They say a man will gladly pay $2 for a $1 item he needs while a woman will gladly pay $1 for a $2 item that she doesn’t need. In Mets-related news, Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports reports that New York will pick up its option on Jerry Blevins and its still debating whether to do the same with Asdrubal Cabrera.
Blevins was very good last year. While he had his highest WHIP since 2010, he set a career-best with a 12.7 K/9 and his 2.94 ERA was the second-best on the club among the 29 pitchers who appeared in a game for the Mets last season. However, it remains a quality vs. quantity question with Blevins. No one doubts the quality he provided. But he needed 75 games to amass 49 IP, which tied for 11th on the club, despite being healthy and on the roster all year long in a season where only Jacob deGrom could make the same claim among Mets pitchers.
There’s a sliver of hope that the club’s insistence on playing matchups will decrease with a new manager and that Blevins will go longer in his appearances in 2018. And it should absolutely be stated for the record that Blevins has never publicly asked for a specialist role. My doubts regarding the usefulness of Blevins and his $7 million salary are tied to his previous usage pattern and not his willingness – and to a lesser extent, his ability – to pitch in a regular relief role.
In 2017, Mets relievers tallied 569 IP. If we divide that by seven, the number of pitchers in a standard bullpen these days, you get each relief spot responsible for 81.1 IP. That leaves Blevins producing a 32.1 innings shortfall that the club’s other relievers need to carry. Of course, it’s not so neat and tidy. At times last year, the Mets had an eight-man pen. And there’s also the entire month of September when the bullpen has double-digit members. Plus, looking forward, the hope is that the club’s starters will go deeper in the game and that will lessen the load on the pen.
From a free market perspective, Blevins’ salary is not outrageous. If Brett Cecil is worth $7.75 million, it’s hard to say that Blevins shouldn’t pull down $7 million. But do we want to point to the highest contract and say Player X is the standard by which all others should be paid? And on top of that, should the Mets allocate that much money to a guy who pitches as a specialist?
While not necessarily a buyer’s market, there are several lefty relievers who will be free agents this year. MLBTR lists 10 players who absolutely will be available, including Fernando Abad, Jake McGee and Tony Watson. And there are three other pitchers besides Blevins who have an option of one sort or another who could be available, too. How much of a premium should the Mets pay for the “known” factor of Blevins over someone like Watson?
If the Mets needed to get 150 fewer innings from their pen, it would be a slam dunk decision to bring Blevins back and utilize him primarily as a specialist. But how many innings will the team’s pen need to give and what kind of role will Blevins have in 2018? Also, what’s the makeup of the other relievers in the pen and what’s their ability to soak up extra innings? The team should also be prepared for what happens if guys who are thought to be in the bullpen need to move to the rotation if/when starters get hurt. Finally, is it a wise allocation of resources to devote five percent of payroll to a guy who is the club’s third-best reliever and who likely won’t crack 60 innings pitched?
There’s an awful lot of factors at play here and it’s far from an easy decision for the front office to make. So it’s at least a little curious that the club appears to have made up its mind on Blevins but has not done the same with Cabrera, who would likely have a much bigger role on the club for a similar salary. Heyman indicated the Mets were leaning towards bringing Cabrera back and my expectation is that we’ll see both guys on the club in 2018. But it would be illuminating to know what makes Cabrera a tougher decision than Blevins.