Flexible, formidable core key for Mets' bullpen

Callaway looks to use 4 top relievers when game circumstances, matchups dictate

January 29th, 2018

With pitchers and catchers scheduled to report to Port St. Lucie, Fla., by Feb. 12, it's time to dissect the Mets' 2018 roster. This is the second of a six-part Around the Horn series taking a position-by-position look at projected starters and backups heading into the season. Next up: relievers.

NEW YORK -- In general manager Sandy Alderson's eyes, the Mets' 2018 bullpen construction began last July, when the team -- seemingly in full sell mode -- surprised nearly everyone by acquiring veteran reliever AJ Ramos from the Marlins. In 21 appearances down the stretch, Ramos saved seven games with a 4.74 ERA, though that wasn't the point. The Mets had acquired Ramos not to be a part of their present, but a part of their future.

Over the ensuing months, the Mets exercised a 2018 contract option on , signed to a two-year, $14-million deal and kept an eye on 's offseason workouts in the Dominican Republic. Those three and Ramos will form the core of a bullpen that the Mets hope will be as flexible as it is formidable.

"We've got four guys that we really like," Alderson said last week.

It remains to be seen how the Mets will deploy those four; manager Mickey Callaway said at the Winter Meetings that he does not necessarily plan to name a closer -- a role that Familia has held, when healthy, for the past three seasons. Shoulder surgery robbed Familia of much of the 2017 season, giving Ramos an opportunity to close games down the stretch.

In Callaway's ideal world, the Mets will use all four of their top relievers when game circumstances and matchups dictate, potentially giving each of them ninth-inning opportunities.

"We're going to pitch guys when it makes sense, and we're going to pitch guys to our strengths, and they're going to face the batters they should be facing," Callaway said. "If that means [Familia] is going to close every game, that could happen if it lines up that way. We're not locked into that. I think that we have to make sure we get to a save situation, and if we can't get there, it doesn't do any good to have this guy be named the closer."

In addition to the four pitchers guaranteed roles in the bullpen, the Mets will report to camp next month with a slew of roster hopefuls: and , who played significant roles for the team last season; Jamie Callahan, and , three of the pitchers the Mets recently acquired during their midsummer sell-off; and even , assuming he does not win a spot in the rotation.

The idea is to rely in large part on relievers with Minor League options, so that the Mets can shuttle arms back and forth from the Minors on a regular basis -- much as the Yankees, Dodgers and other clubs have done successfully in recent years. The Mets will likely employ three or four of those pitchers on Opening Day, with the rest heading to Triple-A Las Vegas to wait their turn.

"Based on how many innings our third, fourth, fifth starters go," Alderson said, "having that kind of flexibility is going to be really important."

The Mets are not sure yet if they will carry seven or eight relievers on Opening Day, though in some ways, it hardly matters. Over the course of the year, they will lean on at least a dozen different arms as they look to find the right mix for a unit that ranked last in the National League with a 4.82 ERA last season.