Despite Starter Aboard, Should Mets Be Done Adding?

Signing Jason Vargas, whether Zack Wheeler agrees with it or not, adds depth to a pitching staff that was completely exposed once injuries took hold.

There’s really no guarantee Vargas will steal starts from anyone, but the idea of having another starter not named Rafael Montero eating innings in the bullpen or swinging in for a spot start is certainly beneficial.

With a 13-man pitching staff imminent, eight spots covered by relievers, and five of these eight already filled by Jeurys Familia, AJ Ramos, Anthony Swarzak, Jerry Blevins, and a long-man, there is still some wiggle room in the bullpen. With the way the free agent market for pitchers has evolved, the door seems very much open for the Mets to increase stability, should they decide to go in that direction.

Despite Sandy Alderson saying the Mets are likely done adding, there are still several free agents that could fit the Mets’ mold, so anything could happen. If a reliever falls into the Mets’ lap, I could see them maybe budging.

Among familiar names, Paul Sewald, Hansel Robles, Jamie Callahan, and Matt Purke (lefty) are probably the best set to compete for the last three spots.

It’s easy to nitpick with any pitcher, and perhaps it wouldn’t hurt to let Robles or Sewald try building off their respective flashes of success in 2017, but it’s also easy to see why fans and pundits alike still see hatches to be battened down.

Callahan has a high ceiling, but it may suit him better to work out of a higher-leverage position in Las Vegas so as to actually grow. Purke has managed to hold lefties to just three extra-base hits in 149 at-bats over the last two seasons in Triple-A with the White Sox, but doesn’t have much of a big-league pedigree to match.

Swarzak (.202/.299/.287), Robles (.189/.333/.378), and Ramos (.197/.314/.342) all have enough success against left-handed hitters to justify the Mets entering 2018 with Blevins working as the sole lefty out of the pen.

Nonetheless, southpaw Robbie Ross Jr. could still fill out the bullpen quite nicely. Back problems limited him to eight underwhelming appearances in early 2017 for the Red Sox, but his prior two seasons with Boston saw a 3.57 ERA in 116 innings (108 games).

Ross averaged just 3.3 BB/9 and 0.7 HR/9 and he ranged between 9-44 pitches thrown in 2017, drawing parallels to the more flexible lefties we wanted but didn’t quite get results from last year in Josh Edgin and Josh Smoker.

Left-handed batters combined for just three extra-base hits (no homers) off Ross in 80 at-bats in 2016, and in high-leverage spots, all hitters were held to a .116/.224/.140 line. He elected free agency after rejecting an outright assignment, meaning he would likely cost a shred of what Swarzak did.

A right-handed option who also fits the bill is Matt Belisle. He is entering his age38 season, and his fastball doesn’t register with the gusto of a premier arm, but there is still plenty worth watching. For example, Belisle worked to a 1.71 ERA in the second half with the Twins last year, a nice complement to the 1.76 ERA he held up in 40 games with Washington in 2016.

His K/BB ratio rose from 1.44 to 7.0 over that time. Belisle adapted by making far greater use of his secondary pitches, namely his sinker, while generating even more swings-and-misses on his slider and curveball than he had in 2016. What’s more, Belisle held lefties to a .162/.244/.351 clip in 2017, and in higher-leverage situations, kept hitters at a .197/.275/.296 line. It’s also worth noting that Belisle hasn’t seen the disabled list since April of 2016.

Either arm would benefit the current bullpen, particularly in high leverage situations, where lower-caliber options like Sewald (.298/.377/.649) and Robles (.295/.458/.568) fall short. Given the historically volatile stats of relief pitchers, it’s not entirely unreasonable to anticipate, for example, that Jamie Callahan assumes a more prominent role with the big-league club down the line.

However, the same can be said for the other side of the coin, which revealed itself very early on in the 2017 season, when Fernando Salas and Josh Smoker, among a laundry list of pitchers, crashed down with the rest of the pitching staff in a frustrating first-half that arguably set the tone for the rest of the season.

For the sake of damage control, it would make plenty of sense for the Mets to ink another reliever, and considering Greg Holland remains unsigned, it’s not all that unlikely that the Mets find space in the budget to shore up the last real hole in the roster as Spring Training approaches, nor is too much to expect the market to again conform to the Mets’ spending habits.

Having resolved the concerns surrounding the starting rotation with a 2-year, $16 million deal with a club option for a third year, there is certainly reason to believe the Mets could still be in business.

At the end of the day. the Mets could really put a cherry on top of their offseason if they brought in another reliever to round out their bullpen.

About Jack Hendon 221 Articles
Jack Hendon (@jack_hendon99 on Twitter) is a sophomore at Haverford College, special assistant/statistician for the baseball team, prospective English major and psychology minor, and contributor to MetsMerized Online. He was seven when he saw Carlos Beltran take strike three in the 2006 NLCS, and since then has concentrated his love for the Mets through writing about particular fan memories, while also devoting time to recapping games, analyzing pitchers, and heckling (when appropriate) at Citi Field. LGM!