PORT ST. LUCIE — Stephen Ridings threw 100 mph in his major league debut as a Yankee reliever in August of 2021 and became something of an instant sensation with a great back story: a Long Island native who was forced to work as a substitute teacher and Rawlings Sporting Goods salesman to make ends meet during the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, injuries derailed the Disney movie in the making, leading the Yankees to put him on waivers in November of 2022.
And Billy Eppler swooped in to sign Ridings, gambling that the 6-foot-8 right-hander can stay healthy enough to make an impact in the Mets’ bullpen this season.
It wasn’t the only such gamble the Mets took this winter. In fact it was part of a specific strategy: after building the nucleus of the 2023 bullpen with key free-agent signings and a significant trade this winter, Eppler could have spent more of Steve Cohen’s money for added depth on veteran relievers but instead decided to make several bets on high-ceiling, high-risk arms that have the potential for dominance.
“You want to take some shots,” was the way Eppler put it Wednesday when I asked him to explain his bullpen philosophy. “You start out needing a minimum of four, maybe five high-leverage relievers. After that you look for high-upside guys with certain level of tools — some element of velocity, secondary stuff or maybe a deception component.
“If you take maybe 10 of those shots and you hit on one or two of them, it’s worth it. Maybe you wind up with a sixth high-leverage guy, which really adds to the bullpen.”
In addition, Eppler thought it was critical to have at least a few relievers with minor-league options, giving the Mets the flexibility to send someone down and bring in a fresh arm when the bullpen gets overworked, an inevitability in this era when analytics dictate that starters are pulled earlier in games than ever.
“If you don’t have flexibility,” the GM explained, “you can’t make moves when you might need to, and you’re going to wear guys down physically.”
With that in mind, with their high-leverage group of Edwin Diaz, Adam Ottavino, David Robertson, Brooks Raley and Drew Smith in place, the Mets passed on some proven relievers who were still…
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