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Grading the Mets’ bullpen additions

It’s not great, Bob.

New York Mets Photo Day Photo by Mark Brown/MLB Photos via Getty Images

The Mets added Starling Marte and Mark Canha to the lineup. They signed Max Scherzer and traded for Chris Bassitt to improve the rotation. They didn’t make any bench additions, but there are at least some adequate, if inflexible, options there. That leaves the bullpen, and it’s time to grade the additions the Mets made at the back-end of their pitching staff.

The biggest name here is Adam Ottavino, a former Rockie, Yankee, and Red Sox coming off an up-and-down year in Boston. There’s no denying Ottavino’s raw stuff; he consistently posts top-quartile spin rates and spin efficiency numbers on his fastball and slider. However, he has about as much control as a toddler with a paint brush. The lowest BB/9 Ottavino has posted since 2017 is an ugly 4.17, and he throws a lot of pitches outside of the zone without inducing a ton of chase swings. These flaws have limited Ottavino to more of a setup role, the sort of electric arm that could strike out three batters and make them look silly or walk in two runs, leaving fans white-knuckling their chair the entire time.

Investing in non-elite, non-optionable right-handed relievers is something the Mets have made a bit of an unfortunate habit of. You don’t want to rely on such arms for high-leverage innings, and you can’t shuffle them up-and-down to maintain flexibility. At the very least, Ottavino only cost $4 million and there’s enough variance to his performance that the Mets could wind up with 40 really high quality innings out of him at the back of the bullpen. As a standalone move, it’s not a bad gamble (call it a B- if you want).

Aside from Ottavino, the rest of the Mets’ bullpen additions amount to....almost nothing. Alex Claudio and Chasen Shreve were brought in on minor league deals, and both are now on track to make the opening day bullpen thanks to expanded roster rules. Claudio hasn’t been a particularly effective big league pitcher since 2017, and even then he was scraping by with some questionable peripherals. Shreve at the very least has been pretty effective when in the majors the last two seasons, including a 2020 stint with the Mets, but relying on him to be anything more than a middle relief option is beyond pushing it even when accounting for his great spring. Unfortunately for the Mets, who play in the same division as Matt Olson, Bryce Harper, Juan Soto, and Kyle Schwarber, Claudio and Shreve are the only left-handed relief pitchers on the current roster and possibly the only even semi-viable options in the organization at present.

For completeness, I’ll mention that the Mets signed Felix Pena, R.J. Alvarez, Tim Adleman, and Rob Zastryzny to minor league deals while also claiming Antonio Santos and Yoan López off of waivers. It’s a decent slate of depth additions, with a combination of past major league viability, interesting high-minors performance, and even some youth. But a good roster should be hoping that one of these guys improves and perhaps forces you to make a tough decision at the end of spring training or later on in April, not relying on multiple NRIs in the opening day bullpen.

To be clear, the Mets’ bullpen as currently constructed is by far the weakest part of the team. This was true at the start of the offseason and remains true now, as the longstanding organizational resistance to investing in relievers has continued (read into that comment what you will). Aaron Loup was unlikely to repeat his 2021 performance and probably got a little overpaid, but other options like Andrew Chafin, Collin McHugh, and Brooks Raley all signed for extremely reasonable two-year deals. When your aim is to be one of the bye teams in the new playoff format, quibbling over relative pennies while leaving such a glaring hole on the roster is a massive unforced error.

As such, the sum total of bullpen additions gets a D. Ottavino, while potentially exciting, is a sub-optimal addition from a roster construction standpoint, and is certainly not an adequate addition given the eminent need. A good set of minor league additions doesn’t cover that hole either. Failing to adequately round out the ‘pen could force the Mets to overpay for relief help in trades at the deadline or could ultimately hinder their playoff future. Hopefully we’re not chiding the Mets for being penny wise, pound foolish in this department come October.