The New York Mets appear to have had a very solid offseason, even if they didn’t do anything quite as flashy or bold as the Phillies’ recent signing of superstar Bryce Harper.
While the Mets got a lot of praise for acquiring guys such as Robinson Cano, Edwin Diaz, Jed Lowrie, and Wilson Ramos, one of the more underrated moves they made was signing left-handed reliever Luis Avilan.
Avilan is 29 and has 308.2 innings of Major League experience. Over that time he has posted a 3.09 ERA along with 8.05 K/9 and 3.44 BB/9. His strikeout totals have increased particularly in the last three years with the Dodgers, White Sox, and Phillies, where he’s posted 12.81, 10.17, and 10.13 K/9 marks, respectively from 2016-2018. And he’s been able to do this while keeping his walk rate manageable, with his BB/9 reaching no higher than 4.58 in any season.
Compare this to fellow lefty reliever and new Mets signee Justin Wilson, who received a two-year, $10 million contract this offseason. Avilan has just been good if not better than Wilson, yet the Mets were able to snag him on a minor league contract.
Over the past two years, Wilson has walked 5.43 batters per nine innings while posting a 3.43 ERA, and Avilan has posted a much more respectable 3.9 BB/9 along with a similar 3.35 ERA.
Both lefties share the characteristic of having the ability to retire both left-handed and right-handed hitters, leaving the possibility open for either one of them to be something more than just a LOOGY. Avilan has held lefties to a .262 wOBA and righties to a .289 wOBA in his career, while Wilson has held lefties and righties to .296 and .280 marks, respectively. These appear to be two very similar relievers with Avilan likely having an edge. For the Mets to essentially get Avilan for nothing was an absolute steal.
In terms of Avilan’s outlook for this upcoming season, I think he should certainly be a lock to make the Opening Day 25-man roster. While Wilson was viewed as the more high-profile, “big name” signing, Avilan is just as good of a pitcher, two years younger, and not coming off two consecutive years of severe control issues like Wilson is. Don’t get me wrong, Wilson still has talent and will be a key asset in the bullpen, but there’s nothing he can do that Avilan can’t, and at a cheaper price.
Avilan has only strengthened his case for a solidified bullpen spot so far this spring, throwing three scoreless innings over three appearances with two strikeouts and no walks. He has featured a great changeup along with a good curveball and a four-seam fastball to get hitters out from both sides of the plate.
The presence of Avilan also provides some important depth for a bullpen that was previously lacking in that area. Before Wilson or Avilan were signed, Daniel Zamora was the top lefty reliever they had. While Zamora has good stuff, it would be risky for a potential playoff contender to rely on a completely unproven arm as their top left-handed relief option. Now he’s simply a quality depth option to back up Wilson and Avilan in Syracuse.
Overall, there are a lot of benefits and very few drawbacks to the signing of Luis Avilan to a minor league contract. If he stinks (which is very unlikely considering his large body of Major League success), he can be cut easily and Zamora can possibly be given a chance.
More likely, he represents a quality left-handed relief option to complement Wilson and pitch some high-leverage innings for the Mets this season, all the while adding depth and versatility. The Mets did an absolutely phenomenal job to get him on a minor league deal which presents virtually no risks at all.