If you root for the Mets, you’d probably like to hear that the team is willing to spend unlimited amounts of money on player payroll, especially after the several-year span—in the 2010s—that saw the team’s payroll dip below $100 million. That’s not likely to be the case anytime soon, though, and general manager Sandy Alderson said on Wednesday that he expects the team’s 2017 Opening Day payroll to be lower than it is today.
If the Mets merely trade away Jay Bruce, that would reduce their payroll by $13 million. Perhaps they’ll spend some or most of that amount of money on new players, but it doesn’t sound like they’re prepared to exceed it. And one thing that’s been consistently reported about the Mets is that they don’t see themselves in the market for one of baseball’s top-tier relief pitchers.
Mark Melancon already signed a four-year, $62 million deal with the San Francisco Giants, and Aroldis Chapman topped that with a five-year, $86 million deal with the Yankees.Kenley Jansen figures to fetch something in between those two numbers.
Here at Amazin’ Avenue, Timothy Finnegan made a compelling argument that the Mets should be in on Jansen, even at the price he’ll command on the market. There would undoubtedly be baseball merit to back up that kind of signing, but it’d be one of the bigger surprises of the offseason if the Mets were to do it.
All of this doesn’t mean that the Mets are doing what’s best for the bullpen. Given the constraints that have been presented, though, let’s take a look at the relievers on the free agent market, what the Mets have in the organization already, and where there might be fits for the team to improve for 2017 without spending all that much money.
What the Mets have
When the offseason started, Jeurys Familia was clearly the Mets’ closer. After his domestic violence arrest, though, it’s very likely that he’ll be suspended for at least some part of the 2017 season. But he’ll be pitching at or near the end of games when eligible.
Assuming Familia is suspended, Addison Reed will fill in for him as closer. Reed has been superb since the Mets traded for him late in the 2015 season. Beyond that, it’s Hansel Robles and some combination of the following pitchers: Josh Edgin, Sean Gilmartin, Erik Goeddel, Seth Lugo, Rafael Montero, Josh Smoker, and perhaps Zack Wheeler and Gabriel Ynoa. Those are the guys on the Mets’ 40-man roster at the moment who might reasonably have a shot at pitching in the major league bullpen.
10.0+ K/9 relievers on the market
With Melancon and Chapman off the board already, let’s assume the only "top-tier" reliever left in free agency is Jansen. Strikeout rate isn’t the only thing that matters for relievers, but let’s at least start with that via Fangraphs’ super-convenient free agency leaderboard, which displays 2016 stats for this offseason’s free agents. Appropriately, Chapman and Jansen top the list, both north of 13.5 strikeouts per nine innings. As for everyone else:
Koji Uehara will turn 42 years old in April, but he didn’t have any problem striking people out this year, with 12.06 strikeouts per nine. He had a 3.45 ERA this year for the Red Sox, the highest full-season mark of his career, but he limited walks and struggled mightily with home runs. He missed some time with a pectoral injury. Add it up, and he shouldn’t require as significant a commitment as his peers, but he’s just one year removed from dominance.
Jerry Blevins comes next with 11.14 strikeouts per nine. He’s a familiar face, of course, and is said to be seeking a three-year deal worth $5-to-6 million per year. Thus far, that’s out of the Mets’ comfort zone, but it wouldn’t be unreasonable.
Fellow lefty Boone Logan was nearly identical to Blevins in strikeout rate at 11.07 per nine. The overall results weren’t fantastic, as he had a 3.69 ERA, but that was by far his best single-season mark in three years with the Rockies. He fared much better with the Yankees from 2010 through 2013, and he’s still just 32 years old. Like Blevins, he’s been drastically better against left-handed hitters than right-handed hitters in his career.
Jhoulys Chacin threw most of his innings a starter in 2016, but he was much more effective in the 28.2 innings he threw in relief. He hadn’t pitched out of the bullpen since 2007, but in that relatively small sample this year, he finished with 10.99 strikeouts, 3.45 walks, and 0.63 home runs per nine innings. He had a 2.76 FIP as a result, but his 3.77 ERA in that role is slightly less inspiring. The bullpen use was a bit weird—some long, middle-inning appearances, some short, late-inning ones—but on a no-risk deal, maybe Chacin turns out to be far better out of the ‘pen than he has been as a starter.
Though he struck out 10.23 per nine, the highest rate of his career, Nefatli Feliz had a big home run problem and finished the year with a 3.52 ERA and 4.53 FIP. That’s still a much better year than he had in 2015, but it has been a while since Feliz was both healthy and effective.
Santiago Casilla finished the year at 10.09 strikeouts per nine and had a good walk rate, but he struggled with home runs, too. His 3.57 ERA was his worst since joining the Giants in 2010, and his 3.94 FIP was the second-worst over that span. He’s 36 years old, but his fastball velocity was in line with his norms at 94.74 miles per hour.
Maybe all of those pitchers are out of the Mets’ price range. The crowd-sourced free agency projections at Fangraphs include two of them, with Uehara getting a one-year, $7.6 million deal and Casilla a two-year deal at just under $6 million per year. If those projections are in the ballpark of what those pitchers actually get in free agency, they might be pricey for the Mets. If years are the problem, though, Uehara would seem to be the best fit of this particular bunch.