Shortly after free agency began, we started running down the list of free agent relief pitchers who could help the Mets by their 2023 ERA, a rudimentary but nonetheless helpful way of sorting that big list.
While the Mets haven’t signed—or even been linked to—any relievers, the Braves have been active in that department. Atlanta signed Reynaldo López, who was mentioned in part three of this series, to a three-year, $26 million deal. And they inked Pierce Johnson, who otherwise would have been a free agent when this offseason began, to a two-year, $14.25 million deal and signed Joe Jiménez to a three-year, $26 million deal.
There are still a slew of relievers on the market, but even if only the upper third or half of the league is trying to be competitive in any given season, the number of options remaining could plummet as the offseason progresses.
Kirby Yates: Objectively, it wasn’t all that long ago that Kirby Yates was among baseball’s very best relievers. A whole lot has happened since the 2019 season ended, though, and as baseball made its way back from the pandemic, Yates spent far more time injured than he did on a major league mound. He threw just 4.1 innings for the Padres in 2020, didn’t pitch at all in 2021, and threw 7.0 innings for the Braves in 2022. This year, he finally had a fully healthy season, throwing 60.1 innings with a 3.28 ERA and a 4.63 FIP. The latter was so high because walks were a big issue for him—at a rate of 14.6 percent. Back in his best years, walks were never much of a problem. It’s highly unlikely that he’ll return to those kinds of numbers, but he put himself back on the map as a capable—if frustrating to watch—major league reliever.
Jordan Hicks: When you average more than 100 miles per hour on your fastball out of the bullpen, expectations are always going to be high, especially when your career gets off to a pretty good starts. Jordan Hicks did that in 2018 and 2019, totaling a 3.47 ERA for the Cardinals over the first 106.1 innings of his big league career. Hicks has Type 1 diabetes and opted to skip the 2020 season, and he threw only 10.0 innings in 2021 before suffering from right elbow inflammation and missing the rest of the major league season.
In 2022, Hicks was healthy again, and the Cardinals opted to put him in their rotation early in the season to disastrous results. In eight starts, Hicks had a 5.47 ERA, and while his numbers out of the bullpen weren’t great, either, his 4.37 ERA in that role was certainly better. This year, he pitched exclusively out of the bullpen, and after putting up a 3.67 ERA in 41.2 innings with the underwhelming Cardinals, he was traded to the Blue Jays, where he had a 2.63 ERA over 24.0 innings the rest of the way. In total, that gave Hicks a 3.29 ERA and a 3.22 FIP on the season. While he’s not throwing quite as hard as he did early in his career, he still averaged over 100 miles per hour with his fastball this year and is only entering his age-27 season.
Jake Diekman: Having cut his teeth with the Phillies in 2012 and spent three-and-a-half seasons in Philadelphia, Diekman has gone on to pitch for the Rangers, Diamondbacks, Royals, A’s, Red Sox, White Sox, and Rays over the past several years. Aside from the 2017 season, he’s been healthy in all of those years, and he’s consistently had walk rates ranging from very high to astronomical. To his credit, he’s made it work better than expected, as he has a 3.82 ERA in his major league career. This year, Diekman had a 3.34 ERA and a 3.75 FIP despite walking a staggering 15.6 percent of batters and only striking out 26.3 percent of them. He managed that by being sort of the anti-Drew Smith, rarely serving up home runs. Is that the type of reliever you want to watch on a regular basis? Probably not. Is he better than a bunch of the options the Mets currently have in their bullpen? Probably.