With three of the better free agent starting pitchers (John Lackey, Randy Wolf, Rich Harden) off the market, and Roy Halladay a Phillie, Met fans have unsurprisingly started in with the it's-the-end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it talk. Best practice to avoid this nonsense is turning off WFAN. Actually, that's probably a good idea in general, unless you're tuning in for the unintentionally hilarious grunts of Mike Francesa. Make no mistake about it: there are plenty of other strong options for the 2010 rotation, available via free agency and trade. One name that the Mets would be wise to make a strong play for is Ben Sheets.
Sheets is the best of the crop of talented, injury prone pitchers which includes Erik Bedard and Justin Duchscherer. He missed all of 2009 because of flexor tendon surgery and has a history of other assorted ailments. When healthy, he's one of the best in the game. Hopefully the Mets' reported preliminary interest in Sheets turns into strong pursuit, and soon. The rare blend of strikeout ability and control he provides (career K/BB of 3.85) is preferable to the fielding dependent stylings of Jason Marquis or Joel Pineiro, especially considering the iffy Mets infield defense and presence of Mike Pelfrey and Jonathon Niese.
According to ESPN, Sheets is reportedly looking for a deal in the neighborhood of $12 million a season. That seems a bit excessive but I would endorse a deal similar to Harden's with a small bump because Sheets is slightly better. Maybe a one year deal for $9 million with an option around $12 million? If signed, he could realistically be a 2.5-3 win pitcher, even in ~140 innings. It would be wise to limit him to 25 starts or so to ensure health as well. Pairing Sheets up with someone more reliable would be prudent, and some of the available pitchers worth looking at are as follows:
Aaron Harang - My top choice to pair with Sheets. He can probably be had for less than he's worth, has a strong strikeout rate and is an overall above average pitcher. Just don't let Jerry Manuel use him on two days rest for four innings of relief. The home run problem might be alleviated if he escapes Great American Ballpark.
Derek Lowe - The contract might become an albatross but if the Braves kick in some money he would be a decent addition. Similar skill set to Marquis and Pineiro, albeit more dependable.
John Smoltz - Calling a 42 year-old with injury problems reliable is a big stretch but if Sheets isn't signed "Schmoltz" (per Ron Darling) is worth a look. His peripherals and velocity were there in 2009 and despite his status as long-time Brave he is a personal favorite. Every pitch he throws looks like an angry haymaker thrown at the batter. I rarely say things like this, with good reason, but Smoltz is a competitor who just seems to want it more than anyone else on the field. His intensity would help satiate the masses and mainstream media who think the Mets are a bunch of spineless slugs.
Doug Davis - An under the radar type whose numbers might surprise. Yes, he gets hit hard but considering his age and lack of brand name he could be a nice bargain on a cheap one year deal to fill out the back of the rotation.
See robcast23's Big Book Of Available Pitchers post for more on Sheets and the pitchers listed above.