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Grading the Jeurys Familia signing

The Mets brought back their former closer to be a setup man.

MLB: AL Wild Card-Oakland Athletics at New York Yankees Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

There was plenty of trade-related smoke around the Mets at the Winter Meetings, but the only move they wound up during the actual meetings was bringing back Jeurys Familia. The longtime Met, who was traded to the A’s at the deadline in 2018, rejoins the Mets on a three-year, $30 million deal. We’re a bit delayed, but let’s assign a grade on what was the first free agent addition of the Mets’ offseason.

Familia’s devastating arsenal isn’t quite as devastating anymore. His sinker still sits above 97, but it’s lost more than two inches of sink since his 2017 shoulder injury. The slider isn’t quite as fast anymore, nor is the splitter, which Familia has all but shelved. It’s still an impressive pitch mix for a closer, probably something like a 7 fastball, 6 slider, but it’s not the truly ridiculous pitch mix Familia was working with when he really broke out in 2015.

Despite that, Familia posted a career-high strikeout rate in 2018, driven by a change in approach in June. After typically throwing his slider less than 20% of the time, he upped the usage to more than 30%, dropping his sinker’s use rate significantly in favor of more breaking stuff. That led to a 10.19 K/9 from June onward—and an even better 11.84 K/9 after being traded to Oakland. In an era where pitchers are throwing more breaking stuff than ever, Familia jumped on the slider bandwagon, to great success.

While he seems to have overcome a diminished arsenal, there are still risks here, though no more than the usual big reliever contract. DRA was bearish on Familia last season, pegging him at 3.94. He did, however, post a 3.06 mark with Oakland down the stretch. Hopefully that improvement was due to some combination of being further removed from injury and his new approach, and the better late-season results are real.

Of course, predicting reliever success year-to-year is mostly a fool’s errand. Regardless of how we dissect Familia’s modified arsenal, he’s solidly in the top tier of free agent relievers, along with guys like Adam Ottavino, Andew Miller, and David Robertson. Deciding on a grade for this signing is ultimately dependent on what those players sign for. If the reliever market collapses and teams snap up similar relievers for less money, than the Mets moved too quickly and made a sub-optimal signing.

For the moment, the money on this seems fine. It’s just about in line what the crowd at FanGraphs predicted he’d get, and it’s a comparable deal to the three-year, $25 million deal Joe Kelly signed with the Dodgers despite Familia being significantly better. Brodie Van Wagenen has snagged one of the best pitchers on the market, one whose altered approach should allow him to succeed despite slightly diminished stuff. Pending an update after the free-agent dusts settles, this move gets a B/B+.