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David Stearns, Mets still looking for bullpen help with Edwin Diaz set to return

The Mets are not done looking for bullpen help.

Edwin Diaz will headline a relief corps that is high on uncertainty and low on high-leverage experience. Left-hander Brooks Raley is the only returning arm that has significant experience throwing in meaningful, high-leverage innings. The rest of the group is a mix of middle-inning talent with some upside and some question marks.

David Stearns acknowledged this last week when he addressed the media on a Zoom call. But the Mets’ president of baseball operations also acknowledged that the group the club has right now will not look the same throughout the entirety of the season.

“I think we’d like to add to our reliever mix,” Stearns said. “One of the interesting things about bullpens is, if you kind of look at the really good bullpens in baseball each year, there is sort of an evolution that occurs throughout the year. Often, what that unit looks like in April and May is very different than what that unit looks like in August and September. There are probably names in really good bullpens in August and September that no one was really thinking about playing prominent roles in those bullpens at the start of the year.”

It’s unclear what kind of pitcher the Mets are looking to add to the relief corps, but there are some big names still on the market, should the team decide to go that route, including left-handers Aroldis Chapman and Josh Hader.

Stearns has shown an affinity for players with former Yankees citing their experience playing in New York and being able to handle the pressures that come along with this market. Chapman, a former Yankees closer, would fit this description.

Hader also remains unsigned and the former Milwaukee Brewers closer has ties to Stearns, who previously held the same title with the Brewers. Of course, Stearns also infamously traded Hader to the San Diego Padres in the middle of a playoff race in 2022 and Milwaukee fell out of contention.

This particular move might not have worked out for the Brewers in 2022, but there are other examples of bullpen transactions made late in the season that have gotten teams to the postseason. Last year, the Arizona Diamondbacks overhauled their bullpen at the trade deadline, including trading for former Mets reliever Paul Sewald. The bullpen moves helped them reach the World Series.

“I’m very cognizant that this is a part of a team that generally has some fluidity to it and generally can go through different versions of itself over the course of the year,” Stearns said. “So certainly, we want to put together the best unit in the ‘pen that we possibly can before Opening Day, but we also recognize that there are going to be opportunities to change the mix and potentially improve as we go through a full season.”

The current group of pitchers are lacking late-inning experience. Right-hander Drew Smith has some experience in late innings, with the 30-year-old having logged 14 holds in 2022 and three saves in 2023. However, the consistency needed to pitch in high-leverage situations has always eluded him.

Jorge Lopez, a right-handed starter-turned-reliever, didn’t exactly post the same numbers in 2023 that he did a year prior when he was an All-Star. He went 6-2 with a 5.95 ERA in 61 games with three teams last year, converting three saves and blowing four of them. He’s currently the fourth-highest-paid reliever in the bullpen, behind Diaz, Raley and Smith making $2 million in 2024.

Right-handers Michael Tonkin, Austin Adams, Phil Bickford, Max Kranick, Sean-Reid Foley and Grant Hartwig round out the group. Homegrown left-hander Josh Walker hopes to win a spot out of spring training. It’s probably safe to say all of these pitchers will contribute to the big league team at some point throughout the season.

The Mets’ 2023 ERA was ranked 22nd in the league (4.45 ERA). It’s easy to be able to grab relievers off of waivers during the season, though waiver claims do come at the cost of a 40-man roster spot. Still, Stearns is right that there are ways to overhaul a bullpen throughout the season. But the club is still looking for upgrades to insulate themselves at the start of the season. A midseason overhaul will require a winning record and another established arm would help with that.