MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at New York Mets

I Can’t Get No Relief

Meet the 2017 New York Mets! They’re pretty much the same as the 2016 Mets, minus Bartolo Colon and a few guys filling out the bottom of the roster. An unusually stable offseason saw the Mets re-sign most of their own key free agents, and not acquire a single player on a MLB contract who wasn’t with the organization last year.

In many spots, this approach was entirely sensible. After bringing Yoenis Cespedes back, the Mets have too many outfield candidates, with nowhere obvious to play potential star Michael Conforto. At least until the David Wright situation comes to what feels like its inevitable conclusion, the Mets also have too many infield candidates, with planned leadoff hitter Jose Reyes currently lacking a defensive home. At catcher, no available option was clearly any better than the Travis d’Arnaud/Rene Rivera/Kevin Plawecki triumvirate–and certainly not in the age where we consider framing and other metagame aspects of catching so strongly. The Mets come to camp with at least eight worthy MLB starting pitchers. That’s a situation likely to shake itself out between injuries and implosions, but outside of moving Amed Rosario-and-more for Chris Sale, no move the Mets could’ve made for starting pitching would’ve projected to do much for the 2017 squad.

That leaves the bullpen as the one potential missed opportunity to add folks from the outside. With Jeurys Familia likely facing a league suspension of a month or more, and assuming the Mets open with seven men in the pen, Robert Gsellman is the fifth starter, and Zack Wheeler’s season is delayed by a visit to extended spring training, here’s what the Met pen could look like on Opening Day, with their weighted-mean 2017 ERA projection from PECOTA in parentheses:

Closer: Addison Reed (4.13)

Eighth Inning Guy: Fernando Salas (4.14)

Seventh Inning Guy: Hansel Robles (3.98)

Primary LOOGY: Jerry Blevins (3.71)

Second Lefty: Josh Smoker (3.49)/Josh Edgin (4.65)/Tom Gorzelanny (5.13)

Middle Relief: Erik Goeddel (4.09)/Paul Sewald (3.97)/Kevin McGowan (5.55)

Long Relief: Sean Gilmartin (3.72)/Seth Lugo (4.26)/Rafael Montero (4.46)/Adam Wilk (4.52)

There are reasons to believe some of those guys will outpitch projections, most obviously Addison Reed, who has been an absolute force after righting the narrative ship in ways PECOTA cannot know. You’d expect Reed to continue being more like Met Addison Reed than Diamondback Addison Reed given the real advancements in his slider and command profile. Jerry Blevins is coming off his best season by most standards, and PECOTA projects him to backslide not just to his career norms but to be over a quarter of a run worse.

But even if you give Reed credit for being a top-flight reliever now, that’s not a great bullpen, and I’m not sure I’m much more bullish on the overall set than the projections are. PECOTA projects Josh Smoker as the most effective reliever on the team, and he’s currently far from a lock to even make the team. Sean Gilmartin is projected as the third-best reliever, ahead of Reed and just behind Blevins, and while he could put up a shiny ERA again a la 2015, I think his inability to fool batters in 2016 more accurately represents Gilmartin’s true talent. It’ll get better when Familia (projected ERA: 3.34) gets back and everyone gets knocked down a peg in Terry’s order, but the inevitable set of injuries could reveal that there’s not a lot of depth here. Nor is there much more help coming this season; the Mets now lack the kinds of upper-level pitching prospects who would take well to the ‘pen. Marcos Molina and Chris Flexen might well be good major-league relievers someday, but the day is probably not in 2017. Perhaps Wheeler ends up relieving by mid-season, though he’s fighting it.

Why didn’t Sandy Alderson do more here? I think it comes down to two repeating refrains for the Met fan: money and familiarity. Baseball Prospectus affiliate Cot’s Contracts currently estimates the total 2017 Mets payroll to come in around $158 million when league-minimum and 40-man salary costs are added to current guarantees. That’s a couple million above where the Mets ended 2016, but it’s over $50 million above where the Mets spent from 2012-2014. Given that Sandy Alderson expected payroll to go down this offseason instead of marginally up, we should perhaps be thankful that the Mets were able to cough up the necessary $8.5 million late to bring Blevins and Salas back. The Mets have valued familiarity at an extremely high rate during the Alderson regime, as I’ve noted here in the past, so perhaps that money was only available for Blevins and Salas specifically.

Still, it’s not hard to wonder what this roster looks like with, say, Joe Blanton and Joe Smith on top of Blevins and Salas, replacing the up-and-down options of the past few years like Erik Goeddel and Sean Gilmartin. PECOTA likes Blanton in particular, projecting him for a 3.70 ERA, better than any Met reliever other than Smoker, and Blanton was available until signing with Washington just a couple days ago for $4 million. This pipe dream may have been plausible had the Mets been able to move Jay Bruce’s $13 million salary, although it bears repeating that the Mets could have simply bought Bruce’s option out in November. Given the recent high cost of acquiring good relievers during the regular season, that could be an expensive mistake in prospect talent if the Mets need to go out and add those pieces near the trade deadline.

Photo Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

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