A strong bullpen is one of the most important pieces for building a championship-caliber team. This was especially true this season, as the top six teams in bullpen ERA all made the playoffs. The New York Mets missed the postseason by a wide margin, due in large part to a bullpen that ranked 29th out of 30 teams in the MLB, beating out only the 64-win Detroit Tigers.
If the Mets wish to return to the playoffs next season, their offseason focus must be on strengthening a bullpen that finished 2017 with a 4.82 ERA. New York’s pen allowed the fourth-most walks in the league and the third-highest opponent’s batting average. While these statistics would seem as though the Mets are a long way from an effective relief system, they actually do have a good foundation, especially at the back end.
Perhaps the most important job in relief, the Mets already have their closer spot locked down with Jeurys Familia. Familia missed the majority of last season with an injury, and would finish the year pitching in just 26 games to a 4.38 ERA while converting six out of seven save opportunities. Familia, while shaky with his composure at times, has been a dominant closer for the Mets. In his last four seasons with the team, he has compiled 105 saves in 121 opportunities with a career 2.63 ERA and 286 strikeouts.
The rest of the back-end of the bullpen is actually quite solid as well. In the set-up role, the Mets acquired the Marlins former All-Star closer AJ Ramos. Ramos, going into his seventh season, has pitched to a 2.88 ERA, saving 99 games in 119 opportunities with 404 strikeouts. Having two guys at the back end of the bullpen with significant closing experience will be a huge benefit for the Mets in late-game situations.
The Mets will also bring back lefty-specialist Jerry Blevins. Blevins has been extremely effective for New York. In his three years with the team, he sports a 2.72 ERA, striking out 125 batters while walking just 39. Blevins can be used interchangeably with Ramos late in games depending on the situation.
While the Mets have their late-inning guys all set, it is the front-end of the bullpen that is really lacking. Internally, they do not have all too many options. We will likely see the return of Paul Sewald, who despite some rough outings pitched reasonably well for New York down the stretch in his first year in the majors. We could also see a starter or two moved to the pen, potentially someone like Robert Gsellman, Seth Lugo (if healthy) or Zack Wheeler. However, at the end of the day the Mets will have to look externally for early relief help.
While a trade or two for relievers is definitely not off the table, the more likely scenario is that the Mets look to the free agent market for help. With general manager Sandy Alderson’s reluctance to give relievers multi-year deals, their options will be limited. However, there are some veteran guys out there who the team could look to pick up for a reasonable price.
One such option is former Rockies reliever Jake McGee. The free agent left-hander sported a 3.61 ERA for Colorado last year in 57.1 innings. McGee is a little unusual for a left handed pitcher as he is more effective against righties than lefties, a .203 and .260 average against, respectively. As a 31-year old reliever with good numbers, the Mets may get lost in a bidding war for McGee, but should definitely look to throw their name in the hat if they are serious about improving the pen.
Another potential player on the Mets radar should be former-Met Addison Reed. Reed was traded to the Red Sox last season, where he struggled a bit early on before returning back to form. Reed had some of the best years of his career in New York, pitching to a 2.09 ERA in his tenure with the Mets – a career-low. While the 28-year-old righty will most likely be seeking a multi-year deal, he could very well consider returning to the place where he was very well-liked by the fan base and played some of his best baseball.
In reality, it will all come down to how much the Mets are willing to spend in their quest for a serviceable bullpen. Historically, that is not a ton, and with the team expecting to lower its payroll even further from a year ago, it is likely the Mets will not acquire any big name relievers through free agency. Regardless of who the team winds up going after, we should hopefully see at least marginal bullpen improvement in 2018.
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