LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- When Jeurys Familia returned from arterial surgery late last summer, the Mets made a point of being cautious with him. Initially, the team shied away from deploying Familia in high-leverage spots, using trade acquisition AJ Ramos in save situations instead. Even after that restriction faded,
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- When Jeurys Familia returned from arterial surgery late last summer, the Mets made a point of being cautious with him. Initially, the team shied away from deploying Familia in high-leverage spots, using trade acquisition AJ Ramos in save situations instead. Even after that restriction faded, the Mets never completely removed the bubble-wrap from their one-time closer.
Perhaps the gray area that emerged will prove to be prophetic. Manager Mickey Callaway said Tuesday that Familia is not necessarily the closer heading into 2018, as the Mets look to modernize roles throughout their bullpen.
"I think 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."
Callaway's vision is a bullpen that positions relievers based upon situations and opponents -- not specific innings. It is a philosophy that his old team, the Indians, employed to great effect under his stewardship, using Andrew Miller in particular anywhere from the sixth through ninth innings the past two regular seasons. When Miller began struggling in pressure spots last year, Indians closer Cody Allen -- at that point a more traditional ninth-inning man -- volunteered to switch roles with him.
Callaway envisions similar flexibility in New York, where Familia, Ramos and Jerry Blevins all boast experience in high-leverage situations. Familia led the Majors with a Mets-record 51 saves in 2016. Ramos has saved 99 games with a 2.98 ERA the past three seasons. Blevins held left-handed hitters to a .455 OPS last year.
In addition, the Mets are looking to sign someone with similar late-game acumen such as Addison Reed, though a once-robust market for setup men is quickly growing thin. While any one of Familia, Ramos or a new acquisition could serve as the Mets' dedicated closer, it's also possible none of them do.
"It depends on what Spring Training looks like," Callaway said. "I don't think I'm prepared to say one way or the other. I have thoughts going into the season that I just want our pitchers to face the batters they're supposed to face. If it means he's a closer, then he's a closer. I'm not really concerned about titles. I don't think the players, from talking to them, are concerned about titles."
That last part, according to general manager Sandy Alderson, is critical to making such a system work. Oftentimes, relievers prefer set roles so they can maintain consistent routines of stretching, warming and entering games. If job descriptions are fluid, pitchers must stay on edge.
But Callaway's success in Cleveland has the Mets believing such a system could also work in New York, even if it means stripping Familia -- the team's closer since 2015 -- of his role. While the Mets have yet to broach these ideas with individual players, they will do so in the coming months. Such a strategy would mesh well with their desire to prevent most of their starting pitchers from facing opposing lineups more than twice in a game.
"It's an interesting possibility," Alderson said. "Communication will be the watchword. Right now, it's more of a working theory than anything else. But it embraces some of the things we've been talking about before, which is the evolving relationship between starting pitching and relief pitching and the evolving way that relief pitching is being used."
Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook.