After agreeing to re-sign Yoenis Cespedes on November 30, the Mets have made few transactions since. This might have caused an outrage in past off-seasons, but the Mets are contenders now. They are also spending more money than they used to as their total payroll is at $138,435,000. That puts them at the 13th-highest payroll which is a big jump from just a few years ago. While the Mets may not have much room for any late, expensive free agent signings, another reliever is not out of the question. If Sandy Alderson were to re-sign a reliever from last year, the question is who: Fernando Salas or Jerry Blevins?
The Case for Salas
Fernando Salas was acquired by the Mets from the Angels on August 31. At first glance, acquiring a player with a 4.47 ERA seemed like a questionable move. However, during his time with the Angels, Salas only had one really poor month. In 12 games and 11.1 innings in June, Salas went 1-4 and gave up 14 hits, 13 runs, six walks, and four home runs. He finished the month with a 10.32 ERA which made his 2.45 ERA at the end of May balloon up to 4.86 ERA at the end of June.
Salas didn’t mess around upon joining the Mets in the thick of a playoff race. He didn’t give up a run until his seventh game with his new team. Overall with the Mets he played in 17 games, pitched in 17.1 innings, and struck out 18 hitters. He only gave up a total of 11 hits, four runs, three home runs, and no walks. That was good for a 2.08 ERA, 0.63 WHIP, and 0.6 WAR.
Re-signing Salas would most likely come much cheaper and easier. Right now Blevins appears to cost around $12 million for two years. Salas would surely come more reasonably. Also being two years younger only helps his case even if just a little.
The Case for Blevins
The Mets traded Matt den Dekker to the Nationals for Jerry Blevins on March 30, 2015. Blevins’ season was limited to only seven games in 2015 after breaking his arm twice, but the Mets liked what they saw though as he gave up no runs almost exclusively as a lefty specialist. They then decided to re-sign him for 2016.
The re-signing worked out for the Mets as Blevins was brilliant for them, pitching in 42 innings across 73 games giving up only 36 hits, 15 walks, and 13 earned runs. He struck out 11.1 batters per nine innings with 52 strikeouts, recording a 2.79 ERA, 1.214 WHIP, and 148 ERA+.
Again, Blevins served primarily as a left specialist. Left-handed batters made 115 plate appearances against him while right-handed batters made 65 plate appearances against him. Surprisingly, he did better against right-handed batters as they put up a .182/.266/.345/.611 slash line compared to left-handed batters who put up a .255/.313/.324/.636 slash line. Both slash lines were good, but the difference was a little unconventional.
The Answer is…
The general takeaways from the above information is that Blevins had the better season, but Salas was still good and will come cheaper. If you buy into WAR completely then it’s even harder to differentiate their production in 2016. Both had the same 0.0 Wins Above Replacement if you include Salas’ entire season. If you look back at their careers you find two similar pitchers in regards to ERA, innings pitched, and strikeouts per nine innings.
Having said that, the clear priority is still Blevins. He is the better pitcher of the two right now. Even if you disagree with that notion, it’d be hard to choose a right-handed pitcher over a left-handed pitcher for the Mets. Right now the only lefty relievers the Mets have are Sean Gilmartin, Josh Edgin, and Josh Smoker. Smoker only has 15.1 Major League innings under his belt. It is unclear if Edgin is back to the point where he can make a big impact.
A good lefty specialist is not the most important player a team could have. It’s not going to turn a 60-win team into a World Series Champion. For a contender like the Mets, it could have a big impact though, putting them over the top. According to MLB Insider Andy Martino, the Mets are comfortable to go two years with Blevins if he’s fine with that. While they have a higher payroll than usual, this signing is a priority and can be done.