clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Finding a left-handed reliever for the Mets' bullpen

New, comments

The Mets need to add a lefty reliever. Here are a few options.

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

While most people would agree that spring training stats have little bearing on how players typically perform during the regular season, games in Port St. Lucie do sometimes reveal some interesting information (in addition to terrible injury news, like Zack Wheeler’s UCL tear). Here are some things we’ve learned so far this spring: Matt Harvey has some rust, but is showing great velocity; Curtis Granderson has been crushing baseballs; the Mets have already beaten the Nationals; and the youngsters have shown upside.

But spring training 2015 has also highlighted a problem that the Mets had going into camp, and which has only been exacerbated by Josh Edgin's season-ending injury. Even the Mets' GM is displeased with the current state of affairs:

"I’m not happy where we are with our left-handed situation."—Sandy Alderson, following the Mets' 11-9 win against the Washington Nationals on March 12.

In short, the Mets bullpen depth.

Shouldn’t Alderson have known?

Traditionally, Sandy Alderson is pretty tight-lipped in regard to criticism of his own team, so the fact that the GM said anything at all is depressingly revealing. Now, Josh Edgin is a nice pitcher. He has good stuff and he showed it last year, striking out more than a batter per inning and maintaining a minuscule 1.32 ERA and 2.69 FIP. But now he is having Tommy John surgery. Why, then, did the Mets fail to sign another lefty to pair with Edgin in the bullpen? Cue Alderson:

"Everybody looks for left-handed relief. We’re not the only ones that are in that situation…There really were a couple who signed for very large dollars and then everybody else is more or less in the same category…there just wasn’t anybody in whom we were willing to invest a major league contract. Again, it’s not the financial issue, it’s the commitment to the player."

This can be interpreted to mean that the Mets didn’t sign a lefty reliever because they didn't want to spend top dollar on a reliever, and there wasn’t anyone else that they deemed worthy of a major league contract. Oh, and Alderson adds that it wasn’t a financial issue. This seems like a bit of a paradox. The Mets didn’t want to sign a top-dollar option, but it wasn’t a financial issue. Well, oddly enough, the Mets' crosstown rivals signed Andrew Miller to top-dollar money, because it’s what he is worth. The lefty is set to make $9 million per year for four years after racking up 1.8 bWAR last season. The market price is thought to be around $7 million per win, so the Yankees are getting Miller at a good price. If anything, as time goes on, the Miller deal should provide the Yankees close to a fair return and some stability at the back of their bullpen.

The Mets definitely need some stability in theirs. While the Fangraphs depth chart rankings aren't an end-all-be-all of projections by any stretch, they do provide some insight into how deep the team’s bullpen may be.

Guess where the Mets rank? If you said dead last, you were correct.

The bright side

This probably isn't fair. The Mets’ bullpen isn’t the worst in baseball, and these charts are ranked by fWAR. Jeurys Familia and Jenrry Mejia are better than Fangraphs give them credit for. Mejia has a high ground ball rate, his HR/FB rate has been falling every season, and though he needs to control his walks, he will almost certainly be worth more than 0.1 fWAR this season. Familia's HR/9 rate is a measly 0.35, he dropped his BB% to 9.9, and he also has a ground ball rate that is near 60%. After putting up 0.5 fWAR last season, there is no way that he provides 0.0 fWAR in 2015.

The not-so-bright side

All that being said, the rest of the Mets' bullpen truly is worrisome. Bobby Parnell is a huge question mark. After a full season of not pitching, who knows what Parnell will be like this year? The only other right-hander of sufficient repute is Vic Black. The 26-year-old throws heavy heat and put up a 2.60 ERA in his first full season with the Mets. Remember, though, that Black recently got an MRI after having soreness in his shoulder, and while the results came back with good news, it’s another situation worth monitoring.

As for the rest of the bullpen, the Mets' lack of lefties is concerning. The top four lefties competing for a bullpen spot—Sean Gilmartin, Scott Rice, Dario Alvarez, and Jack Leathersich—have a combined 11.77 ERA in spring training. Sample size aside, that is incredibly unnerving. Leathersich has some good raw stuff and can get strikeouts, but he is too wild right now to be relied upon in high-leverage situations. And unfortunately, the bloom is off the Scott Rice rose. The Mets don’t seem to have viable internal options, so the answer probably needs to come from outside the organization.

The solution?

Where should the Mets look? Well, let’s look outside the NL East, because as much as the Mets would love to get Josh Outman or Luis Avilan (not bad), Mike Dunn (yes, thank you), or Matt Thornton or Jerry Blevins (yes, please), it's highly unlikely that the Mets' closest rivals will be selling. This is also a testament to the strength of the rest of the bullpens in the NL East; when you add the above lefties to Craig Kimbrel, Steve Cishek, and Drew Storen, you realize that the Mets are playing bullpen catch-up with the top of the division.

Others have floated ideas that the Mets try and scoop up players like Sam Freeman and Xavier Cedeno, both of whom need to pass through waivers. While this is better than nothing, there’s a reason why both of these guys can be had for cheap. Though the Mets would have to give up some minor league talent, here are a few out-of-the-box relievers that the Mets should target:

Will Smith (MIL)

Despite sharing a name with the two-time Academy Award nominee, even parents understand that this Smith is anything but a joke. The Mets may be able to swing a trade, as Smith is currently fighting for setup duties with Jonathan Broxton in the Milwaukee bullpen. In the past two seasons, Smith’s ERA and FIP has been in the mid-threes and his K/9 has settled in above 11.00. That strikeout rate is drool-inducing. Smith isn’t a "lefty specialist" per se, as he pitched to a 4.05 ERA against lefties last year and 3.46 ERA against righties; but in 2013, his numbers were 2.51 against lefties versus 3.79 against righties.

Scott Downs (CLE)

While he isn’t as exciting as Smith, Downs is more of the LOOGY type that the Mets typically covet. Downs should be available for cheap, as the Indians now have Marc Rzepczynski, a lefty specialist who's a lot younger and probably a bit better. Downs could be a fit with the Mets because he is a veteran who has been in the league since 2000 and can be relied upon to log plenty of innings. A cheap specialist and a veteran workhorse? It’s practically a match made in heaven.

Joe Thatcher (HOU)

Thatcher turned down a few offers this offseason to sign a minor league deal with the Astros. While he said that the Astros really wanted him and that’s why he signed, he might not be opposed to coming to the Mets if he knew that he had a good chance to get into a lot of games. The Astros already have a very good Tony Sipp in the bullpen, which could make Thatcher expendable. He has been solid against lefties throughout his career, but his stock is a bit down after pitching with a bum ankle for the Angels at the end of 2014. Just a glimpse of his upside, though: In 2013, he held lefties to a 0.82 ERA over 22 innings of work. Phew.

* * *

The Mets’ biggest problem is clearly the loss of Zack Wheeler. But it would be another punch in the gut if the front office failed to address the Mets’ bullpen needs. Their preference should be for someone like Smith—who can pitch to both righties and lefties effectively—in case Gilmartin or Leathersich end up flourishing, but Black or another righty gets injured.