If there’s one thing that all Mets fans can agree on, it’s that we don’t want to see another bullpen filled with relievers selected because of their option status. Regardless of how it failed spectacularly last year, at least it was a plan. How important is a plan when it comes to building a bullpen? Most of us would prefer to have different options, including handedness, velocity and movement, among others. But push comes to shove, the plan needs to be pitchers who have had success recently.
Let’s start with the holdovers from the 2024 team. Edwin Diaz is expected to return to be the team’s closer. And after that, there’s a ton of uncertainty. Adam Ottavino has an option that he’s expected to exercise but it’s a possibility he’ll look elsewhere. On the other side of the coin, the Mets have an option on Brooks Raley that they’re expected to pick up but they could potentially decline if they were looking to save money for other parts of the roster. Let’s say both of these veterans are in the 2024 pen for the club, which makes three relievers for next year’s bullpen.
The Mets have four depth starters. It’s pretty clear that all four will not be in the rotation. Other than that, it’s anyone’s guess where those guys will pitch, either as starters or relievers, as well as the majors or the minors. Let’s hold a spot for one of those in the pen, giving the 2024 Mets four relievers.
Not counting the depth starters, the Mets have six relievers from last year’s club that are eligible for arbitration. The brass seems to love Drew Smith, while my take is that he’s a strong non-tender candidate. It seems to me that Trevor Gott has more upside and he ended the year on a solid note, with a 2.96 ERA and a 1.274 WHIP, while limiting batters to a .630 OPS with a .309 BABIP in his last 27 games. Let’s put Gott and Smith in the 2024 pen, too, giving us six relievers.
Is there anyone else we should consider? Phil Bickford was great in September. Reed Garrett is pre-arb with an option remaining, as is Grant Hartwig, Bryce Montes de Oca and Josh Walker. Sean Reid-Foley and Denyi Reyes are out of options, as is Bickford. The guys with options begin the year with Syracuse. Are any of the other three worth guaranteeing a spot on the Opening Day roster? My guess is no. Which leads the club needing to add two relievers in the offseason.
They could trade for one, like they did prior to last season with Raley. But that’s a difficult thing to predict. Let’s look at the free agent relief pitchers, limiting them to ones without an option and those who don’t expect to be a closer, since the Mets already have Diaz. Here are ones who were good last year, along with having a track record of succeeding in the majors. The listed age will be their official one for the 2024 season.
Reynaldo Lopez, 30, RHP
Last year – 66 IP, 3.27 ERA, 1.273 WHIP
Last three – 189 IP, 3.14 ERA, 1.064 WHIP
Outside of Diaz and Smith, there’s not a lot of velocity with our six projected relievers – while we didn’t name a depth starter for the pen, none of the four are fireballers. Lopez had an average fastball velocity of 98.4 last year, the highest of his career.
Matt Moore, 35, LHP
Last year – 52.2 IP, 2.56 ERA, 1.158 WHIP
2022-2023 – 126.2 IP, 2.20 ERA, 1.168 WHIP
A starter thru most of his career, Moore became a full-time reliever in 2022 and has put up back-to-back strong seasons. He utilizes a three-pitch repertoire as a reliever, with a mid-90s fastball, a change and a curve. Both of those pitches are about 10 mph slower than his heater, with his change being a very good pitch. With Raley as the only lefty, Moore would give them another southpaw in the pen.
Joe Jimenez, 29, RHP
Last year – 56.1 IP, 3.04 ERA, 1.154 WHIP
2022-2023 – 113 IP, 3.27 ERA, 1.124 WHIP
Once thought to be the Tigers’ closer of the future because of his big arm, Jimenez took awhile to develop in the majors. He put up his best season in ’22 and bettered that last year. He’s mostly fastball-slider, with an occasional change. Ideally, there would be a longer track record than just two seasons for a career reliever. But there’s enough here to make Jimenez interesting.
David Robertson, 39, RHP
Last year – 65.1 IP, 3.03 ERA, 1.194 WHIP
When healthy, has been a very good reliever since 2009
There’s a concern about any pitcher this old. There’s also the worry that he would not be receptive to a return to New York, after the Mets traded him. But Robertson enjoyed his time with the Mets and there could very well be a return engagement here. David Stearns might just have to give him a no-trade clause this time.
Jesse Chavez, 40, RHP
Last year – 34.2 IP, 1.56 ERA, 1.096 WHIP
Last three – 137.2, 2.81 ERA, 1.184 WHIP
Chavez missed half of the year in 2023 after getting hit in the shin with a line drive. He came back to pitch in September and allowed 1 ER in 5.2 IP. He was not on the post-season roster for the Braves, so he may be ready to move on. Chavez throws six different pitches, although he’s been leaning on his cutter here recently.
Robert Stephenson, 31, RHP
Last year – 52.1 IP, 3.10 ERA, 1.171 WHIP
2021 – 46 IP, 3.13 ERA, 1.304 WHIP
Another pitcher without much track record but perhaps an upside play. Stephenson was starting to put things together with the Reds before the Covid season but things fell apart on him in 2020. He bounced back the following season but 2022 saw another rough turn, this time in Colorado. Stephenson has averaged 96.9 with his fastball in both ’22 and ’23. He throws a lot of different pitches and began throwing a cutter last season.
Brent Suter, 34, LHP
Last year – 69.1 IP, 3.38 ERA, 1.298 WHIP
2019-2023 – 259.1 IP, 3.16 ERA, 1.203 WHIP
Stearns should be very familiar with Suter, who had spent his entire career with the Brewers before a midseason deal last year to the Rockies. He’s got a very good change, which allows him to face righties, as well as lefties.
Will Smith, 34, LHP
Last year – 57.1 IP, 4.40 ERA, 1.064 WHIP
2013-2023 – 521.1 IP, 3.38 ERA, 1.159 WHIP
Smith’s ERA last season was not good. But his WHIP was as good as ever and he had a 3.36 FIP. So, what happened? Smith had a comically bad 55.6 strand rate, compared to a 73.4 lifetime mark in the category. Maybe he expects to be a closer next year, which would exclude him from this list. But if he’s willing to be used before the ninth inning, he should be someone the Mets are interested in.
There are plenty of other intriguing options available, including Jordan Hicks. His track record isn’t very good and he might prioritize being a closer, which is why he didn’t get a write-up above. But any team would be interested in his arm.
My hope is that the Mets prioritize guys like the eight listed above, rather than ones who have minor league options or ones who throw hard but have no history of success or those who throw with their left hand but get devoured by RHB. And the pool might be bigger than eight, depending upon what happens to those players with either club or player options.