As has been the case for the past few years, we’re ready to begin a rundown of the free agent relief pitchers who could help the Mets, a team in desperate need of bullpen upgrades. Brodie Van Wagenen’s front office acknowledged that need with the Mets’ trade for relief pitcher extraordinaire Edwin Diaz—along with second baseman Robinson Cano. But as good as he is, Diaz alone is not enough for the Mets to head into the 2019 season with a good bullpen.
There are, as always, plenty of relievers out there in free agency, and we’ll run down the list using the very handy free agent leaderboards over at FanGraphs—filtering for pitchers who threw at least 20 innings in relief in 2018—and running down the list by strikeouts percentage. It’s not the only metric that matters, but the best relievers tend to be the ones who strike out a ton of opposing hitters, and it makes the process pretty straightforward.
At 38.9 percent, Kimbrel’s strikeout rate is the best on the market given our parameters. The 30-year-old righty has been around for quite a while in the big leagues, having spent several years with the Braves, one with the Padres, and the past three with the Red Sox. Over the past few seasons, he hasn’t been the dominant pitcher he was in his younger years, but he’s still been good. Walks and home runs were both issues for him in 2018, and he finished the season with a 2.74 ERA and a 3.13 FIP. But he’s said to be looking for a six-year deal, according to Buster Olney, and even if he doesn’t get that, he’s very likely to be out of the Mets’ price range—the crowdsourced projections at FanGraphs predict an annual salary of $16 million for him—especially for four, five, or six years.
At 36.3 percent, Ottavino’s strikeout rate this year was almost as good as Kimbrel’s. He’s also a right-handed pitcher, albeit a bit older, having just turned 33. With several good seasons already under his belt, he had a disastrous 2017 season—with a 5.06 ERA and 5.16 FIP—with an astronomical walk rate. But he was very good again in 2018, with a 2.43 ERA and 2.74 FIP, even though the walk rate was a bit higher than ideal at 4.17 per nine/11.7 percent. Those crowdsourced numbers predict a $10 million salary for him, a substantial difference from Kimbrel.
The first lefty on the list, the former Met who everyone loved to hate just completed a season that was among his best in the big leagues—even though he wasn’t great from 2015 through 2017. Now 37 years old, Perez had a great strikeout rate and an incredible walk rate—really! He limited home runs, too, and was signed by the Indians for just $1.75 million for the season. He’s not anywhere near the top of the free agent rankings on the various places that do them, but he figures to make substantially less than most of the other high-strikeout relievers out there.