By Brad Kallet
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Mets closer Jeurys Familia was handed a 15-game suspension on Wednesday for violating Major League Baseball’s domestic violence policy. The 27-year-old right-hander met with commissioner Rob Manfred on Monday in Manhattan and, according to various reports, had been in line to be suspended around 30 games.
So the fact that he got just half of that is a good thing for the Mets.
At the time of publication of this column, Familia was still on the active roster, but you can probably expect a roster move at some point.
So what does this mean for the Mets going forward? Well, it’s a blow, no two ways about it, but it’s hardly a death knell, as he’ll be back well before the calendar turns to May. It will, however, leave New York in a vulnerable position during the first half of the first month of the season.
Familia never makes it easy — the tying and winning runs always seem to be on base — but any way you slice it, he’s been one of the most dependable closers in baseball the last two years. (He was also brilliant as Jenrry Mejia’s setup man in 2014.) The right-hander converted 52 consecutive regular-season save opportunities from July 30, 2015 to July 28, 2016. Over the past two seasons, in 122 appearances spanning 155 2/3 innings, Familia pitched to a 2.20 ERA with 94 saves (10 blown saves), 170 strikeouts and just seven home runs allowed.
Addison Reed, who was utterly dominant in the eighth inning last season, will step in as Familia’s replacement. As nasty as the 28-year-old right-hander was last season, closing is an entirely different animal. Reed struggled in the role from 2012-14 with the White Sox and Diamondbacks, and he has really struggled this spring, to the tune of an 8.18 ERA in 11 innings.
This bullpen is also the team’s question mark right now. Without Familia, this unpredictable group becomes even more difficult to predict.
As for how the timing of the suspension impacts the Mets, it depends on how you look at it. At first glance, it’s favorable that Familia will miss the first few weeks because during that time the Mets have an extremely friendly schedule. They open with six home games, against Atlanta and Miami, then travel to Philadelphia for three and the Marlins for four before returning to Queens to play three against the Phillies. Familia will be back before that series ends.
On the one hand, the Mets should be able to win many of those games without Familia. On the other, this is a period of the season when the closer is in position to get a host of opportunities. As flawed as the competition might be, a one- or two-run lead late in a game is never safe, especially with an inferior closer on the mound. During a stretch consisting of so many winnable games at home — against divisional opponents, no less — the Mets can’t afford to let results slip from their grasp. As we learned all too painfully in 2007 and 2008, every one of them counts. If Reed were to blow three saves in April, it could come back to haunt New York in September.
The hope is that the Mets orchestrate some blowouts against Atlanta, Miami, and Philadelphia, rather than having to rely on Reed in the ninth, and Hansel Robles or Fernando Salas in the eighth to get huge outs with runners in scoring position. Inevitably, there will be about five instances, at a minimum, in which we’ll wish Familia had the ball.
Would the Mets be better off losing Familia in a more daunting month like June, when they take on the Pirates, Rangers, Cubs, Nationals, Dodgers and Giants? Familia would almost certainly factor less in the outcomes of those games, as fewer save opportunities would probably present themselves. Remember, the closer is immaterial when a team is losing. Though that argument can be made, it’s still preferable to lose a closer during a less-imposing month. Against the best teams in the league, you want your best players on the field, period.
In these scenarios, much of it comes down to how the team is performing around the closer. Familia or Reed can’t control the sizes of leads, the number of save chances or the health of the opposing club.
It’s worth nothing that Familia looked tired, and was generally less effective, toward the end of the summer and in the fall each of the last two years. Maybe starting the season a few weeks late will help him in the long run. Perhaps he’ll never hit the proverbial wall that has haunted him in previous Septembers and Octobers.
With or without Familia, a productive April for the Mets would be 16 wins in their first 25 games. Losing a premier closer for more than half of those contests will undoubtedly hurt their chances of getting off to that kind of start, but it’s far from impossible. The entire team, from the rotation to the starting lineup to the bullpen, will have to step up in Familia’s absence.
Brad Kallet is the managing editor of TENNIS.com and a frequent contributor to WFAN.com. Follow him on Twitter @brad_kallet