CARLSBAD, Calif. -- The discussions Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen has had with agents this week at the GM Meetings have been, in his words, "preliminary." Van Wagenen has begun checking on the Mets' needs, including a catcher and a right-handed bat, which may or may not wind up being the same person. He has also begun addressing the club's greatest issue: bullpen help.
A source said the team is interested in left-hander Andrew Miller, which should come as no surprise after New York finished 28th in the Majors in bullpen ERA last season. Miller, a two-time All-Star who appeared in just 37 games last year due to injury, is among the top free-agent relievers available.
He is also far from the only arm the Mets will pursue. This winter is a particularly good time for the team to shop; former All-Stars Craig Kimbrel, Zach Britton and Jeurys Familia are also for hire, as are one-time closers Cody Allen and Adam Ottavino. That group represents the top end of a market that also includes dozens of lower-priced options.
Reticent for years to buy bullpen help under former general manager Sandy Alderson, who considered relievers volatile and therefore risky investments, the Mets now appear ready to dedicate much of their offseason to that pursuit. Van Wagenen said Wednesday that he does not want to be "one and done" on the relief market (as the Mets were last year in signing Anthony Swarzak), but instead hopes to acquire multiple arms.
"The depth at any particular position obviously creates more maneuverability in the marketplace," Van Wagenen said. "But we'll cross that bridge of which players will be specific targets as time goes on."
The Mets' wish list at least includes Miller, whose ability to pitch in various roles was invaluable to the Indians in the 2016 postseason. Now 33 years old, Miller owns a 2.21 ERA since becoming a full-time reliever in 2012. He also logged 261 innings from 2014-17, 12th-highest among Major League relievers over that stretch. But while Miller twice landed on the disabled list in 2018, neither of those injuries had anything to do with his arm.
The Indians did not extend a $17.9 million qualifying offer to Miller, meaning the Mets can pursue him without fear of losing any Draft picks. The same cannot be said for Kimbrel, whom the Red Sox expect to decline his qualifying offer. That means if the Mets sign him, they will forfeit a second-round pick in the 2019 Draft -- a concept that may have dissuaded them in offseasons past, but that Van Wagenen said is not currently a factor. No other relievers have qualifying offers attached to them.
In bullpen matters, the Mets anticipate being flexible. They desire pitchers like Miller who are capable of taking on a "fireman" role, entering in the highest-leverage spots regardless of inning. Yet if promising the closer's job is what it will take to lure a top free agent to Flushing, they will have no problem doing so. The Mets don't have an obvious closer already on staff; after the team traded Familia to the A's last July, Robert Gsellman became one of several to handle ninth-inning duties.
Club officials see Gsellman and Seth Lugo as integral parts of their 2018 bullpen, but not necessarily in the ninth. Swarzak is the only other incumbent guaranteed a job. Depending on how many relievers the Mets sign this winter, a group including Tyler Bashlor, Gerson Bautista, Paul Sewald, Drew Smith and Bobby Wahl will battle for their remaining bullpen spots.
"We have a number of power arms that we can lean on," Van Wagenen said. "I think that we're hoping there will be some development from some of the players that got some exposure in the big leagues last year. And I think we'll be opportunistic trying to add to that group."