recent seasons: 256 hits in 251 innings since 2008, with just 197 strikeouts. He's also been prone to the long ball at various times in his career, including allowing 11 with the Blue Jays in just 52 innings last season. Frankly, I don't see Rauch as any improvement over currents Mets relievers Bobby Parnell, Pedro Beato, Tim Byrdak or Manny Acosta. He's mediocre depth, which I guess isn't the worst thing but doesn't exactly have Mets forgetting Jose Reyes.
Ramirez and Torres: Pagan and Torres is an exchange of center fielders who played well in 2010, but poorly in 2011. Both were in danger of being non-tendered, although on Monday Mets manager Terry Collins had been talking about using Pagan as his leadoff hitter. The biggest issue with Pagan was that his defense notably slipped from 2010. Torres' bat is a question mark, but he'll draw walks and is a more consistent defender. Still, in the end he's nearly 34 with a career .244/.318/.403 line. He's not going to get better. Ramirez is a fastball/slider/changeup type with a career ERA of 3.16 over five-plus seasons. He was terrific in his year-plus with the Giants and there's no reason to necessarily assume it was home-park effect -- he dominated on the road in 2011, with a .157 average allowed.
So, yes, the Mets now have eight or nine relievers to choose from. The Mets were 67-6 when leading after eight innings and 60-10 when leading after seven innings. Those don't seem like high totals, but actually are worse than the league average, so even though there's nothing flashy in these three relievers, the bullpen should be a few wins better in 2012. Sorry, Mets fans: We mean 4-5 wins or so, not 10 or 12. That's an important improvement, sure, but only a small step if the Mets wish to contend in an NL East that could end up being much tougher in 2012.
While blowing fewer late-innings leads will certainly be less frustrating, the big question remains: How many late-inning leads will they have?