Since taking over as general manager of the Mets, Brodie Van Wagenen has been coy and cautious, talking more in general terms about his team rather than in specifics. There is one area of the team, however, that he has at least given Mets fans some direction and that is the bullpen and the need to fix it. An obvious place to start because the Mets’ 4.96 bullpen ERA was the third worst in baseball in 2018.
Van Wagenen said about his pen, “…we have a number of power arms we can lean on. I think we’re hoping that there will be some development from some of the players who got some exposure in the big leagues last year, and I think we’ll be opportunistic to try to add to that.”
This is a good year to try to add to that as a plethora of relievers are, or will soon be, available for New York to add. They’ll need some arms because the basis of the bullpen as it stands now is comprised of Anthony Swarzak, Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman. Swarzak, who had a 6.15 ERA in 2018, is coming off a lengthy stint on the disabled list. This forced the Mets to rely heavily on Lugo and Gsellman, and as of now it is uncertain if Lugo will even remain in the bullpen or be called on as a starter for 2019.
The potential paucity of relievers in the bullpen led Van Wagenen to say on Wednesday, “I can’t imagine we would be looking to view a one-and-done type situation. Our goal would be to add multiple pieces that can help us.” He also added that he is looking for high strike out, low walk rate relievers who have “swing-and-miss” stuff.
Although there are over a half-dozen available relievers this offseason, four names come to mind as potential relievers to fill in the gaps and meet Van Wagenen’s requirements for the Mets’ pen. They are Zach Britton, Craig Kimbrel, Andrew Miller and Adam Ottavino.
Britton, 30, pitched for the Baltimore Orioles for over seven years before being traded to the New York Yankees this past July. In 2016, he led the American League in saves with 47. Though in 2018 he was never the once dominant pitcher he had been in the past, Britton improved after his trade to New York. In 25 games for the Bombers, he had a 2.88 ERA with 21 strikeouts and 11 walks in his 25 innings of work. He is terrific against right-handed hitters and held his opponents to a BA of under .200.
Kimbrel, 30, is coming off a championship year with the Boston Red Sox. He is a seven-time All-Star and is the youngest pitcher in MLB history to record 300 saves. He is widely known as one of the most dominant closers of the decade. In 2018, he appeared in 63 games for Boston, recorded 42 saves, struck out 96 and walked 31. In 62.1 innings pitched, Kimbrel had a 2.72 ERA although he had moments of wildness in the playoffs and pitched to a 5.91 ERA in the post-season.He has received a qualifying offer so the Mets would forfeit their second round pick and $500 thousand of International Slot Money to sign him.
Miller, 33, started his career as a starter but hit his stride as a reliever becoming one of the most dominant relief pitchers since 2014. He was the ALCS MVP in 2016 for the Cleveland Indians and is a two-time All-Star. In his 13 year career, the tall lefty has struck out 853 batters and walked 335–a 2.5 -1 ratio. He battled through injuries to his shoulder and legs over the last two seasons and his production dropped in 2018 as his 4.24 ERA was about two-and-a half runs higher than his ERA had been in the 4 years prior (1.72). He would be a risky pick-up for any team.
Ottavino, 32, had a terrific season for the Colorado Rockies last year. In 77.2 innings pitched, he had a .243 ERA with 112 strikeouts and only 36 walks. He is particularly hard on right-handed hitters because of his nasty slider but was nearly as successful against left-handed hitters in 2018. He underwent Tommy John surgery in 2015 and pitched poorly upon his return in 2017. So clubs are going to have to determine which pitcher they’d be getting in Ottavino, the dominant 2018 or the poor 2017 version. The Yankees have recently expressed some interest in Ottavino. Some local writers feel he is a viable option for the Mets as well.
Van Wagenen will have to decide which pitcher fits the mold of a ‘Met’ reliever by his standards and assign an appropriate value to each. It is very likely that based on his chats with the press, he’ll try to obtain more than one of these players as the bullpen is sorely in need of effective manpower. With the other holes the Mets to need to fill (such as catcher, right-handed power among others), it’ll be interesting to see going forward the priority the bullpen receives. It is certainly one of the most, if not the most, glaring need the Mets have.