Now that the World Series is over and there are a number of big-league ballplayers officially looking for work, baseball’s offseason is officially upon us. And with former agent Brodie Van Wagenen as the New York Mets’ new general manager, the organization can finally start to formalize an offseason plan.
Van Wagenen’s introduction to the New York media last week was an impressive one with regard to how he handled all the questions thrown his way. He had a number of noteworthy quotes, but the one that landed the most with me (probably like many others) was the following:
“We will win now, we will win in the future. We’re going to develop a winning culture and a winning mindset. And we will deliver this city and fan base a team they can be proud of.”
There are plenty of decisions for the Mets to make in order for this all to happen immediately. The process of coming to conclusions on those decisions will begin Monday, as Van Wagenen participates in the GM meetings for the first time as a team executive. The Mets’ new GM has a rather lengthy to-do list when it comes to making New York a playoff contender in 2019 — they need some more legitimate offense, better defense, and a basically brand-new bullpen.
That last one is the most important because not only is it a difficult thing to accomplish thanks to how up-and-down life as a reliever can be, but it’s also something that’s escaped the Mets recently, especially over the last two seasons.
2018 Was Bad In Almost Every Way
Trying to find positives when searching through New York’s cumulative bullpen stats feels just about impossible. Only the Miami Marlins (5.34 ERA, -2.1 fWAR) and Kansas City Royals (5.04, -2.2) were worse than the Mets when it comes to bullpen ERA (4.96) or fWAR (-0.6). New York also produced the third-worst strand rate (70.0%), third-worst homers allow per nine innings (1.35), and the sixth-worst WHIP (1.41).
As if this performance wasn’t already bad enough, it also ranked as the worst (or one of the worst) in franchise history dating back to 2001 when looking at a number of categories (ERA, HR/9, WHIP, ground-ball rate, and hard-hit rate). Hitting this specific low point wasn’t fun to watch, and it’s now the second of a two-year process of bottoming out.
After three years of solid results with regard to preventing runs (3.14 ERA in 2014, 3.48 in 2015, 3.53 in 2016), the Mets have now posted the two worst season-long bullpen ERAs since 2001 in each of the past two years.
Protecting The Good Ones
With so many untrustworthy relievers sitting in his bullpen, it became clear that manager Mickey Callaway really only trusted Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman in important situations (like any game started by Jacob deGrom). That was evidenced by the rate which they entered ballgames — both Lugo (78.1) and Gsellman (80.0) were among the top five National League relievers in innings pitched.
It’s good to have a pair of pitchers that a manager can trust down in his bullpen, but it obviously becomes counterproductive when they’re basically the only two he can trust. Lugo’s month-by-month splits show he was consistently solid throughout 2018, but Gsellman did watch his monthly performance ride a roller coaster for most of the year.
These two hurlers have proven to be effective in the roles they had last season. In order for them to stay effective for as long as possible, though, they could use a little help.
Lots of Choices
Van Wagenen has already made it clear that he aspires to be busy — whether it’s via free agency or via the trade market — to improve the Mets moving forward. Unlike the position-player side of things, there are a lot more choices when it comes to finding relief help.
Looking at the catcher market helps to see this difference. Yasmani Grandal and Wilson Ramos are the clear top options, with the other free-agent backstops at least a ring or two (or more) below. If the Mets want to get solid production on both sides of the ball from an available catcher, the best bet would be to nab one of these two backstops.
There are also a number of top relief options available (Craig Kimbrel, old friend Jeurys Familia, Zach Britton, and David Robertson are a few that initially come to mind), but building a bullpen is not as easy as just aiming for the top of the market. While Kimbrel had another good year, his control took a huge step back from his dominant 2017 season. After all, Chris Sale was the pitcher to close out the World Series, not Boston’s actual stud closer.
There is plenty of value to be had at the bottom of the relief market. It feels like those value signings have escaped the Mets more times than not in recent years, though.
Fortifying the offense will be crucial because the Mets can’t actually win baseball games without scoring runs. However, it’d also be helpful if we didn’t have to constantly hold our breath when the bullpen enters with a late-game lead. Van Wagenen has a number of top priorities this winter, but finding the magic when it comes to building a successful bullpen should be above all else.
Regardless of who the Mets sign — a couple at the top of the market or more value signings — we won’t know if this could potentially be a talent of Van Wagenen and his new front office until the middle of the summer at the earliest. Let’s hope the decisions they make will eventually shake out to be the right ones.