An offseason ago, the New York Mets had a chance to get involved in the Aroldis Chapman sweepstakes. Despite the Cincinnati Reds trading Chapman away for an underwhelming package and despite the bullpen failing the Mets in the 2015 World Series, Sandy Alderson never seemed to seriously get involved. This offseason, the front office should avoid making a mistake like that again.
Let’s preface this discussion with a truth: the Mets have a good bullpen already. Addison Reed was perhaps the best setup man in the NL, while Jeurys Familia led the major league in saves. The middle relief had its ugly moments but was generally reliable this season for Terry Collins.
But all of those truths are related to the regular season, and adding another top-tier bullpen arm is more about the postseason than anything else. With a healthier pitching staff and lineup, the Mets will again be among the top teams in the National League. They should expect to be a playoff team, and therefore, they should build a team that will thrive in the postseason.
There are three main things that adding another top tier bullpen arm does:
1) It shortens the game
Let the 2015 Kansas City Royals and 2016 New York Yankees be your blueprint, but throw in a better starting rotation. Imagine only needing six innings from your All-Star caliber starter and then not missing a beat (or possibly getting better) with three dominant one-inning bullpen arms. It also allows you to bring in one of your guys into a tough spot in the 5th, 6th or 7th inning and still know you have two relief aces in your back pocket. If things get tougher for Mets’ opponents once the starter gets out of the game, then New York is going to pile up a lot of wins.
2) It provides Familia or Reed insurance
As great as Familia and Reed were in 2016, the Mets are one injury or one down year away from having a pretty dicey bullpen situation. So hedge your bets and create a situation where even if one pitcher struggles, the Mets still have two reliable relief arms to turn to. This is especially true for Familia, who has failed in big postseason spots on multiple occasions. If this turns into a trend, it will be important to have several other options to turn to.
3) It allows you to rest relievers and starters
Part of the reason Familia may have struggled in the postseason is that he’s overworked in the regular season. Reed was also less dominant at times in the second half. Having three options instead of two means that even in close games, Collins can give one of his top relievers a night off if he needs to. This will ensure those pitchers are a little more fresh come September and October. And it also allows the Mets to shorten the workload of their starters here and there. Pulling Syndergaard or deGrom after six innings is a lot easier when you don’t have to figure out the seventh in order to get to the eighth. A reliable third reliever will likely save each starter about 10 innings over the course of a season and will have them fresher for the postseason.
So here are a handful of guys the Mets should target in free agency and trades, excluding guys that will likely be out of their price range (ex: impending free agents Aroldis Chapman, Mark Melancon and Kenley Jansen):
1) Wade Davis: One year left on his deal and coming off an injury-riddled season, Davis could likely be had for less than he’s worth. If healthy, he’s one of the best bullpen arms in baseball. The Royals also appear interested in moving him.
2) Alex Colome: The Rays closer was among the best in baseball last season, as he posted a 1.91 ERA and 11.3 K/9. He’s not a free agent until 2021, but the Rays aren’t too close to contention and could be motivated to move him for the right package.
3) Tyler Thornburg: Basically the same deal as Colome — good closer, bad team and far from free agency (2020). Mets and Brewers had discussed plenty of deals in the past, so it might be easy to to revisit talks.
4) Kyle Barraclough/David Phelps: The Marlins are desperate for starting pitching, and the Mets have a lot of it. Both of these pitchers had over 100 K and a sub-3.00 ERA last season. Could a Seth Lugo or Robert Gsellman be enough to lure one from Miami?
5) Brad Hand/Ryan Buchter: The Padres also had a couple of dominant late-inning options last season, and they have been shown in the past to be willing to deal guys like these. They’re also a team looking for starting pitching.