As New York Mets general manager Sandy Alderson addressed the state of his club coming out of the All-Star break, he put it plainly that the team is set to be sellers at the rapidly approaching trade deadline, barring them playing “exceedingly well.” That can be assessed in several ways, but judging by their season-long inconsistency, winning 12 of 16 with a relatively favorable schedule is the only justification for them to stand pat or add.
The Mets, with numerous pending free agents, are in a unique position to sell now, punt on 2017 and use the money coming off the books to fill multiple holes and build on their main strength – starting pitching – to jump back into title contention in 2018.
Even if the Mets sell, it’s ironic that with a roster of power hitters and solid veterans whose contract status makes them available, the consensus as to which pending free agent will likely yield the highest return is a veteran short reliever whom the Mets acquired as a house money roll of the dice for two non-prospects: Addison Reed.
Reed came to the Mets from the Arizona Diamondbacks as a last-minute boost to the bullpen on Aug. 30, 2015, while New York was organizing its playoff roster. The Diamondbacks were in the middle of a disappointing season, hovering around .500 and out of contention. Reed was arbitration-eligible and had pitched so poorly for the Diamondbacks that the then-four-year veteran closer was demoted to Triple-A in June. The likelihood was that at season’s end, the Diamondbacks were simply going to non-tender him and save the $5 million or so he was set to receive. So chief baseball officer Tony La Russa and general manager Dave Stewart did a favor for Alderson, their old boss and friend from their days together with the Oakland Athletics. Essentially gratis, they sent him Reed.
For the Mets, it was a no-lose proposition. They were under no obligation to place Reed on the postseason roster, but with his history as a former closer with good stuff, why not have a look? They too could have non-tendered him if it didn’t work out.
For his part, Reed was leaving Arizona, where he’d endured two miserable seasons, and was going to a club that was heading for the playoffs. He did not have to withstand the immediate pressure of closing, and could reestablish his value.
Reed posted excellent numbers in his first month as a Met. He pitched reasonably well in the 2015 postseason and, in 2016, became one of baseball’s best setup men working predominately in the eighth inning for closer Jeurys Familia. In 2017, first with Familia’s suspension for a domestic incident and then the arterial clot in his shoulder, Reed was elevated to closer. After a shaky start, Reed has settled in and is pitching about as well as he did in the previous year. This is how he has become a hot commodity on the trade market. He pitched so well and handled the New York spotlight with such aplomb that it’s reasonable to think the Mets would be one of his prime suitors as a free agent after the season even if he’s traded. Given the circumstances, the Mets can derive dual benefit out of a bad situation, get something of value for Reed by renting him out on the trade market, and bring him back.
The question is: Considering where he was, how did he replenish and surpass his perceived value?
Going from the Chicago White Sox as a closer, being traded to the Diamondbacks for a former first-round pick Matt Davidson, being demoted from the role and from the majors, then becoming a Mets scrap heap pickup and now an in-demand arm is not an easy evolution — and that was what it took for Reed to reach this level. He evolved.
He has drastically improved his control. Whereas he was once a high-wire act with his inconsistency in that area, he now pounds the strike zone. His fastball velocity has declined from the mid-90s when he was a 23-year-old with the White Sox and has settled in at around 92-93 mph; that can be viewed a byproduct of cumulative work, but it can also be taken as a conscious decision not to try to throw the ball through a wall at the expense of control and command. In a process that began with the Diamondbacks, he all but junked a changeup he used with regularity in Chicago and now barely throws it. Focusing on a fastball and a slider, Reed relies on the deception that comes from a crossfire delivery that is a hallmark of pitchers referred to as “sneaky fast.” That deception, improved control and a streamlined repertoire have resulted in more swings at pitches in and out of the strike zone. Most importantly, he is comfortable and amenable to both setting up and closing – many relievers who were once the designated ninth-inning man are not willing to do that.
Very quietly, Reed has become one of baseball’s top bullpen arms, evidenced by his production on the mound, his versatility, and the sheer number of teams that are pursuing him and waiting out the Mets as they decide whether to sell or not. Combining all his attributes, Reed will be one of the most prominent targets in the next two weeks and after the season when he’s on the open market. Suffice it to say the bids will be high in late July and in December.
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