Speaking Thursday morning at the Winter Meetings with the Mets on the verge of finalizing deals with starting pitchers Rick Porcello and Michael Wacha, GM Brodie Van Wagenen strongly suggested that his plan might not include adding any external big league relievers.
Van Wagenen could be speaking in intentionally coy terms. But if not, the Mets would likely be neglecting their main area of need while hoping for bounceback years and other positive developments.
"We can bolster our bullpen by having (Seth) Lugo and (Robert) Gsellman go back to the bullpen along with (Brad) Brach if that's how it shakes out in spring training," Van Wagenen said. "It's a good position to be in. We'll sort of adjust on the fly in terms of what other opportunities come in. We have the ability to do wants now that many of our needs are filled."
Both Lugo and Gsellman had been candidates to move to the rotation, and Van Wagenen said they would still prepare just in case. But it seems like they'll both be in the bullpen.
Still, it's more than a reach for Van Wagenen to say the Mets are bolstering their bullpen by adding Lugo and Gsellman "back" in there when they were never actually gone.
When it comes to the bullpen, the Mets have been linked to Dellin Betances. But SNY's Andy Martino reported on Wednesday night that nothing was doing at the moment regarding Betances and the Mets.
"We feel that the volatility in the reliever market, which we experienced last year, makes investment into that market a little bit riskier," Van Wagenen said on Thursday. "We're looking at a situation where we have six starters right now that all have fourth starter or better ability. That value versus investing in more volatile relievers with checkered track records -- we feel like this is a better way to go."
As far as why the Mets felt it might be smart to focus on adding starting pitchers over bullpen pieces, Van Wagenen told SNY's Steve Gelbs that "starting pitching is what our team is built on."
"We feel like we have the system in place to help (Edwin) Diaz and (Jeurys) Familia return to form," Van Wagenen explained. "We feel like we have -- with Lugo's development as one of the best relievers in baseball. If we were in a position where we could add more certainty in the starting rotation it will allow us to keep Lugo in a position where he's thrived."
Van Wagenen did hedge a bit when asked if he was comfortable with the Mets' rotation and bullpen as-is, saying that everyone remaining healthy is a big "if" and that he doesn't want to have to rely on perfect health.
The Mets could also trade a starting pitcher between now and the beginning of the season, which would cut into their depth. If not, they would likely be relying on one of their starters (likely Wacha or Steven Matz) moving to the bullpen, where neither has much experience.
Translation: The Mets still need to add another legitimate late-inning reliever. Hopefully Van Wagenen agrees.