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The starting rotation, healthy and being pushed to pitch deeper into games lately, still offers the possibility of carrying the Mets toward serious contention. No matter what, though, the bullpen isn't deep enough, even presuming that Edwin Diaz gets his act together.
And somehow Brodie Van Wagenen needs to reinforce it.
Making a trade is the most obvious way, but there will be a limited number of quality relievers on the market, and the Mets' farm system is thin on top prospects, in part because Van Wagenen included Jarred Kelenic and Justin Dunn in the Diaz/Robinson Cano trade last fall.
In short, then, it's going to be difficult to make a deal for someone like Shane Greene, Kirby Yates, or Felipe Vasquez, to name a few difference-makers who could be available.
I mean, do you really want to trade Dominic Smith and all of his offensive potential for a short-term reliever?
Maybe Van Wagenen will prove creative enough to get a deal done.
Or is there another way?
Out of nowhere, it seems, there is an idea the Mets can dream on a little, that a 22-year old reliever named Ryley Gilliam could come storming out of their farm system to be an answer for them in the late innings.
If you've barely heard of him, you're excused.
Gilliam was a fifth-round draft choice out of Clemson only a year ago, a right-hander who started his first full season of pro ball this April in Class A St. Lucie, earned a promotion in April to Double-A Binghamton, and another to Triple-A a few days ago, along with highly-touted starter Anthony Kay.
So Gilliam is zooming through the Mets' system with a 96-97 mph fastball and a hammer-curve, a combination that has accounted for 48 strikeouts in 32.0 innings this season. And while his overall numbers aren't spectacular, that rate of 13.5 strikeouts per nine innings speaks to his potential impact as early as this season.
"I could see it," was the way a scout from a National League team assigned to cover the Mets' system put it. "I wouldn't count on him being Joba Chamberlain this year, but he's got some real good power-stuff that will get swings and misses in the big leagues if he locates."
The scout mentioned Chamberlain because of the fast-track similarity, recalling that the one-time Yankee phenom went through three levels of the minors in 2007, albeit as a starter, before emerging as a blow-away reliever the last two months of the season.
The Mets shouldn't need a Joba-like savior so much as simply another reliable arm they can count on in the late innings, and suffice it to say they'll be watching closely to see if Gilliam can continue to rack up the strikeouts in Triple-A.
In truth, the Mets aren't all that surprised by Gilliam's rapid rise. As Clemson's closer, he was touted as a reliever who could reach the big leagues quickly, and VP of scouting Tommy Tanous says he could easily have been selected higher.
"There's a trend now that relievers are going a little bit later," Tanous said by phone. "You're looking for starting pitching early in the draft, with the thinking that you can find relievers a little bit later.
"We liked Ryley a lot. He threw strikes with a 95-97 mph fastball, and had what we thought was a plus-plus curveball, which he uses as an out pitch. And he just attacks hitters."
A year later the Mets' brass feels even stronger about Gilliam, obviously. Here's what farm director Jared Banner told me about him:
"Two things stand out to me about him: one is his maturity, both on the mound and off. The quality of his work. Preparing for his outings, preparing his body for the season, he's really impressed the whole organization.
"The second thing is just the power to his stuff -- its sharpness, its command in the zone. He's really done an excellent job of missing bats this season."
When I asked Banner about the possibility of Gilliam arriving at Citi Field at some point this season, he was non-committal, as you'd expect, but to hear him talk, especially about the young pitcher's maturity, it was easy to believe the Mets are hopeful.
Banner said the organization has made a point of testing that maturity he spoke of, saying "we've challenged him by bringing him into some high-leverage situations, with runners on base, things of that nature, and he's handled it very well, staying very poised."
When I suggested that Gilliam's maturity would help him handle a big-league promotion, Banner said, "It would indeed."
So we'll see. Gilliam has to prove he can thrive at Triple-A before a spot in the Mets' bullpen becomes a realistic option, and right now it's not something Van Wagenen should be counting on.
However, after the trades he made last winter, giving up prospects for Keon Broxton and J.D. Davis, as well as Diaz/Cano, the GM can't dip too deeply into his farm system again.
As such, Smith is an intriguing trade option, because even as well as he's hitting, he probably doesn't fit long-term, with Pete Alonso at first base. But at age 24 (as of Saturday), he has a great future that can't be dealt away in a quick-fix move.
If Van Wagenen could coax a top prospect from the Tigers as well as Greene, who is under contractual control for another season, then maybe it's worth the win-now gamble.
Chances are the GM has another month before he has to make such a call. If he gets lucky, maybe Gilliam will still be wowing the Mets in the minors at that point and Van Wagenen will have a safer alternative.