Notes: Diaz, rotation, McNeil

Vargas penciled in as Mets' fifth starter; McNeil to play mostly outfield

February 13th, 2019

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- From the moment the Mets traded for in December, they made it clear that Diaz -- perhaps the best closer in baseball last season -- would be their unquestioned ninth-inning man. A few weeks later, the Mets signed their old closer, , who made it equally clear that he is just fine with the new arrangement.

Yet Familia retains plenty of stature in the Mets' clubhouse, as evidenced by the corner locker that has long been reserved for New York's closer. That real estate still belongs to Familia, with Diaz right next to him.

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"He's happy to be here with me," Diaz said of Familia. "We are ready to go. We are a team, so we have to be running together."

Don't expect any drama from this arrangement, with all parties delivering an identical message. In Diaz, the Mets have a 24-year-old lockdown closer who saved 57 of his 61 attempts in Seattle last season. In Familia, they boast a setup man with as much talent as any closer in the league. After all, he used to be one.

"We've got a great bullpen," Diaz said. "[Seth] Lugo, [Robert] Gsellman, me, Familia, the other guys here. I think we've got a great bullpen."

Rotation set

Mets manager Mickey Callaway left no doubt as to the identity of his fifth starter, saying deserves the job based on "the way [he] pitched at the end of the year when we got him on a regular schedule."

Over his final eight starts, Vargas went 5-1 with a 2.62 ERA, after posting a 2-8 record with an 8.75 mark his first 12 outings. Vargas rejoins a rotation that will also include , , and ; the Mets do not intend to announce the order of those five until later this spring.

"Jason Vargas is ... one of the best professionals I've ever been around," Callaway said. "This guy comes to the field every day to win, to get better. He's in the dugout every pitch, paying attention to everything that happens. ... Our goal this Spring Training is to get him locked in mechanically and physically, because the rest is going to take care of itself, and he's going to be a great fifth starter for us if all those things happen."

Position change

Entering camp, the Mets are viewing Jeff McNeil less as a utility man and more as a full-time outfielder, according to Callaway, which would take reps away from and .

"He loves the outfield," Callaway said of McNeil, who played only at second and third base in the Majors last season. "Most of his at-bats, if everything stays like it is today, are going to come in the outfield position. He's very excited about that, talking to him. He's working really hard on getting to a spot where he feels very comfortable out there, and we're going to get to see him playing a lot out there this year."

Slimmed down

Among those who reported to Mets camp a bit leaner are infielders and -- though neither can compare to pitcher , who dropped 30 pounds this offseason. Calling it "career check time," Flexen spent his winter eating healthier and working out regularly at the Mets' Barwis facility in Port St. Lucie. The lost weight should help Flexen alleviate pressure on his knee, which he had surgically repaired last August.

Still only 24 years old, Flexen has struggled in limited big league time the past two seasons, posting an 8.45 ERA in 18 outings. He should open this season in the Triple-A Syracuse rotation, with a chance to be one of the first men up should injury strike the Mets' starting five.