Coming off a season in which their pitching staff was very, very bad, the Mets could use help in both the rotation and the bullpen. We’ve run down the list of free agent starting pitchers already, and now we turn our focus to the ‘pen.
There’s a solid foundation in place, with Jeurys Familia, AJ Ramos, and Jerry Blevins in the fold for the 2018 season. But that trio isn’t enough to guarantee a good bullpen, and all three players are set to hit free agency after next season ends. There are short- and long-term reasons for the Mets to be in on relief pitching on the open market this offseason. Let’s take a look at the long list of the options available to the Mets for—in almost all cases—only money.
Pretty, pretty, pretty good
Long a dominant reliever, Wade Davis was not quite as good for the Cubs this year as he had been for the Royals over the three previous seasons. But he still had a 2.30 ERA with a great strikeout rate—and was good enough that the Cubs extended him a qualifying offer. That means he’d have some draft-related cost associated with him for non-Cubs organizations in addition to whatever salary he’s able to command.
Joining Davis here, both in terms of track record and the qualifying offer, is Greg Holland, whose 3.61 ERA doesn’t look too shabby since he played for the Rockies. He opted out of his contract to become a free agent after a good season coming off Tommy John surgery that knocked him out for all of the 2016 season.
After those two, there were some great performances this year. Pat Neshek had a 1.59 ERA and 1.86 FIP with outstanding strikeout, walk, and home run rates, as you would expect. Steve Cishek, who has been good for a while, had a 2.01 ERA in 2017, the best mark of his career in a full season. If nothing else, signing two dudes with last names ending in the same four letters would be fun.
Matt Albers had a 1.62 ERA and his best single-season strikeout ever this year in 61.0 innings for the Nationals. He was really bad in 2016, but his ERA was even better at 1.21 in 2015. Brandon Morrow, Anthony Swarzak, Mike Minor, Tommy Hunter, Juan Nicasio, Brian Duensing, and former Mets Addison Reed and Yusmeiro Petit all finished the year with ERAs under 3.00.
Along with Neshek and Cishek, that group presents plenty of opportunity without the draft penalties—which are reduced from past years of the qualifying offer system—or the highest salaries you’d expect Davis and Holland to receive. The Mets should not be excluded from signing the top relievers, but in the real world, with their intention of not spending a ton of money, at least there are options in this tier that might conceivably fit.
Pretty, pretty good
Going down the list of these guys by ERA, Brandon Kintzler, David Hernandez, Craig Stammen, Fernando Abad, former Met Joe Smith, Tonny Watson, Trevor Rosenthal, Peter Moylan, Bryan Shaw, Jason Motte, Sergio Romo, Jake McGee, former Met Josh Edgin, Zach Duke, and Koji Uehara all finished between 3.00 and 4.00 in ERA. That list is in ascending order, but anyone from it could conceivably help the Mets. In the top tier and this tier, there are some lefties included, and the Mets probably shouldn’t leave those important appearances against left-handed hitters solely to Jerry Blevins over the course of a full season.
This group includes some familiar names and some that might be new to you. Matt Belisle was pretty much the pitcher you’d expect him to be, finishing with a 4.03 ERA, though he was much better than that in each of the previous two seasons. Joaquin Benoit was very good for several years in a row, but his strikeout rate dipped a bit this year and he had a 4.65 ERA, by far his highest single-season mark in the past eight seasons.
Blaine Boyer was so-so with a 4.34 ERA in Boston, but he’s been solid, if unspectacular, over the past few years. Old friend Dillon Gee only threw 49.1 innings but had a 3.49 ERA working mostly as a reliever for the Twins and Rangers this year. Luke Gregerson had a down year by his standards but is just one season removed from being a solid contributor.
And relievers Asher Wojciechowski, David Holmberg, Seung-Hwan Oh, Jorge de la Rosa, former Met Carlos Torres, Fernando Rodney, Francisco Liriano, Rob Scahill, Tom Wilhelmsen, Drew Storen, former Met Oliver Perez, Bud Norris, Boone Logan, Dustin McGowan, and Kevin Siegriest were in the 4-point-something range in ERA in 2017.
Add a couple of former Mets to that group, too. Traded to the Twins by the Mets in the Johan Santana deal, Deolis Guerra wasn’t great out of the Angels’ bullpen this year with a 4.68 ERA, but he posted a 3.21 ERA in 2016. And Tyler Clippard had a big problem with home runs this year and finished with a 4.77 ERA. He’s not far removed from being pretty good, though Mets fans might cringe at bringing him back.
After putting together a few decent years in a row, John Axford got shelled in 21 innings with the A’s this year. Tony Barnette has been in the big leagues for just two years, and while he was quite good in 2016, he finished this year with a 5.49 ERA. Christian Bergman had a 5.00 ERA this year for the Mariners and has a 5.58 ERA for his career.
Mike Bolsinger had a 6.31 ERA in total as he split time between the Blue Jays’ rotation and bullpen. In two out of the three seasons that Trevor Cahill has been a reliever, he hasn’t fared well, and this was one of them. Jesse Chavez worked mostly as a starter but had poor results overall. Josh Collmenter had a 9.00 ERA this year, though he was much better than that in 2016.
Neftali Feliz got rocked, and his best days are feeling longer and longer in the past. Jeanmar Gomez had a very bad year, and so did Jason Grilli. Fellow free agents Craig Brewslow, former Met Fernando Salas, Ian Krol, Chad Qualls, Chris Young, former Mets Francisco Rodriguez and Eric O’Flaherty, and Glen Perkins were all varying degrees of bad in the major league work this year.
Even on a budget that seems incredibly low for the 2018 season, there’s really no excuse for the Mets not to sign some bullpen help. There are plenty of good pitchers out there, and the team should invest in at least one of the pitchers in the upper tier. There were some flashes of potential from some of the younger in-house options at different points of the season, but the bullpen will include seven pitchers, perhaps eight at times, as was the case several times in the 2017 season.
Even if all breaks right with their three best relievers, they could use some more good ones. And signing top tier relief pitchers to multi-year deals shouldn’t scare the team off when those pitchers are all set to become free agents. If anything, it makes the need more urgent. Even if the Mets aren’t good in 2018, it’s hard to imagine they’ll be in better shape in 2019 if they’re entering next offseason with zero great relievers under team control for the ‘19 season.