Around the Horn: Diaz anchors bullpen

Closer acquired from Seattle in December; Familia ready for setup role

January 21st, 2019

NEW YORK -- With pitchers and catchers scheduled to report to Port St. Lucie, Fla., in four weeks, it's time to continue our position-by-position look at the 2019 Mets. Next up: bullpen.

The closer:

In terms of win probability added, the Mets' most significant offseason move may have been landing Diaz in the seven-player trade with the Mariners that also netted them second baseman . It's difficult to overstate how dynamic Diaz was last year in Seattle, saving 57 games in 61 chances with a 1.96 ERA and, perhaps most impressive, 124 strikeouts in 73 1/3 innings. The Mariners went 66-0 in games that Diaz entered with a lead. In New York, he will inherit the closer's job without competition.

Other locks: ,

As the only pitcher in the Mets' projected bullpen making more than (roughly) the Major League minimum, Familia will serve as Diaz's primary setup man. On nights when Diaz is unavailable, Familia will close. The organization is plenty familiar with what Familia, who saved 123 games with a 2.66 ERA over his first 6 1/2 seasons in New York, can do.

Lugo is one of the most intriguing pitchers on the roster given his versatility. He can set up, he can close, he can pitch in long relief and he can start, and the Mets will likely ask him to do all of it. While Lugo has stressed over the years that he'd like a crack at the rotation, the Mets have made it equally clear that they value him more in the bullpen. Barring an injury, that's where he'll open the season.

Other candidates: , , , Kyle Dowdy, , , , Tim Peterson, , , , , Daniel Zamora

Among this group, Gsellman is the closest thing to a lock, having spent the past two seasons in the Majors. But he struggled for much of the second half, posting a 5.92 ERA from June 20 through the end of the season. Gsellman is definitely on the inside of the roster bubble as Spring Training commences, but a poor camp could make the Mets think twice about taking him north.

Another intriguing name in this group is Dowdy, whom the Mets selected in the Rule 5 Draft to provide rotation depth. There isn't likely to be space in the starting five for Dowdy, meaning if he is to stick on the roster, he'll need to do so in the bullpen. His Rule 5 status gives him an advantage heading into camp.

Avilan, a veteran left-hander, also has a strong chance of making the team. The Mets are likely to feature multiple lefties in their Opening Day bullpen, with Avilan, Santiago, Zamora and O'Rourke all serious candidates to be there in April.

Regardless of whether they carry seven or eight relievers, the Mets will fill out their bullpen with some mix of young right-handers. Smith and Hanhold in particular impressed them last season, giving them an early edge heading into Spring Training.

Prospects to watch: Matt Blackham, Stephen Nogosek, Ryder Ryan, Corey Taylor, Joshua Torres, Stephen Villines

Technically, some of those on the "other candidates" list still have their rookie status intact, but for the purposes of this exercise, only those without big league experience will be included here. Of the six pitchers above, all but Blackham will be in Major League camp, and all -- including Blackham -- have at least an outside chance of debuting in 2019. Nogosek (ranked as the Mets' No. 22 prospect) and Ryan may be most familiar to Mets fans as two of the relievers the team acquired during its 2017 selloff; both are power arms who made it as high as Double-A Binghamton last season.

The bottom line

The Mets unquestionably improved a bullpen that ranked 28th in the Majors in ERA last season, acquiring perhaps the game's best closer in Diaz and supplementing him with a proven setup man in Familia. There's also lots to like with some of the younger arms in the system, many of whom debuted last summer. But is it enough? The Mets need a true breakout season from Hanhold, Smith or someone of that ilk, lest they regret not spending a bit more on their bullpen overhaul.