Around the Horn: Familia, Reed form bullpen backbone

If pair pitches well, Mets could rank among top relief groups in 2017

Around the Horn: Familia, Reed form bullpen backbone

With pitchers and catchers scheduled to report to Port St. Lucie, Fla., by Feb. 12, it's time to dissect the Mets' 2017 roster. This is the third of a six-part Around the Horn series taking a position-by-position look at projected starters and backups heading into the season. Next up: relievers.

Considering general manager Sandy Alderson's aversion to investing significant dollars into his team's bullpen, it's worth looking at how Mets relievers have fared over the past two seasons. In 2014, New York finished fourth in the National League in bullpen ERA. In '15, it ranked seventh. And last summer, the Mets were third, posting a 3.51 ERA with 569 strikeouts in 525 innings.

It is no secret how New York has done it, relying heavily on closer Jeurys Familia. That should again be the case for most of 2017, even if Familia misses time due to a potential suspension for violation of Major League Baseball's Domestic Violence Policy.

But the Mets will hardly rely on Familia alone. To succeed with much the same bullpen as it had last summer, New York will need significant contributions from others.

"We've got to make sure we're strong at the back end," manager Terry Collins said recently. "We have to have options back there."

While Familia remains the rock of this bunch, saving 94 games with a 2.20 ERA over the past two seasons, setup man Addison Reed may be the club's most significant bullpen piece in April. By some measures, Reed actually outperformed Familia in 2016, striking out 10.5 batters per nine innings with a 1.97 ERA. If Familia misses time due to suspension, Reed will close.

Collins on Reed's role in 2017

After that is where things get murky. Although the Mets are likely to acquire at least one veteran reliever between now and Opening Day, they will largely fill out their bullpen from within. That means some combination of Hansel Robles, Josh Edgin, Josh Smoker, Erik Goeddel and others will play significant roles. Ideally, that group will also include the return of Jerry Blevins, though the lefty specialist is a free agent and is no guarantee to return.

To fill in the gaps, New York will turn toward its starting-pitching depth. Beyond the Mets' top four starters is a group of three -- Robert Gsellman, Seth Lugo and Zack Wheeler -- not guaranteed a job in the Opening Day rotation. Mets officials have already spoken openly about potentially moving Wheeler to the bullpen, though they worry about the health concerns that could cause. Equally possible is an early-season shift to relief work for Gsellman or Lugo, who could become setup men in Reed's absence.

Out of every unit on the Mets, the bullpen remains least certain heading into Spring Training. But as long as Familia and Reed are pitching well, New York's bullpen should again rank among the best groups in baseball.

Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.