Jason Isringhausen notched his 300th career save in San Diego on Aug. 15. From that point until a herniated disc ended his season three weeks later, Isringhausen worked the ninth inning only one more time for the New York Mets, allowing Bobby Parnell's audition for 2012 closer to begin.
Parnell had four blown saves in seven chances in September, even though his ERA for the month ended up 2.84.
The underwhelming performance led general manager Sandy Alderson to resolve that he would need to go outside the organization for next season's closer. In fact, a major renovation of the bullpen overall is planned for this offseason, with the available dollars contingent upon whether free-agent shortstop Jose Reyes re-signs or departs.
If Reyes leaves because of a superior offer elsewhere -- which is the more likely scenario -- additional dollars are freed up to allocate to pitching.
The Mets want to keep the payroll in the $100 million to $110 million range in 2012, Alderson has acknowledged.
The bullpen, which lacked the hard middle-inning throwers that other teams employed, desperately can use reinforcements. Mets relievers combined for a 4.33 ERA and .267 opponent batting average this past season, both ranked 15th in the National League. The Houston Astros were the only team to finish worse, with a 4.49 reliever ERA and .269 opponent batting average.
"Of course the bullpen was a big disappointment -- overall and certainly the last two months of the season," Alderson said in the Mets' clubhouse at Citi Field the day after the regular-season finale. "So I think a lot of our success or failure next year is going to be a function of pitching, regardless of who's playing for us. Now that doesn't mean we're going to go spending all of our money on pitching and not try to sign Jose. But I think our fate lies more on the pitching side than anything else."
Manny Acosta, who had a solid finish to the season, as well as Pedro Beato, Tim Byrdak, D.J. Carrasco, Daniel Herrera, Josh Stinson and Parnell remain under the Mets' control. But having those seven relievers break camp with the Mets after next spring training is a remote proposition.
In fact, as few as two of those pitchers -- Byrdak and Parnell -- may be on the 2012 Opening Day roster.
Byrdak last month signed an extension for 2012 and will continue to be the primary left-hander in the bullpen, but team officials will search for a second southpaw from outside the organization to pair with him. The concern is that the left-hander Herrera's effectiveness will diminish as division opponents get more looks at his screwball. What supports that organizational concern is the success NL Central opponents had against Herrera, who pitched for the Cincinnati Reds and Milwaukee Brewers before joining the Mets as a player to be named in the Francisco Rodriguez trade. Teams from that division hit .538 against Herrera this past season.
Carrasco was one of two players signed to a multi-year deal by Alderson last offseason -- the other being R.A. Dickey. But Carrasco's $1.2 million salary for 2012 should not be an impediment if Carrasco does not seriously improve his production during spring training. After all, the Mets ate $18 million to rid themselves of Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo last March, and the obligation to Carrasco pales in comparison.
Beato had to remain at the major league level last season. Otherwise, as a Rule 5 pick, he had to be offered back to the Baltimore Orioles.
Now, Beato officially is Mets property. And he has three years of minor league options remaining -- meaning the Mets can place him in Triple-A Buffalo without issue every season through 2014 if his performance dictates and they choose to do so.
So how do the Mets fill the closer role?
An organization source cited two factors working in the Mets' favor:
Since Rodriguez signed a three-year, $37 million contract with the Mets on Dec. 10, 2008 that included the much-publicized vesting option, contracts for free-agent closers have tended to be more modest. There also should be a glut of closers on the market this winter beyond high-profile names such as Heath Bell, Jonathan Papelbon, K-Rod and Ryan Madson. With supply seemingly exceeding demand, the Mets may be able to get a competent closer from the next tier of candidates without breaking the bank.
According to ESPN's Jayson Stark, players with contract options who could become available include Joe Nathan ($12.5 million option), Francisco Cordero ($12 million option), Kyle Farnsworth ($3.3 million option), Brad Lidge ($12.5 million option), Jon Rauch ($3.75 million option) and Rafael Soriano ($11 million player option).
Stark lists lower-tier free agents who have recorded saves in their careers as Jonathan Broxton, Matt Capps, Frank Francisco, Kerry Wood, Octavio Dotel, Mike Gonzalez, Fernando Rodney, Takashi Saito and Ryan Franklin.
Alderson acknowledged to ESPNNewYork.com last month that finding a capable arm for closing duty is essential.
"I think it has a real impact on not just team success, but also team outlook, team attitude, team confidence," Alderson said. "Blown saves from time to time are part of the game, but blowing them at an inordinate rate can have, I think, a real negative impact on a team. So it needs to be a point of concentration for us."