The Mets started the season with a four-man bench consisting of Anthony Recker, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, John Mayberry Jr., and Ruben Tejada. The rationale was to keep an extra reliever, thereby allowing the team to limit the workloads of young starters Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom, as well as the team’s other relievers.
The Mets demoted Rafael Montero 10 games into the season and have used a traditional five-man bench for most of the way since. But, with about a week to go until rosters expand, would it make sense for the Mets to add a reliever and revert to a four-man bench until September 1?
There are two main justifications for doing so. First, the Mets’ bullpen is thin and struggling. Over the last week—including three brutal games in Colorado—Mets relievers had a terrible 7.16 ERA (196 ERA-) and a 4.90 FIP (126 FIP-) in 16.1 innings of work. Closer Jeurys Familia has been a bit shaky, while middle relievers Eric O’Flaherty (14.73 ERA, 402 ERA-), Hansel Robles (4.32 ERA, 118 ERA-), and Carlos Torres (5.40 ERA, 147 ERA-) have been downright bad all month. Before the Mets sent him down, Bobby Parnell was also having a dreadful August, sporting an ugly 7.71 ERA (211 ERA-) and a 5.90 FIP (152 FIP-).
Although O’Flaherty’s, Robles’s, and Torres’s fielding-independent numbers are better than their ERAs, none of the three has been reliable of late. By adding another arm to the pen, the Mets could take some pressure off of these relievers, give them extra rest before the September stretch run, and audition another pitcher for late-season work.
The other case for an expanded pen is to help ease the workloads of Harvey and Noah Syndergaard. The Mets already skipped Harvey’s start on Sunday and could do the same for Syndergaard soon. Collins may start using stricter pitch counts on both pitchers, perhaps requiring earlier calls to the bullpen.
Moreover, given that Logan Verrett is likely unavailable for the next day or two following his spot start on Sunday, the Mets are effectively playing one reliever short. Calling up another reliever would give the team a traditional seven-man pen.
If the Mets do add a reliever, it should probably come at the expense of Juan Lagares. Notwithstanding his home run last night in Philly, the center fielder has struggled this year, hitting a poor .263/.290/.358 (80 wRC+) with zero defensive runs saved, a 1.3 UZR, and 0.8 fWAR.
Lagares is also the most expendable position player on the Mets’ roster at the moment. Wilmer Flores and Ruben Tejada need to remain on the team in order to have a starting and backup shortstop. Juan Uribe is a strong right-handed option off the bench, and will spell David Wright at third. Kelly Johnson can start at second (with Daniel Murphy at first) during Lucas Duda’s DL stint, and is a good left-handed bat off the bench. Johnson can also back up the team’s corner outfielders, and allow Curtis Granderson to move to center when Yoenis Cespedes isn't playing. Finally, it’s hard to justify sending down Michael Conforto, who’s hit an impressive .224/.333/.448 (120 wRC+) in his 20-game stint in the majors.
Granted, there are two downsides to demoting Lagares. The first is that he is a better late-game defensive replacement than Johnson. Although Lagares’s defensive output is at a career low, it is still better than Johnson’s -1 DRS and -0.9 UZR as an outfielder in 2015.
The second is that Lagares has been quite good against lefties. The outfielder’s .300/.357/.444 batting line (127 wRC+) against lefties in 2015 is better than those of Michael Cuddyer (.233/.325/.274, 78 wRC+), Cespedes (.206/.265/.383, 73 wRC+), Granderson (.144/.189/.212, 11 wRC+), Johnson (.286/.333/.393, 104 wRC+), and Conforto (.200/.333/.200, 66 wRC+). Losing Lagares for a week would deprive the Mets of a valuable platoon option against left-handers.
That said, throughout their careers, Cuddyer (130 wRC+), Cespedes (111 wRC+), and Johnson (105 wRC+) have all hit lefties nearly as well as or better than Lagares (116 wRC+) has. Therefore, their track records suggest that a starting outfield of the former three players could suffice against lefties for a week.
The Mets have built a nice five-and-a-half-game cushion over the Nationals in the NL East. Due to the offensive support they received in the last month, the Mets now have the flexibility to add an extra reliever for a week, if they so choose. Possible call-up candidates include Dillon Gee (5.53 ERA, 4.16 FIP in Triple-A), Vic Black (8.27 ERA, 6.12 FIP), Chase Bradford (3.95 ERA, 3.38 FIP), Zack Thornton (3.81 ERA, 3.57 FIP), and Akeel Morris (3.18 ERA, 3.52 FIP in Double-A).
None of these pitchers has dominated in the minors, which is certainly something to consider. Still, any one of them could add some temporary relief to an overworked and underperforming bullpen until rosters expand on September 1.