For the first time on this Best Mets list, there is an active player with Jeurys Familia being the best Mets player to ever wear the number 27. Looking beyond that, Familia is one of the best relievers to ever don a Mets uniform. What makes that all the more remarkable is Familia didn’t even begin playing baseball until he was 15 years old. As a result, he’d be a largely unheralded intertional free agent signing in 2007 earning just a $100,000 signing bonus.
After two cups of coffee in 2012 and 2013, Familia burst on the scene in 2014 finishing seventh in the Rookie of the Year voting. He had a 2.21 ERA over 77.1 innings. This would begin what was arguably the best three year stretch for any Mets reliever in team history and what could be the best stretch by any Major League reliever over that time span.
With Familia’s 2014 season, many saw him as the closer of the future. The thought was that was going to have to wait as Jenrry Mejia had established himself as the closer. That was until the first of his steroid suspensions which eventually led to his banishment from baseball. Familia stepped up, and he successfully converted his first 13 save chances and 27 of his first 29.
It should be noted the Mets had VERY little margin of error for much of that season. After a great April start, the Mets suffered a number of injuries leaving them with little to no offense. That problem was compounded by a shallow bullpen. Oft times, Familia was left with a very little margin of error, and he was called upon to pitch more than just one inning. He was a huge reason why the Mets won the division that year.
As great as Familia was during the regular season, he was even better in the postseason. He appeared in four of the five games against the Dodgers in what was an epic NLDS, and he converted the save in all three Mets wins. That included him going four outs to preserve Jacob deGrom‘s great Game 1 start, and it was his pitching two innings to get the save in the clinching Game 5.
Throughout that postseason, he would have a 0.61 ERA. That includes a 1.80 ERA in the World Series. Unfortunately, he was saddled with a blown save in three of those games. However, that speaks more to poor defense and just plain bad decision making by Terry Collins.
Familia rebounded from the World Series disappointment to put together a truly great 2016 season. In that season, he would set a number of Mets records including consecutive saves and saves in a season. In fact, Familia would set a Major League record in the process by converting his 53rd consecutive save opportunity. This would garner him his first All-Star appearance (to date). His signature save conversion that season was in April when he got out of a bases loaded no out jam to save a 1-0 Mets victory:
From 2015 – 2016, Familia set the Mets record for most saves over a two year span with 94. In 2015, he tied Armando Benitez‘s single season record, and in 2016, he blew past it. Over that time span, no National League reliever had converted more saves, finished more games, or pitched more innings than him.
From 2014 – 2016, he pitched more innings than any other National League reliever, and he had the second highest WAR and FIP. Arguably, he was the best reliever in the National League and the best closer in all of baseball. Some of this gets lost in his postseason misfortunes.
Unfortunately, the 2017 season was a disaster. It started with a domestic violence arrest, and he would suffer a season ending injury.
After 2017, he hasn’t quite reached that peak he was at in 2015-2016. However, he did rebound in 2018 to have a very effective season leading to him being traded at the trade deadline. Familia missed New York, and he returned the first chance he got. His return did not go well in year one, but there is hope he can return to form working with former teammate and new pitching coach Jeremy Hefner.
Through it all, Familia has arguably emerged as the best right-handed closer in Mets history. His two year stretch from 2015-2016 saw him close more games and finish more games than any Mets closer. At the moment, he is third all-time on the Mets saves list, and fourth all-time in appearances. Through it all, he is the best Mets player to ever wear the number 27.
3. Curtis Granderson
4. Lenny Dykstra
5. David Wright
6. Wally Backman
7. Jose Reyes
8. Gary Carter
9. Todd Hundley
10. Rey Ordonez
11. Wayne Garrett
12. John Stearns
13. Edgardo Alfonzo
14. Gil Hodges
15. Carlos Beltran
16. Dwight Gooden
17. Keith Hernandez
18. Darryl Strawberry
19. Bob Ojeda
20. Howard Johnson
21. Cleon Jones
22. Al Leiter
23. Bernard Gilkey
24. Art Shamsky
25. Pedro Feliciano
26. Terry Leach
With Noah Syndergaard going down with Tommy John, suddenly the question isn’t who among Steven Matz, Rick Porcello, and Michael Wacha will make the rotation. No, the question now is who is up next in the event there is another pitcher injury or the need for a spot starter in the case of fatigue or other complication.
On the bright side, the Mets appear better poised than they did in 2019. On that note, that Mets team didn’t have to go that deep into their rotation as Mickey Callaway had a knack for keeping his starting pitchers healthy. He’s now gone, and now, there is the challenge of keeping pitchers healthy in an environment where pitchers ramped up to start the season, were shut down, and now have to revamp it up to pitch a season.
The first pitcher who may be up in the event of an injury is Walker Lockett. Lockett has a step up on the competition because he is out of options meaning the Mets either put him on the Opening Day roster or risk losing him off waivers.
The downside he presents is that is if he is in the bullpen, he will not be stretched out enough to pitch as a starter. The other complication is he has not fared well as a Major League pitcher. In seven starts and six relief appearances, he has an 8.84 ERA and a 1.885 WHIP.
Another Mets pitcher who has struggled in his brief Major League appearances is Corey Oswalt. Of course, the biggest issue with him is how haphazardly the Mets have handled him. One minute, he is pitching in relief on two days rest after a cross country flight, and the next, he’s not being used for over a week.
If you want hope for him, he pitches much better when on regular rest and used normally. Still, in 12 starts and seven relief appearances, he has a 6.43 ERA and 1.458 WHIP. That’s not great, but it is much better than Lockett.
Similar to Lockett and Oswalt, Stephen Gonsalves struggled in his limited Major League appearances. In four starts and three relief appearances for the Twins in 2018, he was 2-2 with a 6.57 ERA, 2.027 WHIP, and a 0.73 K/BB. After that, he had arm issues leading to his release from the Twins, and the Mets claiming him.
Gonsalves is a former Top 100 prospect who Baseball America once described as a future middle of the rotation starter who ” reads hitters well and works effectively at the top of the zone.” When healthy, he can get his fastball near the mid 90s to couple with a very good change.
The issue with him now is health, getting his stuff back, and developing a third pitch. With this being a new organization and Jeremy Hefner having familiarity with him, it is possible.
On the topic of potential, there is also former first round pick David Peterson. He has reached the Top 100 just once in his career, but he has progressed through the Mets system, and he has had a strong Spring Training.
While his stats the past two years do not appear strong with an ERA of over 4.00 in St. Lucie and Binghamton, there are other stats which show he has pitched better than his ERA. First and foremost, his FIP the past two years was respectively 2.98 and 3.19.
He has also maintained a very good strikeout-to-walk ratio while keeping walks to just 2.5 per nine in his minor league career. When looking at him, he is not a pitcher who is going to beat himself when he gets the chance to pitch for the Mets.
When he does pitch, fans will see what MLB Pipeline says is “Solid bat-missing ability and a knack for inducing weak, ground-ball contact points to more of a floor than ceiling for Peterson, but it might not take him that long to reach that potential.
Finally, there is Kevin Smith, who appears further away than Peterson after making just six starts in Double-A last year. Still, the 2018 seventh round draft pick has far outperformed what was expected of him, and with another strong showing in the minors this year, he may find himself on the radar.
Overall, the Mets have interesting options in the minors, and that is before we take into account pitchers like Franklyn Kilome, who is returning from Tommy John. In the end, the Mets are likely going to have to go to the minors for at least a spot start or two, especially with baseball likely having scheduled doubleheaders in 2020.
The hope for the Mets is these talented pitchers can put it together and put some very strong starts together when the Mets need them. Time will tell.
The concern with Noah Syndergaard having Tommy John surgery isn’t just his being gone for the 2020 season and a significant portion of the 2021 season. The larger problem from a Mets perspective is this team has not had the best history with Tommy John surgeries and rehabilitation.
The Mets don’t have to look any further than their pitching coach Jeremy Hefner. Back in 2013, he was putting together a promising campaign when it was discovered he had a torn UCL. During his rehab from Tommy John, things were not going well, and it was discovered he would need to undergo a second surgery. He would only pitch one season in the minors after that before retiring.
Hefner was rehabbing at the same time as Matt Harvey. When it was discovered Hefner needed the second surgery, the Mets had eased the throttle off of Harvey who was pushing to pitch in 2014. In 2015, despite agreements on his innings limit, the Mets reneged and pushed him to pitch, and Harvey would throw more innings than anyone in the history of baseball after their Tommy John surgery.
In 2016, he was just not good with everyone trying to figure out what was wrong with him. It took a while to discover he had Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. Despite noticeable muscle atrophy, the Mets pitched him in 2017 leading to a stress reaction. Really, that was all but it for him as a Met and possibly his career. The big unknown is how the Mets handling of him affected his shoulder and/or aggravated or caused the TOS.
Harvey would not be the only Mets pitcher to return in 2015 from Tommy John. The other notable pitcher to return was Bobby Parnell. After discovering a torn UCL the day after the 2014 Opening Day, Parnell underwent the surgery. A year later, a Mets team hoping to stay in the pennant race activated him well before the end of the 18 month rehabilitation period. Parnell didn’t have his fastball, and his command was shot. By the middle of August, he had pitched to a 6.38 ERA before being put on the DL with arm fatigue. He’d only pitch 5.1 Major League innings after this season.
While Parnell was someone whose injury was discovered a day into the 2014 season, Zack Wheeler‘s torn UCL was discovered on the eve of the 2015 season. Wheeler had surgery, and he was slated to return in the middle of the 2016 season to help the Mets return to the postseason. During his rehab, he’d have issues with his stitches, and he would suffer a flexor strain when he was finally able to step on a mound again.
He wasn’t able to step onto a Major League mound again until April 2017, and he would have to be shut down that season due to a stress reaction in his right arm. Really, Wheeler wasn’t right until the 2018 season, which was three years after the first surgery.
A Mets pitcher having this level of difficulty in their Tommy John rehab is not anything new. In fact, that was exactly the case with Steven Matz when he was in the minor leagues. After being drafted in 2009, it was discovered he had a torn UCL, and he needed to have Tommy John surgery.
Matz really struggled with the rehabilitation, and there was a significant amount of scar tissue. At one point, they were concerned he was going to need a second Tommy John surgery. The advice was to just pitch through it. Matz would do just that finally making his professional debut in 2012. His Tommy John issues would not re-emerge until 2017 when he needed ulnar nerve transposition surgery.
When Matz underwent the surgery, he joined reliever Erik Goeddel and ace Jacob deGrom in having the surgery. With respect to Goeddel, he had Tommy John when he was in high school well before he was a member of the Mets organization. However, with respect to deGrom, he had his surgery and rehab as a member of the Mets organization.
With deGrom, he had seemingly appeared to be the one Mets pitcher who had a normal Tommy John surgery and rehabilitation. Yes, there were difficult times when he told Frank Viola he wanted to quit, but that was part of the normally grueling rehabilitation process and return. Ultimately, deGrom would become a Rookie of the Year winner, and he would introduce himself to the world with an incredible All-Star Game appearance and a postseason for the ages.
As noted with Harvey and Wheeler, Mets pitchers were dropping like flies in 2016. In addition to Harvey and Wheeler, Matz went down with a massive bone spur. It was then discovered during a pennant race, deGrom needed the ulnar transposition surgery. As we have seen, the surgery went well, and after a pedestrian 2018 season (by his standards), he has returned to be the best pitcher in baseball.
Keep in mind, the Mets checkered Tommy John history isn’t just recent. Jason Isringhausen would have the first of his three Tommy John surgeries with the Mets. Looking back at Generation K, he, Paul Wilson, and Bill Pulsipher would all have arm issues leading to them never pitching in the same rotation.
The Mets haven’t had Tommy John issues with pitchers only. T.J. Rivera underwent the surgery in 2017, and he attempted to return too soon struggling in 22 at-bats. The Mets would release him, and he would play in the Atlantic Leagues for the Long Island Ducks before landing a minor league deal with the Philadephia Phillies. We will see if he can return.
Last year, we saw the Mets botch the handling of Travis d’Arnaud. Even with the team playing well with a tandem of Wilson Ramos and Tomas Nido, the team rushed d’Arnaud back to the majors before one full year of rehabilitation. He would have one of the worst games you would ever see a catcher have leading to the Mets rage cutting him.
He would first land with the Dodgers and then the Rays. Notably, he didn’t start really playing well until July, which was roughly 15 months after the surgery, which is much closer to the recommended 18 months.
This is not an extensive history, but it is a good snapshot of the struggles the Mets have had dealing with Tommy John surgeries. Perhaps, it is of no coinidence much of this has coincided with the Wilpon taking over majority control of the Mets, and as Pedro Martinez and others have noted, Jeff Wilpon’s interference with medical decision making has been a real issue.
Seeing the Tommy John problems the Mets have had, we get a better sense of why Seth Lugo was so unwilling to go through the process, and we see some of the dangers which may very well face Syndergaard as he attempts to return from the surgery before hitting free agency.
In true Mets fashion, it was discovered Mets ace Noah Syndergaard has a torn UCL, and he is going to need Tommy John surgery. With that, the Mets chances of winning the 2020 World Series, if the season is ever going to be played, just took a massive hit.
New York Mets starter Noah Syndergaard has a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow and is expected to undergo Tommy John surgery in the near future, sources tell ESPN. The procedure will keep him out until at earliest April 2021 and likely into the summer months.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) March 24, 2020
For all the discussion people want to have about Syndergaard not fulfilling his potential as an ace, Syndergaard remained a very good starting pitcher. In 2019, Syndergaard was 18th in FIP, and he had the second best hard-hit rate in the majors. Over the past two seasons, Syndergaard ranked eighth in FIP, and he had the best hard hit rate in the majors.
Overall, while some of his stats did not bear out that way, partially due to what has been an atrocious Mets defense, Syndergaard has pitched like one of the best pitchers in all of baseball. He’d be the ace on almost any other team. Part of the problem Syndergaard has with respect to how he is perceived is he is in the same rotation as Jacob deGrom, and every pitcher in baseball looks worse than they actually are next to him.
Looking at the Mets, their plan to compete for the division was rolling out a great top three of deGrom, Syndergaard, and Marcus Stroman. Now, they are going to have one of the better 1-2 punches in the majors, but not the best, and certainly, no longer the best 1-2-3 combination.
Worse yet, this thrusts Michael Wacha into that starting rotation. Wacha has been shut down multiple times in his career due to shoulder issues. That includes last year. Over the past two years, Wacha was simply not good. He had a 4.76 ERA with a 1.563 WHIP. In fact, he has had an ERA above 4.00 and a WHIP above 1.350 in three out of the last four years.
This isn’t like 2015 when the Mets had Steven Matz and Syndergaard waiting in the wings. No, the rotation really couldn’t withstand an injury to one of their top three starters like this. This serves as a crucial blow to their chances of competing.
Of course, things didn’t have to be this way. The Mets could’ve taken the money being given to Rick Porcello, owner of the worst ERA in the AL last year, Wacha, Jake Marisnick, and Dellin Betances, and they could’ve just given it to Zack Wheeler. That also would’ve given them a little money to spare.
With Wheeler, who is a discount at $118 million, especially with money deferred, the Mets still could’ve had a great 1-2 combination, and even with Syndergaard going down, their 1-2-3 punch would have likely remained the best in the majors. Mostly, it would’ve allowed the Mets to better sustain this injury.
Remember, the Mets aren’t just built on pitching. No, they are built on elite starting pitching. The best staff in the majors. That took a giant step back when the Mets let Wheeler walk, and now, it’s frankly no longer the case with Syndergaard done for 2020. In the end, Brodie Van Wagenen lost sight of this, and now he lost his team’s biggest strength.
Now, the Mets are without Syndergaard, and their chances took a MAJOR hit. Now, their hopes lie with Jeremy Hefner having a profound impact on the Mets rotation, which includes, but is not limited to having Porcello and Wacha turn the clock back 5+ years and having Matz reach his full potential.
The question next becomes what happens if the next pitcher goes down. Unless Corey Oswalt or Stephen Gonsalves are ready to contribute, this all could become a disaster rather quickly. The ultimate point here is the Mets chances of winning the World Series went from legitimately possible to having a real outside shot. That’s just how much losing Syndergaard hurts the team.
At least from a Mets fans perspective, this is the worst thing happening in the world right now. Of course, that really isn’t true. There are far more pressing concerns at the moment.
On that front, one of the things Mets fans were clinging onto was the prospect of the return of baseball at some point during 2020. When that happened, the Mets had that type of rotation which could have taken them their first World Series title since 1986. Now, there may not even be that to look forward to at at time when we are just sitting around waiting for things to improve.
On a day like today, when it is reported Syndergaard won’t pitch at all in 2020, it does not seem like things are going to be any better anytime soon.
Now that Major League Baseball has finally done the right thing in shutting down Spring Training and postponing the first few weeks of the 2020 season, we can now look at how this will impact individual teams. With respect to the New York Mets, this shutdown is exactly what they needed. That may seem a bit crass, but it is true nonetheless.
At the moment, the Mets were put in a precarious situation as Michael Conforto was dealing with an oblique injury. This injury left the Mets in a position where they needed to go with a couple of first basemen in J.D. Davis and Dominic Smith in the corners or go with Jake Marisnick in an everyday role despite his inability to be even a near league average hitter when he knew what was coming.
This shutdown doesn’t just give Conforto time to heal, but it also gives Yoenis Cespedes more time to heal and get ready for the season. According to all reports, he had been working quite hard to get back on the field, and he was making considerable progress. However, even with all of his progress, he had not yet been playing in full games.
The further back the season is pushed; the more time Conforto and Cespedes have to get ready to play games. With each day the start of the season is pushed back (that’s an unknown at this point), the greater the chance Conforto and Cespedes will be ready for Opening Day.
Even if they are not ready for the new Opening Day, they will miss fewer games as a result of the delay to the start of the season. That means we are this much closer to an outfield of Cespedes-Brandon Nimmo-Conforto. That type of outfield takes the Mets from postseason contender to World Series contender.
It is not just Cespedes who is rehabbing from an injury which robbed him of his 2019 season. Dellin Betances was only able to pitch 0.2 innings for the Yankees last year due to a shoulder injury and then a partially torn Achillies. It was only recently he began pitching in Spring Training games.
As is typically the case, it takes Betances time during Spring Training to go from the low 90s to the upper 90s. When Betances is able to get to that point, he is a completely different reliever. It may be difficult to remember now, but when Betances can ramp up his fastball to the upper 90s he truly is the best reliever in baseball. The more time he has to get back to that pitcher (which may not be a given) the better for him and the Mets.
Generally speaking, the more time the Mets pitching staff has to work on things, the better. This is the first year with pitching coach Jeremy Hefner. There are things he wants to share with players, and there are tweaks in deliveries and pitch sequencing/usage he wants the staff to make. Getting to get some of that out of the way now as opposed to in games helps.
Speaking of more time to prepare for the season, this is Luis Rojas‘s first year at the helm. While he has managed most of these players previously, he has not done it at this level. The more time he has to bond with the team and manage expectations the better he and the team will be set up for success.
Overall, the coronavirus has created a serious situation, and things should not be taken lightly. It may seem crass to say this about a virus which is infecting people at a scary rate leading to the shut down of all pro sports and society as a whole, but this is a bad situation which will help the New York Mets.
The 2019 season was the worst season of Edwin Diaz‘s career. He set career worsts in almost every category with the most alarming being in ERA, home run rate, and contact rate. This was a large reason why he set career worsts in categories like ERA+ and FIP. To sum up, Diaz was bad in 2019.
There were a number of reasons why including the change in the ball and Diaz’s admitted struggles dealing with New York. Of all the Mets players, Diaz is the one who probably needs to get off to a good start to avoid the boo birds from coming.
Well, in his first Spring outing, things did not go well. He needed 25 pitches to get through the inning, and he would take the loss after allowing two runs on three hits. Two of those hits went for extra bases with Aledmys Diaz and Dustin Garneau hitting RBI doubles off of him.
Seeing this happen, Mets fans should meet Diaz’s outing with a shrug and a yawn. That’s about as extreme an overreaction you should have.
After all, it happened on February 26. The 2020 season doesn’t begin for another month. That is a month for Diaz to continue to work with Jeremy Hefner to make the adjustments he needs to make in order to again become the dominant closer he was with the Seattle Mariners. It’s a month for Diaz to shake off the rust of the winter and proceed to striking out the side in regular season games which matter.
Look, this is Spring Training. Everything is a small sample size, and bad outings and struggles are going to be magnified. Really, it is incumbent upon you as a fan to determine how you react to these Spring Training outings and stories.
You could chose to be pessimistic about outings like Diaz’s. You could allow Ryan Cordell‘s big game or Daniel Zamora‘s dominating right-handed batters get you excited about the 2020 season. Or, you could just take everything with a grain of salt and await the beginning of the regular season.
You can choose to do what you like, but it is more fun to take some advice from Bing Crosby and “accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, and latch on to the affirmative.” After all, nothing is on the line in Spring Training, so really choose to have fun by properly compartmentalizing Diaz’s poor outing while allowing yourself to get excited a bit by stories like Cordell or Zamora.
Major League Baseball has implemented new rules which not only restrict the use of left-handed relievers (i.e. LOOGYS), but they have also severely restricted the ability of position players to pitch in games. In fact, according to the new rules, a position player may not pitch unless it is extra innings or “his team is losing or winning by more than six runs when he enters as a pitcher.”
There is a caveat there where a position player can freely enter a game if they are designated as a two-way player. A two way player is someone who has 20 games started as a position player and has pitched 20 innings. As the rule implies, this is a status a player achieves during the course of the season.
Obviously, the 20 way player rule was implemented for a player like Shohei Ohtani who serves as both the Angels DH and a member of their pitching rotation. However, that does not mean other teams should not look to take advantage of this rule.
For the Mets, that means pitching J.D. Davis every opportunity they get.
When the Mets traded for Davis, one of the justifications for the deal was he could step in a reliever if needed. In fact, in his brief Major League career up until that point, Davis had made three relief appearances for the Houston Astros allowing an earned run over 2.2 innings. In those 2.2 innings, he struck out four and walked one.
That was his first pitching experience since college. While at Cal State Fullerton, Davis had 20 appearances. While pitching 43.1 innings, he had a 2.70 ERA, 1.177 WHIP, 2.3 BB/9, and an 8.1 K/9. In his draft report, Baseball America noted ” shows good arm strength off the mound, showing 91-93 mph heat and a decent breaking ball, but his fastball is straight and his arm action isn’t great.”
Put more succinctly, Davis isn’t a Major League quality reliever, but he is a capable pitcher who could help a team out of the bullpen in a real pinch. The thing is you never know when that pinch is going to come.
Far too often, we see times in the season where the Mets pitching staff is completely gassed. The pitchers weren’t giving the length needed. Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman have begun piling up the multiple inning outings. That puts more of an onus on the one inning relievers to push harder than they typically should. Following the Mets, this happens at least twice a year.
With those stretches, an already questionable Mets bullpen will cost the Mets some games they wouldn’t otherwise lose. The job for new manager Luis Rojas and new pitching coach Jeremy Hefner is to find ways to mitigate against that. While being more judicious in how you use your pitching is one element, another is knowing when you send out a position player to pitch.
Early in the season, whenever the Mets have a six run lead or deficit, they should put Davis into the game to accrue innings necessary to achieve that two way player designation. Later in the season, that will allow the Mets to use him in four or five run games when they feel they need to save their pitching staff to give them a break.
Remember, this is an extremely talented Mets bullpen, but it is one with some health issues. Lugo has the torn UCL. Gsellman partially tore his lat. Dellin Betances is coming off an Achillies, and he had shoulder issues prior to that. Justin Wilson pitched through elbow soreness. Edwin Diaz has bone spurs in his pitching elbow. Michael Wacha was shut down with shoulder problems multiple times in his career.
Point is, bullpens, even the best bullpens, need breaks whenever they can get them. That can come in the form of a Jacob deGrom or Noah Syndergaard complete game, and it can come in the form of Davis coming into a game and eating an inning here or there when the opportunity presents itself.
In order to really accomplish that, the Mets should remember a 162 game season is a marathon, and they need to prepare in April and May for problems which may come into play in July and August. Those problems are usually bullpen exhaustion related. To best prepare for that, the Mets should begin implementing strategies to get Davis qualified as a two way player so he is available when they really need help down in the bullpen.
Today, the offseason is officially over, and Spring Training officially begins with pitchers and catchers reporting to St. Lucie. Looking at the way the contracts are structured, this could be the last year this rotation reports, and in very short order, this rotation could be almost completely dismantled over the ensuing few years.
Jacob deGrom has a player option after the 2022 season.
This is what remains from a homegrown group which led the Mets to the 2015 pennant and brought the Mets back to the 2016 postseason. We have already seen Matt Harvey and now Zack Wheeler (on neither team) leave for very different reasons. Now, the Mets have to assess who is next.
Ideally, the Mets would be moving quickly to lock some of these starters up. After all, Syndergaard and Matz are coming off down years, and the Mets have a year of control to use as leverage in negotiations. Seeing how Matz finished the season, Syndergaard’s offseason workouts geared towards pitching better, and Jeremy Hefner already working on getting the most out of both, they may get very expensive very soon.
Like Matz, Stroman and Porcello are local kids who grew up Mets fans. We have already seen Porcello leave some money on the table to pitch for the Mets. Could Stroman do the same knowing he gets to pitch for his hometown team and his being born to pitch on this stage?
Sure, you could argue the Mets should be looking to maximize on the value of some of these pitchers on the trade market. At some point, the team also has to look to the future when pitchers like David Peterson, Thomas Szapucki, Matthew Allan, and others are ready to contribute.
The payroll obligations, along with having to pay players like Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo have to be balanced. The Mets also have to balance that against building the type of team which would discourage deGrom from exercising his opt out.
Of course, the question is who exactly is negotiating these contracts. Not too long ago, we thought that would be Steve Cohen, and what many assumed were bottomless pockets. Now, with that deal falling apart, we don’t know.
Sure, the Mets say they are going to sell the team, and they are no longer going to insist on having control over the team, but we have seen this show. It has previously ended with deals falling apart, and the Mets moving to sell off minority shares as as short term fundraising scheme.
Long story, short, here, the Mets need to figure out their ownership, and they need to figure it out fast. There is a lot more riding on the sale of the team than the 2020 season and the ability to add payroll, if necessary, at the trade deadline. As noted, the Mets need to figure out the pitching staff for 2021 and beyond.
The sooner they figure it out, the better. Once they have clarity on that issue, they will know who exactly are trade chips, and how exactly the Mets can build the 2020, 2021, 2022, and beyonds World Series contending teams.
With Major League Baseball’s new rules, teams can only carry 13 pitchers, and seeing how the Mets have operated the past few seasons, the Mets will very likely carry 13 pitchers in 2020. With the five man rotation, this means the Mets will have an eight man bullpen.
Right now, barring injury, the Mets have Edwin Diaz, Seth Lugo, Dellin Betances, Jeurys Familia, Justin Wilson, and Brad Brach as absolute locks for the Opening Day bullpen. That is going to leave two bullpen spots open with one of them going to the pitcher who loses the bullpen battle. That pitcher is most likely going to be Michael Wacha.
That is where things begin to get a bit interesting.
On the surface, it would seem Robert Gsellman has an inside track for the last bullpen job. After all, he has been a reliever for each of the past two seasons. However, he has not performed well out of the bullpen with an 87 ERA+ and 4.03 FIP over that stretch. When you combine the Mets wanting him to spend the offseason working as a starter, you wonder if a pitcher who still has options remaining will begin the year in Triple-A as a starter.
On the topic of options, Jacob Rhame is out of options, and the Mets will have to expose him to waivers if they are going to keep him in the organization.
Rhame is coming off a season where he had ulnar transposition surgery. That is the same surgery Jacob deGrom underwent in 2016. In his first year after the surgery, deGrom was a good starting pitcher, and in the ensuing two years he emerged as the best pitcher in baseball.
Now, that is obviously not Rhame’s ceiling. However, we do see after undergoing that surgery a pitcher can reach their full potential. While many may debate what exactly that is for Rhame, the Mets clearly have some interest in finding out as they have kept him throughout this offseason despite fully knowing he is out of options.
With Rhame having a career 6.23 MLB ERA and a Triple-A 4.05 ERA, you have to wonder what exactly the Mets are seeing in him.
Looking at Baseball Savant, Rhame throws in the mid-90s, and back in 2018, before he needed the transposition surgery, he had above average movement on that fastball. While he did not get much vertical movement on his splitter, it had very good horizontal movement, which is part of the reason why it was a swing-and-miss pitch for him.
Ultimately, that is what the Mets see in Rhame – his potential. Since the day they obtained him from Curtis Granderson, they knew they were getting a big arm with relatively untapped potential. He still has the ability to generate strikeouts, and as we saw with Rhys Hoskins, he has a bit of a nasty streak where he won’t back down or take anything from the opponent.
Based on what we have seen this offseason, the Mets are going to allow Rhame to work with new pitching coach Jeremy Hefner to show his potential can yield results. Presumably, he is going to get an opportunity to show the Mets he is a better option in the bullpen than Gsellman, who may belong in the rotation, or Walker Lockett, who is also out of options.
In the end, the Mets have kept Rhame around for a reason. Perhaps, that reason is to have him be a part of the 2020 Opening Day roster. With pitchers and catchers reporting soon, he is going to get the opportunity to prove he belongs.
Just look at the names: Edwin Diaz, Jeurys Familia, Seth Lugo, and now Dellin Betances. That is a list of names which is the envy of each and every Major League team, and when you break it down, it has the makings of being an all-time great bullpen.
In 2018, Diaz was as dominant as we have seen any closer be. In 73 appearances, he recorded a Major League leading 57 saves with a 1.96 ERA, 0.791 WHIP, and a 15.2 K/9.
Familia is the best right-handed closer in Mets history. From 2015 – 2016, he was second in the Majors in saves while having the third most innings pitched and ninth best ERA.
Lugo has been as dominant a reliever as the Mets have ever had, and really he has emerged to be as dominant as any reliever in the game. To put it in perspective of just how dominant and overlooked he has been, over the past two years, he has a better FIP while throwing more innings than two time All-Star Josh Hader.
As great as this group is, you can argue none of them are anywhere near as good as Betances has been. From 2014-2018, he was quite possibly the best reliever in all of baseball. In fact, his 11.2 fWAR was second best. He was best in innings pitched, third in K/9, fourth in fWAR, and fifth in appearances.
When you can line-up this level of relievers in a row, you’re making every game a 5-6 inning game for a starting staff which includes Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, and Marcus Stroman. That is not only a recipe for success, it is a recipe for pure dominance.
However, it is important to note next year is 2020, and based on the last few years, only Lugo has been pitching at this high a level.
Last year, Diaz had a career worst year. After the offseason, he talked about how he struggled handling New York, and as reported by Laura Albanese of Newsday, the Mets finally admitted he had been dealing with some health issues.
Familia also had a career worst year. With his having an arterial clot removed in 2017 and his dealing with shoulder issues again last year, you wonder if he can ever get back to the pitcher he was in 2018 (3.13 ERA) let alone his dominant form of 2014 – 2016.
Finally, there is Betances. Before partially tearing his Achilles last year, Betances had been shut down at the beginning of the 2019 season due to a bone spur issue in his shoulder, inflammation in the joint, and a strain to his his right latissimus dorsi muscle. When he finally came back, he had lost velocity on his pitches.
That was also before partially tearing his Achillies. The good news on that front is it did not require surgery, and he is expected to be ready for Spring Training. The downside is no one can quite be sure what type of pitcher he will be in 2020.
Long story, short, this all means Jeremy Hefner has his work cut out for him. He has been handed an incredibly gifted bullpen which needs a lot of help getting back to their respective levels of dominance. If he is able to get this group at or near their apex, this Mets bullpen will be the best in the game, and when you factor in the talent and potential of relievers like Justin Wilson and Robert Gsellman, you could have an all-time great bullpen.
On the other hand, it is difficult to coach away injuries and diminution in stuff. To that end, no one can be quite sure how this bullpen will perform. As such, this “boom or bust” bullpen will be one of the key reasons why the Mets succeed or fail in 2020.