PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — The hype belonged to the starting rotation. A year ago, with the franchise fresh off winning the National League pennant, much of the talk out of spring training surrounded the Mets’ stable of stars.
But with four frontline pitchers sidelined by early September, it was another group that rose up to seize the spotlight.
The Mets’ bullpen emerged as one of the best in baseball. Led by closer Jeurys Familia, who shattered the franchise record with 51 saves, the Mets’ relievers ranked third in the league with a 3.53 ERA.
Setup man Addison Reed might have been the best of the bunch. In 80 appearances, he posted a 1.97 ERA in 77 2⁄3 innings, matching Familia’s innings total.
As a group, the Mets’ relievers flashed their dominance, ranking second with 9.75 strikeouts per nine innings and leading the league with a 40-percent ground-ball rate. A year later, much of the same crew returns, though there’s some stiff competition to round out the remainder of the bullpen.
“We’ll certainly hope we can find a guy down here,” manager Terry Collins said.
With Familia expected to begin the season suspended for violating baseball’s policy on domestic violence, the Mets will lean upon their depth to weather the absence.
Reed will slide into the closer’s role and righthander Fernando Salas will take over as the setup man. After his trade from the Angels, he posted a 2.08 ERA in 17 1⁄3 innings for the Mets.
Jerry Blevins signed a free-agent deal and will pick up his role as the team’s top lefthanded specialist. Righthander Hansel Robles solidified himself as a quality big-league reliever last season with a 3.47 ERA in 77 2⁄3 innings.
The Mets figure to carry a long reliever, and Zack Wheeler could begin the season in that spot. Because he has missed the last two seasons after undergoing Tommy John surgery, Wheeler will be on a limit of about 100 innings, and working out of the bullpen (at least initially) would help keep him within that cap. That leaves two potential openings to be filled.
A numbers crunch could steer that decision. The Mets’ 40-man roster is full, which could make for an uphill climb for camp invitees such as Tom Gorzelanny, the veteran lefty sidearmer brought in for depth when it still was unclear if Blevins would re-sign. Gorzelanny is one of 10 non-roster pitchers vying for a spot.
The packed 40-man roster could prove beneficial for the likes of Erik Goeddel, Josh Smoker and Josh Edgin. The Mets could add all three without needing to clear a spot.
Goeddel turned in a promising 2015 season with a 2.43 ERA but struggled last year with a 4.54 ERA in 36 appearances. He underwent offseason surgery to remove bone spurs in his elbow.
Hard-throwing lefty Smoker opened eyes last year when he resurrected his career and reached the majors for the first time. The former first-round pick had a 4.70 ERA in 20 games.
Edgin, 30, brings the most bullpen experience. In 2014, the lefthander looked well on his way to making himself a fixture. In 47 games, he posted a 1.32 ERA with a fastball that averaged 92 mph. But a bumpy rehab from Tommy John surgery took away some of that velocity, and when Edgin made it back to the big leagues in 2016, he took a step backward with a 5.32 ERA in 16 games. Still, the Mets tendered him a contract, giving him a chance to regain his form.
“I know it’s in there,” Edgin said. “It’s just about getting it back out, figuring out mechanical issues, arm slot and all that stuff, and try to get the velo back.”