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The Mets’ bullpen could be a major weakness in 2021

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It’s not great, Bob.

MLB: Washington Nationals at New York Mets Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports

As currently constructed, the Mets’ bullpen feels like one of those memes where you describe a bunch of things while leaving one thing out. “The Mets’ lineup is elite”, “The Mets’ rotation has Jacob deGrom”, “The Mets’ bullpen...”, “The Mets’ bench is fun”—you get the idea. While the rest of the roster is quite good, the relief pitching feels like an acute weakness that was neglected this offseason.

The back end of the bullpen will be locked down for the third consecutive season by Edwin Díaz. While we don’t need to revisit the trade that brought him here, Díaz was back to his elite ways in 2020, positing a 1.75 ERA and 45 DRA- in 25.2 innings that just about matched his results in 2016 and 2018. Plenty of ink has been spent discussing the cause behind his poor 2019, be it poor control, home run luck, general reliever instability, or any combination thereof. The long and the short of it is that the Mets have about as safe a bet for an elite reliever at the back of their pen as is available. It could still all blow up because “relievers, man,” but their closer is a clear plus to the roster.

Surprisingly, the Mets made only two notable free agent additions to the back of the bullpen: Trevor May and Aaron Loup. May joined the team on a two-year, $15 million deal this offseason after settling in as one of the better setup men in baseball over the past three seasons. He has some nasty stuff and posted a career best K/9 in 2020, so there might even be some latent upside even though he’s 31. Loup, meanwhile, is more a middle-relief type, though he did improve last year in Tampa thanks to increased use of his cutter. If nothing else, he’s a usable lefty arm in a bullpen that’s very right-hand dominant.

The missing name in the discussion of the back of the bullpen is of course Seth Lugo. The 31-year-old has been a constant, borderline-elite presence over the last few seasons, serving as both fire- and setup-man as well as intermittent closer. Unfortunately, he’s been out since February after undergoing surgery to move a bone spur and has yet to begin throwing. He’s on track for a mid-to-late May return, but his absence is going to be sorely felt in an already thin bullpen.

Lugo’s injury has basically guaranteed a spot to both Jeurys Familia and Dellin Betances, at least for the start of the year. Neither has looked good in camp—Familia has his stuff, but no control, while Betances looks like toast—but both are making serious money, and the Mets find themselves without better options. On the other hand, Miguel Castro has provided some cause for optimism with a very strong spring. Still, his control problems have been a constant issue, and reading too much into spring stats is sure way to find fool’s gold. That Castro could very well wind up being the third-best reliever in the bullpen until Lugo returns is problematic.

Finally, we arrive at the last spots in the bullpen, which appear to have been won by Robert Gsellman and Jacob Barnes. Gsellman was ranked the 17th best prospect in baseball by Baseball Prospectus at one point but has never made good on the promise of his 2016 debut. He’s not shown anything in spring to suggest he’s more than a long man out of the pen at this point. Barnes is a bit older at 30 and has bounced between a few organizations before joining the Mets as a waiver claim. He posted a career-best strikeout rate in his 18 2020 innings, and Jeremy Hefner has been talking him up all spring, so there could be some latent potential here that the Mets are trying to unlock.

Beyond the arms that’ll head north with the team, the Mets did cycle through a number of other pitches this spring. Tommy Hunter and Mike Montgomery were both brought in as NRIs but have since been released. Arodys Vizcaíno looked good and drew rave reviews from James McCann, but his injury issues reared their ugly head when he was slowed down by elbow soreness. He’ll head to the alternate site along with a couple lefties in Jerry Blevins and Stephen Tarpley, the former a veteran LOOGY trying for a comeback and the latter a waiver claim from the Marlins with a career 6.65 ERA.

There are also some prospects worth keeping an eye on, though none particularly impressed in camp. Sam McWilliams is the big one, both literally and metaphorically, having joined the team on a rare major league deal for a player with no service time. He looked poor this spring, though, and was an early option to the alternate site. The same is true of Ryley Gilliam, who we ranked #23 on our top 25, and Tylor Megill, who featured on our other players of note. We’ve gotten good velocity reports on Thomas Szapucki, which is promising after hearing some scary things at the alt site last year, but the only game action we got to see might as well have been filmed by the Curiosity rover. Some of the starting pitching depth could also play a role here if shifted to the bullpen, with the most obvious candidate being Franklyn Kilome.

Needless to say, this is the weakest part of the Mets’ 2021 roster, a flaw that is particularly concerning when 40% of the projected starting rotation are five-and-dive types (David Peterson, Joey Lucchesi). Sandy Alderson has a reputation for (somewhat accurately) not valuing relief pitching, but that viewpoint shouldn’t dictate a near total lack of investment. No contending team should be guaranteeing four bullpen spots to Familia, Betances, Barnes, and Gsellman. Inevitably, the Mets are going to need to add to this group at the deadline and wind up paying in prospects for something they could’ve brought with money in the offseason instead.