The Relief Market is Drying Up Fast! A Breakdown on Remaining Relief Arms for the Mets
As we currently stand, which is actually at least one night before you read this (who knows if any of these names sign before Thursday afternoon), the Mets are operating with roughly $10 million remaining on their offseason budget. The goal would be to sign two players with that $10 mil. In that case, we are looking for roughly one more premier reliever for around $7-$7.5 mil and one cheaper reliever for no more than $3 mil really. The Mets could stretch that budget a little big for a pitcher they really like. In reality, if they really liked a player enough to stretch the budget, they probably would’ve signed them by now.
I have broken up many remaining free agents into three different categories. This will give more insight to a ballpark estimate of what some of these players may sign for. I will not deep dive into each reliever but provide my insights below the list.
Hector Neris RHP
David Robertson RHP
Ryne Stanek RHP
Phil Maton RHP
Adam Ottovino RHP
Wandy Peralta RHP
Cheap and/or Fallback Options
Jake Diekman LHP
Scott Alexander LHP
Jakob Junis RHP
Aaron Loup LHP
Shintaro Fujinami RHP
Lucas Luetge LHP
Returning From Injury/Minor League Deal Options
Daniel Hudson RHP
Trevor Rosenthal RHP
Jimmy Nelson RHP
Alex Reyes RHP
Michael Fulmer RHP (Out for 2024)
Ken Giles RHP
Mark Melancon RHP
Codi Heuer RHP
Justin Wilson LHP
Lou Trivino RHP
Victor Arano RHP
My Thoughts (I’ll go through every player as quickly as I can):
Premier Options: Out of those left on the board, Hector Neris and Ryne Stanek seem to be garnering the most attention. They were big parts of Houston’s power bullpen, especially Neris who is coming off a phenomenal 1.71 ERA season. I’ve seen reports that they both have multiple suitors and have been in contact with teams more recently. Personally, I would let the bidding war happen while the Mets go and snag a couple relievers for potentially the same price that Neris ends up getting.
I would prefer to go after a different member of Houston’s 2023 bullpen, Phil Maton. Maton really put it all together this year for another great season, but even if he regresses, limiting hard contact and striking out batters have been a mainstay of his profile. Even if the walk rate is a bit below average. When looking at a player for a multi-year deal, these are the characteristics I want to see in a pitcher. His curveball and sweeper are great pitches that do not look to slow down anytime soon. The cherry on top (for me really) is that I would rather have Maton over both Neris and Stanek and he might be cheaper than both of them. The Mets should be able to sign Maton for around $7 mil AAV soundly. This would be a great addition to our bullpen.
Outside of Maton, I would very much enjoy a David Robertson reunion. Mets fans would finally get to see what it would have looked like having Robertson set up for Diaz to close out ball games. Especially after his first half success with the Mets, I imagine he will receive a pretty similar contract to last year's 1 yr/$10 mil deal. Barring a return discount, a Robertson signing might just end the Mets offseason by commanding the remainder of our budget. In that scenario, it could become a little more important to explore minor league deals with rebound candidates coming off injury.
Our last two premier names are Adam Ottovino and Wandy Peralta. I would be happy if the Mets signed either of these two guys. Unfortunately, Ottovino opted out of the last year on his contract with the Mets and elected free agency. It has been reported that he is looking to pitch for a contender which seemed to play a part in his decision to opt out. This makes a return to Queens pretty unlikely in my eyes so I’m going to count him out. Wandy Peralta is the lone LHP on the premier list. If you are paying close attention to the current makeup of the 2024 Mets roster, you know Brooks Raley is our only LHP right now. That is an issue to say the least. However, as you may have noticed from the categories above, multiple cheap relief options are lefties. Our bullpen is made up of a lot of lottery tickets still. Diaz and Raley continue to be the only two guys I have complete trust in, so I am opting for a hopefully dominant RHP out of the premier category. It probably needs to be said, but if the Mets took a RHP and a LHP from this list, I wouldn’t be upset with Peralta and Junis/Fujinami at all.
Cheaper/Fallback Options: Moving on to our cheaper options. Many Mets fans are probably screaming for the team to sign at least one name from the premier list with how the offseason is shaking out. I would expect some fans to share the same skepticism about the bullpen as I do. We have a new administration, but if history is any indicator, signing one of these premier guys is definitely not a 100% chance. For this reason, I also categorized this list as fallback options as well. I would have liked this list to be a little longer, but the combination of possibly cheap and comfortable MLB caliber relievers was a bit shorter than I thought.
Jake Diekman is the guy I am most excited for here. He came back to form with the Rays in 2023, having his best season since the shortened 2020 season. Diekman provides a high powered budget lefty option that saw a dip in his K fate to a still above average 26.3% while improving the batted ball portion of his profile. His average exit velocity dropped from 89.8 mph (16th percentile) to 84.6 mph (99th percentile). His hard hit percentage dropped from 39.3% (36th percentile) to 27.2% (99th percentile) while his barrel rate dropped from 7.1% (52nd percentile) to 5.0% (88th percentile). Lastly, his ground ball rate went from 40.7% (37th percentile) to 46.4% (72nd percentile). The jump he made was incredible, and certainly unsustainable. However, maintaining above average levels of these same metrics is accomplishable. This makes Diekman a prime candidate to be a budget reliever with huge dividends. With what is left on the market, Need I say more?
Scott Alexander was actually very much on my radar last offseason when I was looking to create somewhat of a budget bullpen (complete opposite of this year) to stay as close to luxury tax as possible. Alexander got lost in that transition and I did not think about him until I saw he was a free agent about a month ago. He is not going to light up the radar gun and strike a ton of guys out like Diekman might. He limits hard hit balls and barrels, walks, and is a ground ball demon (61.8%/98th percentile). He still managed an above average chase rate in 2023 which definitely contributed to the lower hard hit rate while the extremely high ground ball rate helped diminish barrels. He did see a big regression in average exit velocity in his first season with over 48 innings since 2018. His average exit velocity numbers the past couple years had been very good, but he has pitched a maximum of 18 innings in four straight seasons. The regression was expected, but with such a good defensive infield, especially up the middle between Lindor and McNeil, I am not worried.
Now, perhaps the craziest part of Alexander’s profile is that he has had all this batted ball success by throwing his sinker at least 71% of the time every year of his career. Of all the players and stats with this article, that is easily my favorite. You might say, “OC, that’s not too crazy because he is probably a lefty specialist,”. Quite the opposite in fact. While he is definitely better against lefties, Alexander has faced far more righties in his career posting almost identical batted ball percentages regardless of handedness all while throwing over 70% sinkers for his career. I mean, just look at this guy, he’s got “dog” written all over that face.
Sorry for the tangent, I like to have a little fun here and there. Let’s get back to business. Diekman, Alexander, Junis, okay here we are. I almost lost track of where we were on the list. Junis comes up as a fallback RHP option in case the Mets were to sign Wandy Peralta, or not sign any premier relievers at all. He figures to sign this biggest deal (AAV at least) of this bunch with some potential to spot start games. Junis saw a more permanent shift to a relief role in 2023 with the Giants. It’s just now as I am writing this that I realized Alexander and Junis is the second set of teammates we have on this list, and we actually have three with a trio of former teammates in the next section. Junis saw an uptick in his fastball velocity to the highest of his career. Unfortunately, that did not change the mighty struggles he has had with fastballs in his career. Luckily for him, his slider has become the go to and primary pitch in his arsenal. This one sports positive results and plus run values. Junis’ best trait is that he has consistently limited walks his whole career. Unlike many other relievers on this list, Junis is not top of the line in any peripherals, nor is he near the bottom of the barrel in any peripherals as well. He provides a very middling reliever profile which is refreshing in a way. You are not worrying about any big metrics regressing or any glaring metrics becoming big issues throughout the year.
This one will be quick, I swear. Loup gets to reunite with Mets pitching coach Jeremy Hefner. A match that was made in heaven for the 2021 Mets. Loup provides a familiar presence in what has become a bit of a rotating bullpen for years. Hefner knew how to get the best out of Loup and there should be little doubt he could help him outperform his two seasons with the Angels. Loup is another high ground ball lefty that saw much better success during his one year in Queens than his two seasons in Anaheim. With that, Mets fans are already familiar with Loup, and I will not make suggestions about how to elevate his performance to an outlier season, but I have faith Hefner and the coaching staff makes this a worthwhile signing.
Next up, we have Mount Fujinami. I am not sure if the Athletics called him that because he is a mountain of a man standing 6’6” throwing absolute cheddar (average fastball velocity 98.4 mph), but it seems like a pretty safe bet that is why. This is a really fun player to dream on. Any strong believers in the Mets pitching lab would probably like to see these two link up. He is not a high spin pitcher despite the high velocities. His biggest struggle in 2023 was his command. What is interesting is that Fujinami throws at least six pitches. Despite this, his fastball was still thrown over 56% of the time. His cutter was his best pitch in terms of run value, whiff% and put away%. He threw it 16% of the time and throwing it more could lead to worse results. However, the reality today is that hitters can hit 98 mph better than probably ever before. A 98 mph fastball without plus shape does not just blow any hitters. I would like to see the fastball get thrown less and see him mix all of his pitches more. The splitter and cutter had whiff rates above 37%. A more balanced approach and being more comfortable with his sweeper, which saw progressively increased usage with the Orioles as the year went on, could give Fujinami a more well-rounded arsenal.
Lucas Luetge has been a weak contact merchant after his MLB comeback in 2021 with the Yankees. He was great in Yankee Stadium despite being a fly ball reliever, but things just did not click enough with the Braves last year. It was a bit of a shock when the Yankees did not retain him. As a Mets fan, once I saw the Braves picked him up, I was not happy. An increased BB rate, plus allowing two home runs in 13.2 innings with the Braves as opposed to four home runs in 57.1 innings with the Yankees in 2022 led to a poor performance from Luetge. His short tenure in Atlanta masked the fact that he still limited hard contact, barrels and maintained his average exit velocity and chase rates. This looks more like a bump in the road than a decline for the 36 year old lefty and the slow offseason makes him a potential steal for many teams looking to bring in another LHP. Regardless of Yankee Stadium’s park factors, moving to a pitcher friendly park in Citi Field behind an improved defensive outfield, could help Luetge regain the success he had in 2021 and 2022 with the Yankees.
Returning from Injury/Minor League Deals: The Mets have a lot of pitching talent in their minor league system all looking for valuable innings. However, with the major league pitching depth David Stearns was seeking earlier in the offseason, many of these guys make so much sense for the Mets to sign to minor league deals. Just about all of them are coming off an injury which is pretty much what makes them prime candidates for a minor league deal with an invite to spring training if they are healthy enough come February. This list is just about as long as the first two categories combined. However, Daniel Hudson is practically in his own sub-category here. From what I have read, he looks like he may be ready for opening day. I should probably instead say that from what I have read, there is no indication he will not be ready for opening day. Many of these guys may not be, based on basic timelines of their surgeries and recoveries. Lots of their injuries happened throughout the year, a good portion being setbacks to a previous injury which then required another surgery.
The minor league deals give the Mets access to help and work with these players as they return from injury and look to work their way back to the show progressively. I would really like the Mets to sign Daniel Hudson someway, somehow. As I just said, he very well could be ready for opening day, and he is also the most recently successful pitcher on this list. The rest of the category is kind of in order of my personal priority, but kind of, not really you could say. The previous categories were not in order of my priority, hence why I stated my specific preferences. Considering these are no-risk minor league deals, there is not a preference really. If the Mets signed any of the players on this list I would be happy with it. The list is more based on upside than anything.
A really quick rundown on each guy. Before we start, Michael Fulmer, as listed in out for the year. He is also in his own sub-category as he is the only pitcher I know will not be pitching in 2024. A minor league deal obviously would not suffice, so a two year deal would be necessary to sign him. He is in this category because he will be returning from injury. Moving on.
I was really big on the Mets going after Trevor Rosenthal this offseason as he attempts to make his MLB comeback. He got Tommy John surgery midway through the year and would probably only be available late august at the earliest unless he has a quicker than usual recovery. Similarly to Fulmer, I would like a one year minor league deal with a club option for 2025. The Mets would be able to gauge his comeback and how he is progressing both physically and on the pitching side (i.e. if his velocity is maintained, how his pitches move post surgery, etc.). They would have the exclusive rights to retain him because of this. Rosenthal was a high octane pitcher and if he can prove to have similar stuff as pre-injury, his interest could grow quickly as a budget reliever.
As far as I can tell, Jimmy Nelson is healthy again. He finished the 2023 season with the Dodgers AAA affiliate and struggled mightily with walks. I cannot see him getting a major league contract. He can still spin it, and providing him patience and more time to regain feel coming off multiple years of injuries could pay off down the line. If not, the Mets can release him to allow other prospects more innings.
Alex Reyes has some of the most upside on this list. He is also the third youngest on the list at 29 years old. The last time Reyes pitched in the MLB, he was a 2021 NL All-Star. He signed with the Dodgers with both sides hoping he can return to form late in the season to become a valuable bullpen piece for the postseason. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen and he required shoulder surgery in June. The hopes are much of the same this year with Reyes and the Mets. If he can come back from surgery and work with the Mets. He has electrifying stuff, and what is a recurring theme with these guys, having a couple months with the Mets player development team would perceivably give the Mets better chances at retaining these players for 2025 if they like their chances of being productive.
Ken Giles looked to make his MLB comeback this past season after two years of dealing with injuries. He signed with the Mariners but ended up being DFA’d a bit later in the summer. Giles is healthy again, and if there is any chance he has the stuff to become a productive MLB reliever again, the Mets should take a chance on him.
Mark Melancon is nearing the end of his career. I am not sure if he would sign a minor league contract at this point, but if he is open to it, why not. He is the oldest player here and any pitcher that has fourteen seasons under his belt can provide value to an organization. Whether it is poise and knowing how to pitch in the big moments, or helping provide insight to the other players around them. There is always something they can help with. To me, a no-risk contract for Melancon with the presence he can provide with either the MLB club or minor league teams is automatically a win. He will not return to the show and just dominate again, his value will come with how he impacts those around him.
Codi Heuer will be returning from a surgery to repair a fractured right elbow that ended his 2023 season. He was rehabbing to come back from Tommy John surgery when he faced a setback in late June. Heuer is the youngest player on this list at just 27 years old and provides some decent upside after being non-tendered by the cubs this fall. I am unsure exactly when he will be back, but it will be sometime in 2024, hopefully sooner than later. Heuer enjoyed a couple of successful MLB seasons in 2020 and 2021 at the ripe ages of 23 and 24. He was a promising relief arm until he had to undergo Tommy John surgery and miss all of 2022. Here we are now, and a once promising arm has not pitched in over two years. Heuer would be an arm I would think would have more interest coming his way. The Mets should be able to pounce on a lot of these guys with how slow the market is moving, but Heuer should specifically be one of their targets.
Next up is a familiar face for Mets fans. Justin Wilson was a very productive LHP for the Mets for 2019 and 2020. If I remember correctly, he was the only real mainstay lefty we had in the bullpen those years. He has since enjoyed some success with the Reds, but his time there was cut short by injury. He needed Tommy John surgery just five appearances into his 2022 campaign. He signed a one year deal with the Brewers looking to make his return sometime in the summer. In late July, right before going to enter a game against the Braves, Wilson suffered a left lat strain on his last warmup pitch right before making his return. I have not found any update on Wilson’s injury, but outside of not pitching for two years, he had not shown any previous signs of slowing down. A minor league deal seems like a pretty easy decision here especially with the Mets’ lack of left handed relief depth.
Lou Trivino underwent Tommy John surgery in June last year, he is yet another pitcher targeting a second half return to baseball. The now 32 year old continued performing at a very high level after getting traded to the Yankees in 2021 with Frankie Montas. He significantly improved his ground ball rate in 2022 while also improving his K rate after seeing a decline in 2021. His last healthy season (2022) saw Trivino post a career best 3.63 FIP with much thanks to his dominant second half with the Yankees. The hopes here are that after returning from surgery, Trivino can maintain the improvements he made in the Bronx and bring them over to Queens later in the season.
Victor Arano emerged with the Phillies as a 23 year old way back in 2018. A great season that saw 60 appearances to the tune of a 2.73 ERA. Injuries made him a name to forget for the next few years until he broke out with the Nationals in 2022. He started the year strong with a 1.64 ERA and 1.39 FIP across 11 innings between March and April of 2022. An injury-filled 2023 ended with Arano needing shoulder surgery in late June. He elected free agency despite being arbitration eligible through 2025. A non-tender decision by the Nationals was very much in play after one good season and uncertainty about when he would return. Arano’s shoulder surgery should also keep him sidelined until the second half of 2024. Despite not having many innings to his belt, when healthy, Arano has proved to be a productive MLB relief pitcher. Age is on his side and taking a shot with him on a minor league deal should be pure upside if he gets healthy again.
Wow, we made it! That was a lot longer and took a lot more time than I thought. I hope you all care about the Mets’ bullpen as much as I do because otherwise this might not have been worth it, just kidding. This was a fun one to research especially as someone that wanted to load up our bullpen with proven arms this year. There are still a lot of fish in the sea that could yield great returns for the Mets. They might not be the sexiest signings, but if we know anything about Stearns’ history with the Brewers, he knows how to build a pitching staff. We should have faith in him as they prepare for the future of the organization and a strong 2025 free agency class all while maintaining a competitive roster for 2024.
If things do not work out this year, do not overreact. We have the right people in the right positions to make sure us fans are watching baseball in November soon. I hope you enjoyed this not so deep dive into the many remaining names on this relief market. I have another big article coming out next week in my usual Monday slot at The Skippers View (@TheSkippersView on X) so be on the lookout for that one. It will be a lot more fun and investigative than this one. So long to those that made it this far and I hope to see you on Monday!