Now that Brad Hand, who had been linked to the Mets in free agency, has signed with the division rival Nationals, we figure it’s a good time to take another look at some of the relief pitching options on the free agent market. The Mets’ bullpen could still use some help, as there are a lot of question marks after the team’s top three relievers right now. And rather than run down the list of every single one of the many options still on the market, we’ll highlight a few relievers at a time.
Picked by the Brewers in the first round of the 2006 draft, Jeremy Jeffress made his major league debut out of the team’s bullpen in 2010. Since then, he’s had one of the most unique transaction histories you’ll find. Following the 2010 season, the Brewers traded him to the Royals alongside Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, and Jake Odorizzi in the deal the sent Zack Greinke to the Brewers. A couple years later, the Blue Jays picked him up, and when he hit free agency in 2014, Jeffress signed with the Brewers.
At the trade deadline in 2016, the Brewers again traded Jeffress away, this time with Jonathan Lucroy to the Rangers. Three hundred sixty four days later, the Rangers traded him back to the Brewers at the deadline. And two years after that, on September 1, 2019, the Brewers released him. A few months later, just before the pandemic hit the United States in full force, the Cubs signed him to a one-year deal.
As for his performance across all of those years, Jeffress has quite a few good seasons to his name, but he’s had some clunkers, too. In the shortened 2020 season, he managed to finish with a 1.54 ERA despite bad strikeout and walk rates that were the main factors in his 4.09 FIP. Over the course of his career, the 33-year-old righty has a 3.08 ERA and 3.65 FIP, with much of his success coming from limiting walks and home runs and inducing ground balls.
The Mets are reportedly one of several teams with at least some interest in Jeffress. If they were to sign him, they would likely be hoping to get something closer to his excellent 2018 season—during which he threw 76.2 innings with a 1.29 ERA and 2.76 FIP—than his overall body of work since then, which includes a 5.02 ERA in 2019. And it’s worth noting that his fastball velocity has been in decline for several years now, with 2019 having been the first season that saw it dip below 95 miles per hour and his 93.86 average in 2020 the lowest mark of his career.
A pitcher with declining velocity, a low strikeout rate, and a need to get outs on the ground might not be the best fit for the Mets right now, even with the excellent Francisco Lindor at shortstop. But he seems to have at least as decent a chance at being a good reliever in 2021 as, say, Brad Brach, who is currently penciled in to one of the spots in what will presumably be an eight-man bullpen.
Like Jeffress, Alex Colomé is not really a strikeout pitcher. Unlike Jeffress, he’s really never had a bad season in his major league career. The 32-year-old came up through the Rays’ system and debuted with them as a starter in 2013, making three starts that year and three more starts plus two relief appearances in 2014. In 2015, he stuck at the major league level once he was called up on May 1, making thirteen starts with a pedestrian 4.70 ERA before being moved to the bullpen. Colomé had a 2.66 ERA the rest of the way that year and has pitched exclusively in relief ever since.
Early in the 2018 season, the Rays traded Colomé to the Mariners, and following that season, the Mariners traded him to the White Sox, where he remained for the 2019 and 2020 seasons before hitting free agency.
In total, Colomé has a 2.95 ERA and 3.54 FIP in his big league career, including the starts he made with the Rays earlier in his career. As a reliever, he’s thrown 320.1 innings with a 2.75 ERA and a 3.28 FIP. Despite being a right-handed pitcher, he’s actually been slightly more effective against left-handed hitters over the course of his career, which could be a useful trait in a Mets bullpen that doesn’t have a left-handed pitcher as a lock to make the Opening Day roster at the moment. And it terms of velocity, he’s held up pretty well, averaging just a shade below 95 miles per hour the past two years after averaging 95 and change in every season before those two.
If it feels like forever since the submarine-throwing Darren O’Day was with the Mets, well, it has been. The 38-year-old made four appearances for the Mets in 2009 after the team took him in the Rule 5 draft from the Angels following the 2008 season. But in mid-April, the Mets called up Nelson Figueroa to fill in for Mike Pelfrey—who the team could have simply put in the disabled list—and designated O’Day for assignment to make room on the active roster.
The Rangers claimed him, and since then, he’s had a very good major league career. In total, O’Day has a 2.51 ERA over the course of 576.2 innings, spending a couple more seasons in Texas before the Orioles claimed him off waivers following the 2011 season. He remained in Baltimore for nearly seven years, and he was dominant in his first four seasons there, putting up a 1.92 ERA from 2012 through 2015. Following the 2015 season, O’Day hit free agency, and the Mets were reported to have interest in him, but the Orioles re-signed him.
Over the next two-and-a-half seasons, O’Day had a solid 3.56 ERA, though it was a step back from his previous work, and at the 2018 trade deadline, while he was recovering from hamstring surgery and out for the rest of the season, he was included in the deal that sent Kevin Gausman to the Braves.
O’Day didn’t appear in a game with the Braves until late in the 2019 season, but in the 21.2 innings he pitched between his appearances in 2019 and 2020, he had a 1.25 ERA and 2.60 FIP, striking out 11.6 and walking 2.5 batters per nine innings. The Braves declined his $3.5 million option following the season, which is why he’s a free agent now.
Never a hard thrower, O’Day averaged 86.23 miles per hour on his fastball in 2020, which was down a tick from the 87-to-88 miles per hour that he had averaged before. Given that he pitched effectively once he returned from the aforementioned surgery, though, and his brief previous Mets tenure, it would be fun to see the team bring him back and give him a shot at cracking the bullpen to start the season.