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Who Could Replace a Suspended Jeurys Familia?

With Jeurys Familia having been arrested under suspicion of domestic violence, there are a number of questions that need to be asked and answered.  While it may seem tactless, at some point, we need to ask the question of how does this arrest impact the Mets organization.

Over the past two seasons, Familia has been leaned on heavily by Terry Collins, and Familia has responded.  In his two years as the Mets closer, Familia has made more appearances, converted more saves, pitched more innings, and finished more games than any other closer in Major League Baseball.  He has at least appeared to be the rare durable closer that can be relied upon year in and year out.

Many times Familia has not been given much of a margin of error.  For far too many stretches in 2015 and 2016, the Mets have found themselves desperate for offense putting a ton of pressure on their starters and their best relievers.  This past season Familia and Addison Reed combined to be the best 8-9 combination in all of baseball.  With the possibility of Yoenis Cespedes leaving in free agency, the uncertainty of the health of Neil Walker and whether he can return next season, and the myriad of other offensive question marks, the bullpen is once again going to be of great importance in 2017.

That’s where things get tricky with Familia.  While he has stated he is not guilty of the crimes, we have seen Major League Baseball levy suspensions for players regardless of criminal charges being filed or in the absence of a conviction.  The police never filed charges against Aroldis Chapman, and still he was suspended 30 games.  The charges against Jose Reyes were dropped, and he was suspended for 51 games.  If a Major League Baseball investigation finds Familia committed an act of domestic violence, it is possible he could miss 30 or more games to start the season.

With Reed, the Mets do have an internal option to close.  From 2012 – 2014, Reed served as a closer for the White Sox and the Diamondbacks.  In that time, he averaged 34 saves per season.  While his 4.22 ERA and 1.217 WHIP left a lot to be desired, it is important to note Reed has been a different pitcher since coming to the Mets.  As a Met, he has a 1.84 ERA and a 0.957 WHIP.  Certainly, Reed has shown the ability in the past to be a closer, and with the Mets Reed has shown the ability to be a dominant reliever.  Therefore, from a closing standpoint, the Mets have an internal option.

The real issue becomes who takes Reed’s spot in the bullpen.

Hansel Robles has shown a lot of promise.  He has struck out 10.0 batters per nine in his career, and he is effective getting left-handed batters out.  However, he is also mercurial in his performance, and slotting him into the eighth inning takes away one of his key attributes which is he is a guy that you can use for multiple innings or to get a big out.

Josh Smoker had great strikeout numbers in both the minors and in the majors this season.  In fact, he struck out 14.7 batters per nine.  However, he has severe reverse splits, and each time Collins asked him to pitch more than one inning this year, he allowed a home run in his second inning of work.

Seth Lugo could be an inspired choice to take over the eighth inning.  As we saw this season, the Mets envisioned his future role with the team coming out of the bullpen, and Lugo was effective in his limited time out of the pen for the Mets.  However, we also saw he was an effective starter, and with Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, and Steven Matz coming off season ending surgeries, we were reminded you cannot have enough starting pitching depth.

There are minor league pitchers such as Paul Sewald who could be effective.  However, with the Mets not turning to them in September, it is highly unlikely they will rely on them to be the seventh or eighth inning reliever to start the season.  It is further unlikely with him being subjected to the Rule 5 Draft.  It is very likely someone will pick him up in the draft.

From there, the Mets do not have many internal options.  In reality, this means with Familia potentially missing a significant portion of the season, the Mets will likely have to look on the free agent market to fill in the gap.

The first name that comes to mind is Fernando Salas.  In his limited time with the Mets, he was very effective.  In fact, he had the same reversal of fortune that Reed did in 2015.  Still, there is caution in over relying on a pitcher with a career 3.64 ERA to replace one of your two best bullpen arms.

There are a number of intriguing set-up men on the free agent market.  There is Joe Blanton who had a 2.48 ERA in 75 appearances for the Dodgers.  Former Met Joe Smith has been a good reliever for 10 years, and during the stretch drive with the Cubs this year, he had a a 2.51 ERA in 16 appearances.  Brad Ziegler is coming off a terrific year as a closer for the Diamondbacks and the Red Sox.  There are a bunch of other names as well.  However, as we have seen as recently as last year with Antonio Bastardo, many middle reliever performances tend to fluctuate year to year.  This leaves you wondering not only how to replace that player’s role in the bullpen, but also how to get out from under the contract.

Therefore, if you are going to add a reliever you should go after the dominant closer in free agency.  While there is debate over whether or not they are more of a sure thing, we do know there are three great closers available this offseason.

We can pick nits over who is better among the trio of Chapman, Kenley Jansen, or Mark Melancon.  However, the one underlying truth with any of those three is if you have one of them, you have a dominant closer in your bullpen.  As we have seen with Familia over the past two seasons, you are lucky to have any of these dominant closers.  With one of those three joining Reed, and eventually Familia, the Mets would have a bullpen similar to the one the Indians have rode all the way to the World Series.

The Mets will also have a lot of money invested in their bullpen.  According to the Los Angeles Times, it is believed that Jansen will not only receive and reject the $17.2 million qualifying offer, but also he will eventually sign a contract surpassing Jonathan Papelbon‘s then record setting five year $50 million contract.  With Jansen on the free agent market, and big budget teams like the Dodgers chasing after him, there is no telling how high the bidding will go for him.

For their part, Chapman and Melancon cannot receive qualifying offers as a result of them being traded in-season.  At least conceptually, that could drive up their prices as well because more teams may be interested in them because they will not have to forfeit a draft pick to obtain them.  Teams like the Dodgers, Cubs, Yankees, and who knows who else could be interested leading to each of them getting a huge contract.

This begs the question whether the Mets can even afford to pursue a big time closer.  Likely, they cannot.

According to Mets Merized Online, the Mets will have approximately $108 million wrapped up in 18 players who should make the Opening Day roster.  That number does not include money to re-sign Cespedes, Walker, Jerry Blevins, Bartolo Colon, or the aforementioned Salas.  If the Mets were to re-sign these players, or players of similar value to replace them, the Mets payroll is going to go well over $160 million.  Accoring to Spotrac, the Mets finished the 2016 season with a $156 million payroll.  It should be noted this amount does not include any insurance reimbursements related to David Wright‘s season ending neck surgery.

With that in mind, the Mets likely do not have the budget necessary to add a Chapman, Jansen, or Melancon.  If the Mets were to add one of them, it is likely to come at the expense of Cespedes or Walker.  While having a dominant trio to close out ballgames in enticing, the Mets would first need offense to get enough runs to give that bullpen a lead.  This puts a greater priority on Cespedes and Walker.

In the long run, the Mets best bet is to play out the entire process with Familia.  If there is a suspension, Reed can be an effective closer.  Re-signing Salas and/or bringing in a Ziegler would help as well.  It would behoove the Mets to roll the dice on a reclamation project like a Greg Holland or a Drew Storen because in reality that is the position the Mets are in budget-wise.

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