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Finding relief pitching for the Mets among non-tendered players

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There are quite a few appealing candidates for the Mets’ bullpen among this year’s non-tenders.

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Despite already bringing in Trevor May, the Mets still have a clear need for bullpen additions. Unfortunately, they also find themselves in a bit of a jam, with a group of unreliable, expensive relievers having seemingly guaranteed spots in the 2020 bullpen. This limits the Mets’ options somewhat; they’ll need to add guys who are either clear enough upgrades to merit cutting someone or bring in players with options who can be stashed in Triple-A for later shuttling. Thankfully, there are a handful of players who fit both descriptions among this year’s group of non-tenders.

Legitimate upgrades

The most appealing option here would be Archie Bradley. Though he’s not as good as his reputation would suggest, Bradley has been a solid, high-strikeout reliever at the back-end of the bullpen over the last four seasons. He peaked in 2017 with an 83 DRA- before slipping back to average in 2018 and ‘19 and finally putting together an 88 mark at both before and after a midseason trade from Arizona to Cincinnati. Bradley isn’t the kind of arm you want to hand a closer’s job, but he’d be a solid addition as a 7th inning option and a clear upgrade over the majority of the relievers currently on the roster. It’s worth noting that he’s lost almost two full MPH on all his pitches over the past two seasons, however, which is somewhat concerning.

Despite lacking the same reputation, Matt Andriese is another option of similar quality to Bradley. He’s bounced around a bit over the last couple years, starting with Tampa Bay before being traded to Arizona and then the Angels in 2020. Outside of a rough 2018 for the Diamondbacks, he’s consistently been 10-20% better than league average by DRA- while also increasing his K% by roughly 4% over the last two seasons. He might not have the same name recognition as Bradley, but he’s arguably a better option for the same sort of 7th inning role given his level of performance, presumptive price tag, and consistent velocity numbers.

Finally, we come to the most surprising player in this section: Ryan Tepera. Perhaps most famous for receiving an accidental MVP vote last season, Tepera had a legitimate breakout during his first season in Chicago. Thanks to increased use of his cutter and the continued development of a splitter he added to his arsenal in 2019, he ran a career-high 34.8% strikeout rate that ranked in the top 20 among relievers. It wasn’t all rosy, of course, as Tepera also walked five batters per nine and gave up a ton of line drives in a 20.2 inning sample that’s very hard to draw any iron clad conclusions from. Nevertheless, there was a clear change that led to his improvement, and he could make for a very affordable, potentially high reward bet as another 7th inning option.

Useful gambles

Outside of the obvious upgrades, there’s a tier of arms with options and some level of intrigue. Kenyan Middleton, Ryne Stanek, Jonathan Holder, and Nick Tropeano have all had at least one major league campaign with above average results. Middleton’s came in 2017 and he’s been bad since, Stanek has regressed and lost velocity since being traded from the Rays to the Marlins in 2019, and Tropeano has battled numerous injuries since his 2015 peak. Holder has been the most consistent performer, having never posted a below average season by DRA-, but his strikeouts dried up in 2020. Any of these options would be useful as arms to shuttle between Triple-A and the majors, but it seems likely they could find a more steady MLB opportunity elsewhere.

Next, there’s a group of relievers with either gaudy minor league numbers, who are former top prospects, or both. Hoby Milner, Edgar Garcia, and Jimmy Herget are all sidearmers—lefty, righty, righty respectively—with impressive minor league numbers, poor major league results, and underwhelming scouting reports. R.J. Aniz throws more conventionally but has a similar pattern of performance. Carlos Sanabria would be the most intriguing option here, as he was a legitimate top-20 prospect in the Astros system before 2020 despite being a 22-year-old in High-A. He has a four-pitch mix, a fastball that can touch the high 90s, and poor control—a flawed prospect, but still at least a fringe one that could contribute relatively soon.

There are also a couple relievers making their way back from Tommy John surgery in Justin Anderson and John Brebbia. Anderson is a flamethrower with no control who has the stat line you’d expect for the profile—worth a flier if the Mets’ developmental coaches think they can help him find the strike zone a bit more. Brebbia, on the other hand, was a legitimately quality reliever in both 2018 and 2019, which made his non-tendering something of a surprise. If he comes back healthy, the former Cardinal could be a high quality steal on the margins of the roster.

Flawed or bad

Chasen Shreve and Matt Wisler both have some level of appeal. Shreve would be a much needed lefty option with a penchant for strikeouts who performed quite well in Queens in 2020. Wisler has been a slightly above average, high-strikeout option himself over the past few years as he’s adapted to a role in the bullpen. Unfortunately, neither has options or is good enough to merit a full time job. If the Mets could get either on minor league contracts—as they did with Shreve last offseason—that would be excellent depth, but otherwise there’s not a real fit given the current roster logjam in the bullpen.

Finally, here are the other non-tendered relievers, with short explanations as to why they’re not worth investing in:

  • LHP Alex Claudio: low-strikeout LOOGY, no longer a useful player with the three-batter minimum
  • RHP A.J. Cole: career 125 DRA-, with 175/132/108 marks in the last three seasons. Homer Simpson voice that’s bad
  • RHP Paul Sewald: similar to Shreve and Wisler, he’s out of options and not worth guaranteeing a spot
  • RHP Hansel Robles: no, just no