Potential offseason targets as Mets look to upgrade bullpen

The Mets’ roster refurbishment has yet to include the bullpen, but expect that to change before spring training.

Among the issues facing general manager Billy Eppler and his staff, once baseball’s deep freeze (in this case a lockout) concludes, will be upgrading a unit that performed at a respectable level last season, but also has arms to replace.

Most notably, left-hander Aaron Loup received a two-year deal worth $17 million from the Angels, subtracting the Mets’ best reliever from 2021. Jeurys Familia is also a free agent, leaving Edwin Diaz, Trevor May, Seth Lugo and Miguel Castro as the remaining core in the bullpen.

There is plenty of inventory available, with names such as Collin McHugh, Andrew Chafin, Ryan Tepera and Kenley Jansen at the forefront of the free-agent market. The trade market could include a high-caliber possibility in Craig Kimbrel.

Craig Kimbrel (top left), Andrew Chafin (top right) and Kenley Jansen (bottom right) are possible offseason options for Billy Eppler to upgrade the Mets’ bullpen.
AP, Getty (3)

The Mets, before the lockout, also hadn’t ruled out a potential reunion with Familia, according to a source, and had maintained contact with the right-hander’s camp. But it’s likely any Familia consideration would be as a secondary piece behind a potential larger splash.

McHugh — who began his career with the Mets before he was dealt to the Rockies in 2013 for Eric Young Jr. — would possibly fit into that larger-splash category after a season in which he pitched to a 1.55 ERA and 0.94 WHIP in 37 appearances with the Rays. McHugh’s barrel percentage rate of 2.5 ranked in the 98th percentile, according to Baseball Savant. McHugh’s walk percentage, hard-hit ball percentage and fastball spin all fell into the 90th percentile or above.

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Tepera is another right-hander with a high ceiling. Last season he pitched to a 2.79 ERA and 0.88 WHIP in 65 appearances for the Cubs and White Sox. His key metrics included a strikeout percentage of 30.7 that ranked in the 88th percentile in MLB, according to Baseball Savant.

Loup’s departure has the Mets in need of lefty help, which could point to prioritizing Chafin, who split last season between the Cubs and Athletics and pitched to a 1.83 ERA and 0.93 WHIP in 71 appearances. Chafin fits the Loup mold as a pitcher with below-average velocity who pitches to weak contact.

Edwin Diaz
Edwin Diaz

As a win-now team — and 37-year-old Max Scherzer’s addition on a three-year contract worth $130 million suggests the Mets fall into that category — Eppler could explore the possibility of a trade for Kimbrel, whose 2022 option was picked up by the White Sox with the idea of dealing him. But it would seem more likely that any such trade might have to be part of a larger deal that would also allow the Mets to address the starting rotation or infield.

If the Mets want a big-gun closer to pair with the electric — albeit underachieving — Diaz, they could just head in the free-agent direction and pursue Jansen, who remained a force for the Dodgers last season. Jansen, like Kimbrel, has plenty of mileage on the odometer and might only make sense if he’s willing to take a two-year contract.

In addition to Scherzer, the Mets have added free agents Eduardo Escobar, Starling Marte and Mark Canha this offseason, bringing the projected payroll to $264 million. With the Mets still looking for at least one starting pitcher and bat in addition to bullpen help, it seems likely owner Steve Cohen will take the final tab north of $300 million.

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