LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Bent on improving the back end of what they felt was an already strong bullpen, the Mets finalized a two-year contract with free-agent reliever Anthony Swarzak on Friday. The deal is worth $14 million, according to multiple sources.
Swarzak, 32, is coming off the best season of his eight-year career, posting a 2.33 ERA in 77 1/3 innings split between the White Sox and Brewers. He also averaged a career high with 10.6 strikeouts per nine innings, fifth in the Majors among relievers with at least 70 innings. The right-hander exclusively threw a fastball and slider, averaging a personal-best 95 mph with his four-seamer.
"We said at the outset that relief pitching was something that we wanted to acquire," Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said at the Winter Meetings earlier this week. "We're happy with the way things have gone."
In New York, Swarzak will team with Jeurys Familia, AJ Ramos and Jerry Blevins at the back of the bullpen. Manager Mickey Callaway said Tuesday that Familia will not necessarily regain his ninth-inning duties, as the Mets look to modernize bullpen roles. At various times, all four of those pitchers could pick up closing duties.
Roles aside, the Mets made acquiring a relief pitcher their top priority this winter, negotiating with Bryan Shaw, Tommy Hunter and others who have since signed elsewhere. While they balked at paying premiums for those players, the Mets were willing to give Swarzak a two-year deal despite the right-hander's relatively brief track record of success.
Entering last season, Swarzak held a 4.26 career ERA with just 5.8 strikeouts per nine innings. His uptick in velocity, combined with a change in repertoire -- Swarzak began throwing his slider more than 50 percent of the time in 2016, ditching his curveball and changeup completely -- transformed him to an extent that the Mets feel is sustainable.
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"Relievers in general are tricky to evaluate," said Brewers general manager David Stearns, who offered Swarzak a two-year deal to return to Milwaukee. "That problem is probably accentuated a little bit with someone like Anthony, who had a career that didn't necessarily predict what he did last year. At the same time, you can't take away what he did last year. He had a tremendous year. He was a big part of our run down the stretch and he deserves to be rewarded for it."
With Swarzak in the fold, the Mets are likely done shopping for relievers, according to Alderson, who also indicated recently that he does not plan to pursue starting-pitching help. That leaves two primary needs for the Mets: a second baseman and a first baseman/outfielder hybrid.
The team is much more likely to act quickly at second base, according to sources, with Pittsburgh's Josh Harrison, Cleveland's Jason Kipnis and Oakland's Jed Lowrie all options. New York does not appear to harbor significant interest in new Miami acquisition Starlin Castro.
Although the Mets have had dialogue with Jay Bruce, according to a source, an upgrade at first base could come later -- perhaps even as late into the winter as January. In any event, the club appears mostly done adding to its pitching staff.
"We wanted to acquire an extra arm," Alderson said. "I think we got somebody we're really happy about and is going to improve us. … We're continuing to be openminded about things."