While the vast majority of updates about the Mets’ bullpen over the past week has consisted of Brad Hand rumors, it’s worth remembering that the team’s bullpen could still use some help. Thus far, Trevor May is the only relief pitcher signed by the Mets to a major league deal this offseason, and the team is coming off a shortened 2020 season in which its bullpen had a 4.60 ERA and 4.74 FIP.
As a quick refresher, the Mets’ bullpen as currently constructed includes Edwin Diaz, Seth Lugo, Trevor May, Jeurys Familia, Dellin Betances, Miguel Castro, Brad Brach, and Jacob Barnes. Of that group, the only new pitcher other than May is Barnes, who the Mets claimed on waivers in October and retained ahead of the non-tender deadline. And he has a 4.36 ERA for his career, with the 2019 and 2020 seasons both having gone poorly as he racked up a 6.75 ERA over a total of 50.2 innings that he spent with the Brewers, Royals, and Angels.
Diaz was fantastic in 2020, looking like the 2018 version of himself as he put up a 1.75 ERA and 2.18 FIP, and that’s encouraging as the team goes forward. If he really is that pitcher instead of the one he was in 2019, it’s a massive boon to the team’s relief corps. And Seth Lugo was predictably very good out of the team’s bullpen in 2020, too. Throw in May, who has a very good track record since permanently moving into a relief role, and the Mets’ three best relievers are a great group.
But with a 26-man roster and presumably an eight-man bullpen, that leaves five bullpen spots to fill, and all of the team’s current options to fill those spots come with uncertainty. In addition to the aforementioned struggles of Barnes, Familia managed to have a 3.71 ERA in 2020 but walked nearly as many batters as he struck out in 2020, and he had a 5.70 ERA in 60.0 innings in 2019. Betances walked more batters than he struck out and had a 7.71 ERA in 11.2 innings, and his fastball averaged 93.76 miles per hour, a huge drop from the 98+ miles per hour that he averaged before the 2019 season.
Castro struck out an impressive 33.0 percent of opposing batters in 2020, but the 26-year-old still totaled a 4.01 ERA and 3.92 FIP between his time with the Orioles and Mets—and owns a career 4.29 ERA. And while Brach is a fun story, having been a Mets fan himself, his results in 2020 were poor. Despite having thrown 14.2 solid innings for the Mets after they picked him up in 2019, he has a 5.54 ERA in 66.2 innings since the start of the 2019 season.
Beyond those players, all of whom cannot be optioned to the minors without being exposed to waivers, there’s plenty more uncertainty. Robert Gsellman, Drew Smith, Daniel Zamora, and Ryley Gilliam remain in the organization, and fan favorite Jerry Blevins is back on a minor league deal with an invitation to spring training. Arodys Vizcaino and Tom Windle are fellow non-roster invitees, and the team claimed Stephen Tarpley off waivers from the Marlins. Trevor Hildenberger was brought in on a minor league deal, too. And pitchers who have predominantly started in their careers could factor into the bullpen: Steven Matz, Joey Lucchesi, Franklyn Kilome, Corey Oswalt, Sam McWilliams, and Jerad Eickhoff, among others, could factor into the competition to make the Opening Day roster.
Clearly, though, the Mets should not be content with what they presently have. If they do sign Hand, that would help the bullpen significantly. But beyond their current top three relievers, they should prioritize finding upgrades. It is possible that the Mets’ bullpen could be good without doing anything else, but it’s a stretch to say it’s probable. And if they need to lose a reliever or two to waivers or have to eat some money to free up a roster spot for the 2021 season, so be it.