After striking early in the postseason to add Trevor May, the Mets flirted with other prominent free agent relievers to bolster their bullpen—most notably Brad Hand. However, whether over money or a clearer potential path to close, the Mets lost out. In late January, the team pivoted to Aaron Loup, signing the 33-year-old to a one-year, $3 million contract, and in the process filling a glaring need in the major league bullpen for a left-handed reliever.
After a couple of solid seasons in Toronto early in his career in 2013 and 2014, Loup had been primarily looked at—and employed as—a LOOGY early over the following years, averaging fewer innings than appearances every year thereafter. In addition, injuries in 2018 and 2019 limited Loup to 7.1 innings over 13 appearances across the two seasons.
Loup signed with Tampa Bay before the 2020 season, and like many pitchers, he seemed to flourish with the Rays. Over 25 innings in the truncated 2020 season, Loup went 3-2 with a 2.52 ERA and a 169 ERA+. He flashed career-best control, walking only four and striking out 22, and impressive improvement for someone with a career 2.7 BB/9 rate. And perhaps most notably, Loup was not hindered by the three-batter minimum rule—while he flashed his traditional dominance over lefties, holding them to a .212/.278/.303 slash line, the funky lefty held his own against righties, as their .192/.246/.423 against him demonstrates. Loup clearly earned his team’s trust in Tampa, making nine appearances and throwing 5.1 effective innings in the Rays’ 2020 postseason run.
2020 was of course a small sample size, but Loup’s career numbers do reflect the notion that he can be at minimum adequate against righties. Over his career, Loup has held lefties to a .233/.302/.320 slash line, righties to .264/.332/.424. Whether or not the improvements he showed last year are repeatable is uncertain—his adjustments in repertoire for 2020 were thoroughly covered by Lukas Vlahos in grading the signing at the time of Loup’s acquisition. What is certain is that with a bullpen that will be without Seth Lugo for the first part of the season, is full of question marks beyond their top two options, and is predominantly right-handed, the Mets will be strongly relying upon the notion that they are as they enter the 2021 season.