JUIPTER, Fla. — It’s a bullpen deep on experience and question marks.
The most obvious thread in the bullpen finalized by Mets brass in recent days for the season opener is the absence of young, unproven arms. In Edwin Diaz, Trevor May, Aaron Loup, Jeurys Familia, Dellin Betances, Miguel Castro, Jacob Barnes and Robert Gsellman, the Mets have a collective 54 years of major league experience. Diaz, Barnes and Gsellman, with five years of experience apiece, are the relative newbies.
But experience and talent aren’t always entwined, and the Mets will begin discovering Thursday, with opening night in Washington, whether they possess the right pieces. It comes after a season in which the Mets’ bullpen posted a 4.60 ERA that ranked 18th in the major leagues.
“I think we have got a lot of guys that can do different things in different parts of the game when it comes to that bullpen,” manager Luis Rojas said Monday, before the Mets concluded their Grapefruit League season with a 3-3 tie against the Cardinals.
Rojas spent much of his pregame session with reporters discussing the Mets’ decision to stick with Gsellman, a right-hander who has largely been a disappointment since his rookie 2016 season. The Mets released Mike Montgomery on Sunday — he had an opt-out in his contract — after deciding they preferred Gsellman for the final spot in the bullpen.
In six appearances this spring, Gsellman pitched to a 5.00 ERA and 1.89 WHIP. The fact the Mets will have lefties David Peterson and Joey Lucchesi in the rotation and both aren’t considered length starters, enhanced the value of a multi-inning righty, Gsellman, to the team.
“We like where his stuff is and there’s some things he needs to work on and he’ll put it in play,” Rojas said. “We talked the whole spring about it, but we like what his stuff can do and we talked about the ability of going multiple innings as well, so having Lucchesi and Peterson as part of our rotation, having a guy like Gsellman who can go multiple innings and reverse it from the lefty to righty I think is something that will make a little bit more sense right now.”
Gsellman said he wasn’t worried about getting squeezed from the roster because it was beyond his control.
“I put in a lot of work and I’m excited to get started,” Gsellman said.
Familia’s penchant for putting runners on base and Betances’ decreased velocity (his fastball sat mostly in the 90-91 mph neighborhood as recently as Sunday) were other reasons for concern this spring. Familia is in the final season of a three-year contract worth $30 million. Betances is owed $6 million for this season.
“We talk about Familia and Betances with their experience and what they have done in this game and what they can do for us,” Rojas said. “I think we have got a lot of guys that can do different things in different parts of the game when it comes to that bullpen.”
The prominent new pieces are May (who arrived on a two-year contract worth $15 million and the lefty Loup (who received a one-year deal for $3 million). Castro, who arrived at the trade deadline last year and struggled, had a strong exhibition season, pitching to a 1.23 ERA and could be considered for a more significant role.
Diaz was perfect in spring training until his last appearance, when he allowed three runs. The closer is coming off a season in which he struck out 50 batters in 25 ²/₃ innings and appeared to exorcise the demons from his disastrous 2019 season.
Barnes, claimed off waivers and signed in the offseason, is a veteran right-hander who came on strong late in camp and added to his value by succeeding in the opener’s role in an experiment last weekend.
The Mets are missing a significant piece in Seth Lugo, who won’t return until at least May after he underwent surgery last month to remove a bone spur from his right elbow.
“Maybe having a second lefty is something we have talked about, taken into consideration, but guys that are righties that are in the bullpen have been successful against lefties in the past,” Rojas said. “We are pretty comfortable with it. … We feel good right now and we know [the bullpen] is going to get even better at some point.”