With the winter meetings coming to a close, the New York Mets still appear comfortable sitting back and watching as their divisional rivals make moves to improve their teams.
Nowhere is this more evident than with the defending National League East champion Atlanta Braves, who have already signed three relievers—including closer Will Smith—to fortify their bullpen, along with inking Cole Hamels to fill out their rotation. Meanwhile, the Washington Nationals retained ace Stephen Strasburg, and the Philadelphia Phillies brought in shortstop Didi Gregorius after recruiting former Met starter Zack Wheeler.
The Mets, who could stand to sign at least two more relievers, need to act fast or risk setting themselves up for a fourth place finish and another year with no October baseball. The Mets are, or at least were, looking to “create some bullpen depth” during the offseason, which is a need that’s obvious to anybody who watched the team in 2019. The Mets took their first step at doing so by bringing back Brad Brach to a one-year deal while also agreeing to terms with Chasen Shreve to a minor league contract. Those moves are all well and good, but they need to do much more than that. The team recently addressed their vacant fifth starter position by reportedly signing Michael Wacha, which puts the focus back on the opening in the rotation.
In part one, we looked at the best remaining options, including Will Harris, Daniel Hudson, Brandon Kintzler, and Sergio Romo. Those names are likely to be outside of the self-imposed “limited budget” that the team is operating with this winter. In part two, we examined some more cost-effective options who have pitched for the team in the distant, and not-so-distant, past, featuring Joe Smith, Collin McHugh, Tyler Clippard, and Jerry Blevins.
If you look deeper at the reliever market, there are some pitchers who didn’t perform all that well in 2019 and are certainly considered risky, but players who could provide a tremendous reward to the Mets should they rebound and pitch to their career norms. These players potentially could be had on one-year deals in an attempt to build up their stock again for the 2020-2021 offseason, where they could look for a multi-year deal with a bigger payday. This presents the Mets with an opportunity to capitalize in 2020 en route to securing a return to the playoffs.
The first player is no stranger to pitching in the Big Apple, as he’s spent his first eight seasons in the Bronx anchoring the New York Yankees’ bullpen. Dellin Betances is one of the most intriguing names in the free agent market. He only pitched two-thirds of an inning last year—he struck out both batters he faced—and overall endured what can kindly be described as a lost season. He suffered a right shoulder impingement in spring training and encountered several setbacks while attempting a return to action, and he suffered a partial tear of his left achillies while jumping on the mound to celebrate a September strikeout. The right-hander is expected back by the start of spring training.
Don’t let the injury scare you away: Betances is still an elite reliever who can provide tremendous results at a potential bargain. He was a four-time All Star from 2014-2017 and has a career 14.6 K/9. In his career, he owns a 2.36 ERA, a 2.31 FIP, a 1.04 WHIP, and a career 11.6 bWAR in 381.2 innings. Prior to last season, he pitched at least 65 innings all but once. While he will be 32 on Opening Day, and the mileage on his arm is a legitimate cause for concern, taking a flyer on him for one year, which is the deal he’s likely to sign, wouldn’t be the craziest thing in the world. Betances will have a lot to prove next season, and there’s no better place to do it than with the Mets. The latest rumors at the winter meetings certainly seem to suggest it could come down to the Yankees and Mets.
Blake Treinen would have been a really good fit for the Mets’ pen, but the Los Angeles Dodgers brought him in on a one-year, $10 million deal on Wednesday. The Mets should have been in on that, but alas!
Instead, the team could look at Yoshihisa Hirano, formerly of the Arizona Diamondbacks, to join their bullpen. The 35-year-old right-hander pitched 12 seasons in Japaon for the Orix Buffaloes prior to coming over to MLB. After signing a two-year deal with Arizona, Hirano had a stellar rookie season and finished sixth in the 2018 NL Rookie of the Year voting. He posted a 2.44 ERA, a 3.69 FIP, a 1.09 WHIP, an 8.0 K/9, a 3.1 BB/9 and a 1.3 bWAR in 66.1 innings pitched, making 75 appearances in his first go-around in the majors.
He fell victim to the sophomore slump in 2019, however, and his numbers declined across the board (except in terms of strikeouts). He ended the year with a 4.75 ERA, a 4.04 FIP, a 1.38 WHIP, a 10.4 K/9, a 3.7 BB/9, and a -0.3 bWAR in 53.0 innings across 62 appearances. His body of work overall, including his work in Japan, shows that he can be an effective pitcher, and he could be an option to bring in on a short and relatively inexpensive deal in 2020.
The Mets could use another left-hander in the bullpen in addition to Justin Wilson, and they could look at Tony Sipp. The 36-year-old was available last winter—Lukas Vlahos wrote about him as his “one last move” for the offseason—but he ended up with the Nationals instead. He didn’t quite live up to his terrific 2018 results with the Houston Astros—1.86 ERA, 2.41 FIP, 1.03 WHIP, 9.8 K/9, 3.0 BB/9, and a 1.3 bWAR in 38.2 innings—and finished with a 4.71 ERA, a 3.55 FIP, a 1.33 WHIP, a 7.7 K/9, a 3.9 BB/9, and a 0.1 bWAR in 21.0 innings. With the new three-batter minimum going into effect, signing a left-handed specialist shouldn’t be the team’s priority, but adding the 11-year veteran who has had some solid seasons in the past could be a risk worth taking.
We’ll close off part three with Steve Cishek, a pitcher who is far less of a risk than the other three but posted one of the worst FIPs of his career and endured some late-season arm injuries in 2019. The ten-year veteran posted solid numbers all-around once again, finishing the year with a 2.95 ERA, a 4.54 FIP, a 1.20 WHIP, and a 1.8 bWAR in 64.0 innings. In his first year with the Chicago Cubs in 2018, he finished with a 2.18 ERA, a 3.44 FIP, a 1.04 WHIP, and a 2.3 bWAR in a career-high 70.1 innings.
Despite his age—he will turn 34 in June—he has shown that he can remain reliable. His walks have been climbing over the past two years—he had a 3.6 BB/9 in 2018 and a 4.1 BB/9 in 2019—which is troubling, but he has still proven to be a dependable option. Mets fans are most familiar with Cishek from his days with the Miami Marlins, which came to an end midway through the 2015 season, but he had some of his best success with them, finishing iwth a 2.86 ERA, a 2.69 FIP, and a 1.22 WHIP in 289.2 innings over parts of six seasons. He would certainly be a solid addition to a pen that needs as many pitchers as the team can find.
Any of the above four names could prove to be valuable to the Mets in 2020. Now, it’s up to Brodie Van Wagenen to identify their target, pursue them aggressively, and close out a few deals to turn one of the team’s biggest weaknesses into a strength next year. One thing is for certain: the team cannot continue to roll out a cavalcade of quadruple-A arms that the team loves to yo-yo up and down from Syracuse—Jacob Rhame, Tyler Bashlor, Daniel Zamora, etc.—whenever they’re facing a shortage in their bullpen. It’s time for the team to get serious about building a complete bullpen, and we’ve outlined a number of worthwhile options for them to choose from.