A few weeks back, we mentioned that the Mets still needed bullpen help—despite the fact that they had a few very good relievers. At the time, Brad Hand was still a free agent who was on the Mets’ radar, but even if they had signed him, it seemed clear that they should do more. And even more importantly, the excellent Seth Lugo was penciled in to the Opening Day bullpen at the time. Now, he’s set to have surgery to remove a lose body in his right elbow.
With the only set timeline right now being that Lugo will not throw for six weeks following the surgery, there’s even more uncertainty in the Mets’ bullpen now than there was before. Even with a full and quick recovery, Lugo will presumably miss at least some portion of the 2021 season. He also has a reasonable shot, when healthy, at being the Mets’ best reliever at any given time.
For however long Lugo is out, though, the Mets now have two relievers who seem like good bets to pitch well: Edwin Díaz and Trevor May. That leaves six spots in the bullpen, assuming the Mets opt to roll with eight relievers, and the Mets’ options consist of Jeurys Familia, Dellin Betances, Miguel Castro, Aaron Loup, Jacob Barnes, Robert Gsellman, Stephen Tarpley, Drew Smith, Daniel Zamora, Jerry Blevins, and other pitchers who are equally or less likely to be good major league relievers this year.
With May and Loup having been the Mets’ only major league signings for the bullpen this offseason, the team could have and should have done more in the bullpen already. But there are still pitchers available on the market who could help them. We touched on a few of those relievers in a couple of other pieces, and some of those guys have already signed elsewhere.
With that, let’s start running down some of the remaining options in free agency, a list that includes 29 pitchers once accounting for Collin McHugh signing with the Rays and Mark Melancon signing with the Padres. The Mets could make more trades before the season begins and bring in good relievers that way, but given the volatility of the role in general, signing some guys seems like a good idea. We’ll start with six free agent relievers and go in order of their ERA in 2020, a quick and crude but useful enough way of doing this.
Nick Tropeano had a 1.15 ERA last year in seven relief appearances totaling 15.2 innings for the Pirates, the best 2020 ERA of any of the available relievers. The 30-year-old righty doesn’t throw particularly hard, but after starting for the Angels for several years, he upped his strikeout rate in his role with the Pirates last year to 28.8 percent/10.91 per nine innings.
The 31-year-old José Álvarez is a left-handed pitcher who had a 1.42 ERA in just 6.1 innings for the Phillies last year and has a track record of being a solid if unspectacular major league reliever.
Despite having a very low strikeout rate last year, Jeremy Jeffress managed a 1.54 ERA in 23.1 innings for the Cubs. Two of his past four seasons have gone poorly, but the two good ones have gone pretty well.
Former Mets pitching prospect Yusmeiro Petit, who the team sent to the Marlins as part of the Carlos Delgado trade following the 2005 season, had a 1.66 ERA in 2020. Now 36 years old, he’s had a nice career as a reliever, and he’s been particularly effective in recent years, putting up a 2.74 ERA in 289.0 innings from 2017 through 2020. Throw in the fact that he’s averaged more than an inning per appearance, and he seems like a particularly useful option for however long Lugo is out.
Trevor Rosenthal is sure to get plenty of attention, and rightfully so. If you had slept on his performance in 2020 because he was so bad in 2019, that would be understandable. But in 23.2 innings for the Royals and Padres, he was a strikeout machine and racked up a 1.90 ERA and 2.22 FIP. There’s some risk that his walk rate could blow up like it has a few times in the past, but he seems worth a gamble.
As much as Mets fans don’t want to hear it, Oliver Perez is a legitimate option, too. The 39-year-old had a 2.00 ERA last year and has a 2.67 ERA over the past three seasons. That stretch has been something of a second resurgence after Perez struggled a bit from 2015 through 2017 with a 4.58 ERA over those three years.