Earlier this offseason at the MLB Winter Meetings, new Mets manager Mickey Callaway explained that he doesn't intend to designate any one pitcher as the team's 'closer.'
"I think that we're going to pitch guys when it makes sense," Callaway explained in December. "I'm going to pitch guys to their strengths and they're going to face the batters they should be facing."
Callaway expanded on that philosophy earlier this week.
"We wouldn't name Wilmer Flores as our Wednesday infielder and then start him even if we're playing against Corey Kluber," Callaway explained, according to NY Post columnist Ken Davidoff. "So, why name a closer and put him in a situation where he doesn't fit?"
That said, Callaway told Davidoff and other writers Tuesday that he wouldn't be surprised if Jeurys Familia ends up getting the bulk of the team's saves in 2018.
Callaway's bullpen will include Familia, as well as AJ Ramos, Jerry Blevins, and Anthony Swarzak, all of whom he has said will occasionally end up pitching the game's final inning this season.
According to Davidoff, Callaway believes there are dozens of factors each day that will determine how he and pitching Dave Eiland choose to handle the team's relievers, such as their relative workloads, how a pitcher has done against the opposing lineup, and who is still available to hit on the other team's bench.
"I think what he's trying to do is figure out a way how they can use Famila and Ramos," MLB Network analyst and former pitcher Dan Plesac said Wednesday on MLB Network. "I think it can work. I think we're seeing now that not only one guy is handling the ninth inning unless you're one of those premium guys. Familia has been that guy in the past. He's had some really terrific pockets and he's had some bad pockets."
Familia set a franchise record with 51 saves in 2016. However, he missed most of last season with a blood clot in his pitching shoulder, which was revealed after he missed the first 15 games of the season due to suspension stemming from a domestic violence incident.
Meanwhile, Ramos, who was acquired in trade last summer, was an All-Star closer for the Marlins in 2016, during which he had 40 saves and a 2.90 FIP. Last season, in 30 opportunities, he had 27 saves.
"I'm a versatile guy. I've shown I can close, I've shown that I can pitch in the sixth or seventh innings, I've shown that I can throw multiple innings," Ramos told SNY's Mets Hot Stove in December. "For me, I just want to win. And, whatever I can do to help the team win is what I want to do."
I'm glad to hear this. It's the best approach. However, I expect we will also hear from fidgety pitchers about how it wrecks their routine. And this is when having a 42-year-old former pitcher as manager can help. Callaway, Eiland, and bullpen coach Ricky Bones should have the experience -- and certainly have the temperament and communication skills -- to make this concept stick to each pitcher.
Traditionalists will panic and assume having a closer-by-committee can only lead to chaos. I think that happened a decade ago, when this was last popular, because the only relievers getting paid big money were the guys accumulating saves. So, it's understandable that a pitcher that believes he can be a closer would be frustrated by not being a closer. However, that is no longer the case. In case you missed it, pretty much ever relief pitcher did well financially during this winter's free agent market.
It is true that Wade Davis will be paid twice as much as everyone else this coming season. However, more or less every pitcher in the next tier will be getting double what he would have been paid just five years ago.
The reliever market can thank Andrew Miller, Mariano Rivera, and the number of injuries being suffered by starting pitchers across the game.
If the four seasons since Rivera retired has proven anything, it is that he was a baseball unicorn and any team trying to replicate his success is wasting their time and money. Meanwhile, starting pitchers are more injured and throwing fewer and fewer innings, which is creating more demand for people to pick up their missing time on the mound.
In search of a solution, Miller demonstrated the potential and value in someone that can pitch in multiple situations to any type of batter and do it for more than one inning. These factors, plus a better statistical understanding of high-leverage situations and points of pivot during a nine-inning game, teams are moving away from the Rivera model and more toward the Miller model.
"That's just the way the trend is going," Ramos added when talking to SNY. "You've got to be able to adjust. If you're one of those people that are gonna be mad (about when you're being used in the game) then you're probably not going to be a good teammate."
To make this work, though, Ramos needs more teammates. He, Familia, Blevins, and Swarzak are more than capable of handling the situations that will be thrown to them by Callaway. However, I still think they need one more guy in their club to make it fully effective.
Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman will be helpful, but injuries could end up making them needed in the starting rotation. Tyler Bashlor, Rafael Montero, Paul Sewald, Hansel Robles, Gerson Bautista, Jamie Callahan, and Jacob Rhame may or may not play a role. It could be three or four of the above names step up and emerge as legit help, which would be amazing, but it's hardly a guaranteed outcome.
Mets GM Sandy Alderson had been saying he was not in the market for pitching. However, in advance of their equipment truck leaving Citi Field for Florida, he said Thursday morning that he remains open to adding another veteran reliever this winter -- potentially a left-hander to complement Blevins.
My hunch is he's seeing the number of available relievers still available on the open market and believes he can get one or two quality arms to accept a minor-league deal. This is fine. Obviously, I'd love for the Mets to add Greg Holland, but not at the expense of being able to afford a better infielder.
I also agree with Alderson and Callaway that they should keep most of the bullpen flexible (and not tied to guaranteed deals) so that relievers can be cut, demoted, and promoted. It's important that management be able to keep shuffling the deck to find the best mix of talent in advance of what will hopefully be a postseason run at the end of the summer.
Experience helps, though. So, the more veteran arms that can be added, the better. Because, based on Callaway's quotes, the more people he has to choose from, the more likely he'll plug the right guy in to the right situation....
Matthew Cerrone (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Contact) is lead writer of MetsBlog.com, which he created in 2003. He also hosts the MetsBlog Podcast, which you can subscribe to here. He recently left his position as Executive Editor and Dir. of Digital Content for SNY.TV to help sports brands build their own digital content businesses...