After sending Jeurys Familia to Oakland at the 2018 trade deadline, the Mets signed the free-agent reliever to a three-year, $30 million deal in the 2019 offseason, bringing him back to his original club. By this point, Familia was no longer the top-shelf closer who saved 94 games for the Mets in 2015 and 2016, but the team wasn’t asking him to be. The club signed him as a valuable back-end reliever who could set up newly acquired closer Edwin Díaz, and many people in the organization, most adorably Terry Collins, were excited about the reunion.
And then he started to pitch.
Edwin Díaz’s abysmal 2019 performance got more attention than Familia’s, but Familia arguably pitched worse than Díaz. Amongst all Mets pitchers with at least 30 innings pitched in 2019, Familia ranked at the bottom with a 5.70 ERA, a 1.73 WHIP, and 6.3 BB/9 innings. His 71 ERA+ was his lowest since his rookie season and his -0.4 bWAR was the worst of his career. For most relievers, these numbers would merit a demotion, but Familia enters the 2020 season as the fourth-highest paid player on the roster, and it behooves the Mets to find value in Familia after investing so heavily in his talents.
And despite his poor 2019, there’s plenty of reason to believe Familia’s talent can still translate to good outings. For one, he’s only 30 years old–not young by reliever standards, but not old enough to discount his abilities. His hard splitter that made him so effective from 2015-16 started to return by the end of the season, consistently reaching 93 miles per hour in September according to Brooks Baseball. This translated to better outings as he lowered his ERA by two runs from the beginning of July until the end of the season. Granted, he lowered a ghastly 7.76 ERA to a less-ghastly 5.70, but it at least demonstrated progress.
For another, the Mets won’t be expecting as much out of Familia this season as they did last season. With the offseason signing of Dellin Betances, Familia will likely see more innings in middle relief instead of the set-up role he began with in 2019. Familia pitched better last season after being demoted to middle relief in August, and it’s possible the less-pressurized role fits him better. The Mets ideal bullpen construction likely sees Familia as the beginning of a string of dominant relievers, with Betances, Díaz, and Seth Lugo ready behind him. But the condensed season will also put a different kind of pressure on Familia, with a lot more pitchers ready to step up if he struggles again.
If he does pitch well, however, Mets fans can look forward to Familia climbing some of the franchise’s all-time leaderboards. Familia currently sits at fourth amongst all Mets pitchers with 379 games played, only 22 behind Tom Seaver (and 316 behind leader John Franco). Familia also has the third-most saves in franchise history, though barring injuries to a handful of relievers over the next two seasons he’s unlikely to chip away at Franco’s commanding lead. However the 2020 season looks, Familia has already reached an all-time status amongst Mets relievers.
But status might only get him so far in 2020. With great talent, a high salary, and lowered expectations, Familia will certainly get an opportunity to succeed this season. But just like everyone else in the bullpen, he’ll likely be afforded a lot less patience than in 2019.