The New York Mets appear to be ready to enter the 2015 season with only two left-handed relievers in the bullpen: Josh Edgin and an as-yet-undetermined pitcher. According to Mets General Manager Sandy Alderson, however, this pitcher will in all likelihood be brought in on a minor league deal. Whether this means that the reliever in question will end up being somebody already in the Mets farm system or a free agent signed to a minor league deal remains to be seen.
The role of this pitcher could end up being the team’s new LOOGY (Lefty One-Out GuY) and, if so, it makes sense that the team doesn’t want to shell out more cash for a relatively minor bullpen role. While there will undoubtedly be grumblings among Mets fans about how this is yet another case of management pinching pennies when it comes to player acquisition, this is actually a strategically sound move on the part of the Mets. Here’s why:
Edgin pitched splendidly in 2014, posting a sparkling 1.32 ERA in 27.1 innings pitched and striking out 28 batters against only six walks. With any luck he'll see an increased workload in 2015 and will be able to repeat this success. The Mets presumably think so, which helps explain why they haven't been aggressive in pursuing any of the left-handed relief options available via free agency. If Edgin can continue his success into next season, it will be sufficient for the Mets to merely find a left-handed specialist to complement him.
Plenty of internal options
It’s not like the Mets have a dearth of internal options to fill in this role. Scott Rice was re-signed this offseason and figures to be, at the moment, the top contender for the job. Rice is not exactly a world-beater, and his 5.93 ERA in 2014 was downright ugly. Nevertheless, he’s performed very well against left-handed batters during his brief major league career, holding them to a .196 batting average.
Among the Mets prospects, Jack Leathersich is a very promising option, owning a staggering 15.2 strikeouts per nine innings over the course of his minor league career. A dark horse candidate could be recent Rule 5 Draft selection Sean Gilmartin, who has also pitched at a high level in the minors, particularly against left-handed batters.
LOOGYs are a dime a dozen
The best thing about a pitcher whose role is simply to pitch to one batter a game is that you can find them almost anywhere. Even if the Mets don’t dip into their farm system, they could find an undervalued pitcher on the free agent market who would be willing to take a minor league contract.
The Mets have the luxury of having all of their bullpen roles pretty well defined at this point, so it makes sense for them to concentrate their resources on other areas. Besides, LOOGYs are readily available on the cheap. Take the Cleveland Indians’ Marc Rzepczynski, for example, who tied for the league lead in most appearances pitching to just a single batter. Rzepczynski appeared in 73 games but threw only 46 total innings, and posted a 2.74 ERA along the way. You know how much Rzepczysnki made for that performance? $1,375,000. And there are LOOGYs available for less than that, too.
There are a number of veteran left-handed relievers still on the market available on the cheap who could provide good production as the left-handed specialist. Phil Coke probably heads the list of remaining relievers (and the Mets reportedly had preliminary discussions with him), but his asking price will likely be too high for the Mets to afford. The Mets have made it clear that they would like the payroll not to exceed $100 million, so that should take care of any of the more high-priced talent left to sign. That means if the Mets do opt to explore the free agent market for a LOOGY, then the best candidates will have to be much less desirable and, thus, willing to play for a lot less.
The best of this bunch may be Franklin Morales—who has held left-handed batters to a .624 career OPS)—and Tom Gorzelanny—who has held left-handed batters to a .661 career OPS. Gorzelanny pitched well when he was on the mound in 2014 (0.86 ERA in 2014), which wasn't often as injuries limited him to just 21 innings out of the bullpen. That will limit the interest from around the league in Gorzelanny should the Mets decide to pursue him.
Morales is the better option because he's coming off a terrible season that will absolutely scare away a lot of teams and keep his asking price very low. Morales's 5.37 ERA may be unsightly, but keep in mind that this is largely due to his being forced into starting 22 games last season for the Colorado Rockies. His ERA as a reliever was a much more manageable 3.66, and he'll be throwing in a much more pitcher-friendly home ballpark should the Mets decide to sign him.
The bottom line
The LOOGY who eventually finds his way into the Mets' bullpen will not be the difference between the team's success and failure in 2015. Their performance can have a large effect on the performances of other relievers in the bullpen, though. We've seen how a team with clearly defined bullpen roles can ride their relief corps to great success (e.g., the 2014 Kansas City Royals), and the Mets believe that their young relievers could be huge difference makers next season. They're right to be conservative financially in this respect, but they must also be make a wise choice in rounding out their bullpen if they want to play October baseball in 2015.