A year ago, the Mets were in their seemingly annual position of needing to cobble together a passable bullpen in the offseason. They made a few moves in that regard—including trading for Brooks Raley and acquiring a number of optionable arms (the latter of which represented a strategy that ended up working out pretty horribly, but alas)—but perhaps the biggest addition came in the free agent signing of veteran reliever David Robertson. Robertson had spent several years in New York with the Yankees at the beginning of his career, and was coming off a season in which he pitched very well for the Chicago Cubs, got traded to the Phillies at the deadline, and struggled with his new team as they went on a remarkable postseason run.
It was hard to anticipate that Robertson replicate the same exact arc in his 2023 season—mainly because we all assumed that the Mets would be good enough that the idea of trading him at the deadline would be ludicrous. But that was exactly what ended up happening—and while the Amazins may not be happy with how their season as a whole went this year, they can’t look back on the Robertson signing as anything but a major success given the stability he provided to the back-end of the bullpen while he was here and the pieces they got back for him when he left.
While he was acquired with the clear goal of being a quality setup man to an elite closer, things quickly changed for the outlook on Robertson’s role with the team when Edwin Díaz suffered his knee injury during the World Baseball Classic which would sideline him for the rest of the year. Suddenly, the Mets needed a closer, and they naturally turned to the guy who had accumulated 157 career saves over the course of fourteen big league seasons. It was a devastating blow to the team, and the overall depth of the bullpen took a hit that it never really did recover from.
However, it cannot be said that Robertson himself didn’t carry the extra weight that was given to him, as he did his best Edwin Díaz impression (sans trumpets) by pitching like a shutdown closer. He got off to a sparkling start to the season, pitching to the tune of a 0.79 ERA across eleven April appearances, cementing his status as the best option to close out games for the Mets. He didn’t really let up much over the rest of his time in New York, with his highest monthly ERA coming in June when he put up a 3.09 ERA (while simultaneously having one of his best monthly K/BB ratios during that time).
Robertson’s overall numbers were indeed excellent for the Mets, to the point where it was a bit surprising and disappointing when he wasn’t named to the All-Star team in July. Over 40 appearances in the first four months of the season, Robertson put up a sparkling 2.05 ERA while striking out 48 batters in 44 innings pitched. When he’s been at his worst over the course of his career, Robertson has sometimes been susceptible to issuing too many free passes, but he also had that under control in 2023, as he issued just 2.7 walks per nine innings with the Mets. That made the experience of watching him pitch in close late-inning games a relatively stress-free one, something which could not be said for most of the bullpen.
Alas, the 2023 Mets didn’t hand Robertson leads nearly as often as the 2022 Mets handed them to Díaz, and come trade deadline time the allure of selling high on one of the best relievers on the market was too great to ignore. Indeed, the sell-off for the team officially began when the Mets agreed to deal Robertson to the rival Marlins in exchange for prospects Marco Vargas and Ronald Hernandez. While both players are very young and don’t figure to be a factor for the major league team for quite some time, the general consensus is that both players—particularly Vargas—represented a pretty impressive haul for just two months of a reliever.
What happened to Robertson after he was traded from the Mets isn’t really our concern, but—well, things took a turn for the worse for him shortly after. Whether the rigors of a full season of pitching caught up to the 38-year-old veteran or he just experienced some extreme regression after an unsustainably impressive beginning to his season, the Marlins did not get the excellent relief ace they were expecting to get. Robertson instead put up a 5.06 ERA across 22 outings, quickly losing his closer job in the process. Miami made the playoffs in spite of his contributions rather than because of them—and he quickly played a role in their fast exit, giving up two runs to the Phillies in his lone postseason appearance.
Despite those struggles towards the end of the year, I’ve seen many people suggest that the Mets should reach out to Robertson about a reunion this offseason. The team could certainly do worse in addressing their bullpen holes, but—even ignoring any potential concerns that his late-season collapse might raise—we’ve see how relying on a talented but aging pitching staff can go wrong very quickly. While Díaz will hopefully be back in his closer role in 2024, the Mets still might not want to risk relying so heavily on Robertson and Adam Ottavino—two pitchers in their late 30s—to fill such important roles in their bullpen. We can instead be grateful for the contributions he made on the field this year and think fondly of him while watching Vargas and Hernandez rise through the farm system. Given how many of these types of free agent signings have worked out poorly for the Mets in past years, it is indeed nice to have one that worked out so well instead.