In this third installment of Beyond Thunderdome, the series that sets odds on the Mets' roster-margin positional battles, I'll examine the back end of the team's bullpen. I'm assuming that Francisco Rodriguez, J.J. Putz, Sean Green and Pedro Feliciano have spots locked up and that, once the fifth-starter joins the club for good, the Mets will carry a total of seven relievers.
That leaves three open spots. One of those is probably earmarked for Tim Redding whenever he returns from his vague shoulder injury, but since the Mets haven't set a timetable for Redding's return, he won't factor into the odds below. As with the previous installment, if the odds look high, it's because they reflect three open positions and assume that the Mets will fill them somehow.
And as always, there are Easter eggs throughout: my unsolicited opinions on every candidate.
Bobby Parnell (1:7): Somehow, the 24-year-old fireballer whose name sounds like it was pulled from the cast list of Grease has become a heavy favorite to make the Mets out of Spring Training. Most of the reports out of Port St. Lucie have Parnell as a lock to crack the squad, and it's no secret that team brass is high on his abilities.
Of course, there's not a lot in Parnell's history that forebodes Major League success. Despite his lauded fastball, he never whiffed more than a batter per inning in any of his Minor League campaigns, and a career Minor League strikeout-to-walk ratio barely over 2-to-1 is hardly overwhelming.
Still, big ups to the Mets for going with a young guy when there are more experienced arms stumbling about, and I'm holding out hope for Parnell. Lots of great relievers have grown out of failed starters, and maybe the Mets see something in his arsenal that they believe will translate into bullpen success. His history of wildness is a bit concerning, though, and though his 2.38 Spring Training ERA is nice, his eight walks in 11 1/3 innings don't do much to dispel my apprehension.
Brian Stokes (1:4): Stokes, on paper, looks something like an older version of Parnell. He's a hard-throwing right-hander who primarily worked as a starter in the Minors but never posted dominant numbers in that role.
Stokes probably earned his way onto the team with 33 1/3 mostly solid innings when the Mets needed them desperately last season, but the five home runs he allowed over that stretch are cause for some concern. They could be a byproduct of small sample size, but since Stokes has now allowed 18 homers in 119 2/3 Major League innings, it's starting to appear like he might have a gopher problem.
Still, Stokes didn't appear to have too much trouble with the longball in the Minors, so maybe he's caught an extended run of bad luck. And as with Parnell, the Mets appear to appreciate his live arm and upside. Unlike Parnell, Stokes is out of Minor League options. Pairing that with his heater makes Stokes a likely candidate for the team's Opening Day bullpen. But if his home-run problems prove real, Stokes is a likely candidate to replace Aaron Heilman as the team's most reviled reliever.
Darren O'Day (1:1): It's even money that the sidearmer will land on the roster, and I might even be skimping him a bit. O'Day will benefit from his status as a Rule 5 draftee, meaning the Mets would have to send him back to Los Angeles Of Anaheim should they opt not to carry him.
That should help get O'Day on the team. What should help keep him there is that he's appears to be a pretty good pitcher. O'Day was just about average in his 43 1/3 big-league innings last season, but his Minor League numbers show a lot of promise. Not only can he boast a history (albeit not a very long one) of keeping runners off the bases and away from home plate, but O'Day managed to get lefties and righties out with similar efficacy in most of his Minor League stops. That's a great sign for the Mets and Jerry Manuel, who has made no secret of his hunt for "crossover" guys.
Ron Villone (3:1): The factors keeping the odds so good for Villone are: a) He's left-handed and the Mets' bullpen currently only has one southpaw in Feliciano and b) He's just the type of past-his-prime player Minaya often bites for when faced with tough decisions. But Villone might have torched his case by getting torched this spring, yielding six runs on eight hits in five innings. And though I'd love to lambast Minaya for mistakenly choosing experience over talent in the past, it really looks as though he's leaning toward the younger candidates, so maybe it's time to let bygone players be bygones.
Nelson Figueroa (3:1): Figueroa won hearts all over New York last year by returning to his hometown team and enjoying some success in long-relief and spot starter duty. He won his status as a Flushing Fussing favorite by being about the most interesting dude to ever grace a Major League clubhouse.
Figoolow, as he was known in Taiwan, is in almost the exact opposite situation as Stokes. As a non-roster invitee, the 34-year-old righty would have to be added to the Mets' 40-man roster to make the team out of Spring Training, then would have to clear waivers to be sent back down to the Minors in-season. That means the team is more likely to stash him in Triple-A until it needs a long reliever or spot starter and has some roster flexibility, rather than risk losing him should he need to be dispatched when Redding returns. Regardless, he's likely to show up at Citi Field at some point in 2009, and Mets fans know what to expect when he does: a rubber-armed craftsman good enough to deceive batters for a few innings at a time, but not much longer than that.
Carlos Muniz (4:1): I like Muniz. I think he's destined to have some Major League success for some other team, prompting all the Mets fans who've dismissed him based on 25 2/3 big-league innings to claim that they liked him all along and the team never should have gotten rid of him. After all, outside of a shaky 2008, Muniz has been great in the Minors, even if he's always been old for his level. Plus, he added a splitter this offseason, a pitch Dan Warthen has praised and Muniz hopes will become a weapon. It's probably too little to help the 28-year-old's long-shot candidacy for the club, but don't be surprised if he's using it to his advantage in Queens in July.
The field (7:1): Why do I always include "the field" in Beyond Thunderdome? Hedging my bets. Who's in this field? No one spectacular: Fernando Nieve, Elmer Dessens and a bunch of fellows who have already been reassigned to Minor League camp. I wouldn't bet on this bunch, but I'll cite the Abraham Nunez Axiom, which states that the least sensible choice to end up on the roster is sometimes the one that does.