The Mets And The Starting Pitching Market

Jeffrey Phelps

Recent reporting about potential Mets moves has mostly focused on Justin Upton, Scott Hairston and Brian Wilson, but New York remains in the market for a starting pitcher to join Jon Niese, Johan Santana, Dillon Gee, and Matt Harvey in its rotation. With about a month left before spring training, there are still a fair number of options left on the market. There hasn't been much movement recently, with Jeff Karstens' decision to re-sign with the Pirates the only significant change.

The starting pitchers associated with the Mets have run the gamut from injury-plagued has-been Brandon Webb to never-really-was Kip Wells. It would be foolhardy to attempt to list every possible free-agent option open to the Metropolitans, including minor leaguers, but let's have a look at some of the more likely outside candidates for the Mets' open rotation spot, starting here.

[Sandy Alderson] specifically said he would not seek someone to show up at camp and compete with Jenrry Mejia and Jeremy Hefner. The newcomer would get a spot as a starting pitcher.

Given Alderson’s remarks, it seems likely the Mets will ultimately look to acquire a player on a major league contract. To narrow the field further, that pitcher will probably get a one-year deal, or, if the pitcher comes in a trade, will have only one year left on his contract.

Some of what follows sounds cynical. Hey, I'm a baseball writer — cynicism is what we do. It’s just that it wouldn't be fair to set our expectations too high. The Mets are mostly looking for someone to keep a seat warm for Zack Wheeler, who will likely join their rotation after a couple months in Las Vegas. Players available on one-year deals typically have flaws. Still, that doesn't necessarily make the Mets wrong to pursue them; most of the players on the following list deserve to be in the big leagues.

Shaun Marcum

Getting Marcum on a one-year deal would probably induce cries of celebration from Mets fans, and it's possible the Mets actually might pull it off. The injury concerns surrounding Marcum are significant enough that his best course might well be to take a short-term deal, prove he's healthy, and hit the free-agent market again next year. Marcum missed two months in 2012 with elbow trouble, and he also lost the entire 2009 season while recovering from Tommy John surgery. Those sorts of problems add up, even for a pitcher whose fastball couldn't rip construction paper.

Carl Pavano

Groan! You're groaning. Stop it. That's rude. Pavano is remembered primarily from his awful tenure with the Yankees, but he was downright good from 2009 through 2011, posting WAR totals above three in each season thanks to a tiny walk rate. Unfortunately, his 2012 season was ruined by a bone bruise, and his fastball dipped to 86.8 mph, perilously low for a righty. He also just turned 37. An incentive-laden deal could pay dividends, but Pavano looks more like a lottery ticket than an innings-eater right now.

Chris Young

Here's the option that should make you groan. Young was a pleasant surprise for the Mets in 2012, but with a dissertation-length medical record and an 85-mph fastball, the Mets shouldn't press their luck -- and that’s without considering Young's 5.36 xFIP. Bringing Young back on a minor league contract would be fine, but Mejia and Hefner would both likely be better options for 2013.

Joe Saunders

The Mets have repeatedly been linked to Saunders, but it's hard to tell if there's actually a match there since the Mets apparently (and sensibly) don't want to offer a long-term contract. Saunders reportedly sought a four-year deal during the Winter Meetings, which is adorable, like a father dreaming of his four-year-old becoming president. At that stage of the winter, I suppose anything seems possible. Realistically, even three years for Saunders would be a little silly, but he probably will get two from someone. If that happens, the Mets might stay out of the bidding, and they probably should. If you're a 74-win team that just dealt its ace,and you want to sign a free agent to a multi-year contract, it should be someone good. Saunders eats innings, but isn't remarkable in any other respect. It doesn't make much sense for the Mets to put money on the books in 2014 in order to sign him.

Aaron Harang and Chris Capuano

The Mets have reportedly talked to the Dodgers about both pitchers, although those rumors seem to have died down recently. The Mets shouldn't pursue Harang unless the Dodgers are willing to pay some of his contract; his peripherals show he's been trending downward for half a decade (pretty-looking 2011 and 2012 ERAs notwithstanding), and he’ll make $7 million in 2013, with an annoying $2 million 2014 buyout and an even-more-annoying vesting option that kicks in if he pitches 180.1 innings in 2013.

Capuano, though, is interesting: He hasn't lost anything since filling in ably for the Mets in 2011, and he's worth his $6 million salary in 2013. (He'll also get a $1 million buyout if his 2014 mutual option doesn't get picked up.) Like many of the pitchers listed above, he has a long injury history, but unlike most of them, he's been healthy and effective for two straight years. He faded down the stretch in 2012, but if that happens again, the Mets could turn to Wheeler or Mejia. Chris McShane is right that the Mets shouldn't trade a real prospect for Capuano, but it wouldn't hurt to trade a marginal one and to agree to pick up Capuano's salary. The Dodgers have a million shiny rotation options, so there's a good chance they'll deal Capuano eventually and probably know not to expect much when they do.

The Rest

The market gets less certain . The Mets have been linked to Javier Vazquez, but Vazquez is 36 and didn't pitch in the majors last year, so that would be a fairly speculative pickup. In December, the Mets were reportedly interested in Francisco Liriano, who's still on the market after a mysterious injury to his non-pitching arm caused his two-year deal with the Pirates to hit a snag; his stuff makes him a high-upside option, but only if he's healthy. Kevin Millwood is always available for your back-of-the-rotation needs, but he hasn't been especially good since six organizations ago, and there's no indication the Mets are particularly interested. The Mets blogosphere has spilled plenty of megabytes on Jair Jurrjens, but Jurrjens in 2012 was a fundamentally different pitcher than he was in his 2008-2009 heyday; his velocity was down, his command was off, and he only struck out 39 batters in 72.1 innings at Triple-A. He's a reclamation project, and probably nothing more.

Without true knowledge of the options it’s fundamentally impossible to know what the organization's best move might be. Perhaps Marcum's agent is negotiating a hefty multi-year deal with some other team; maybe the Dodgers are getting silly with trade requests for Capuano. Assuming that this is not the case and the market for those pitchers hasn’t already gotten away from them, the Mets' best bet might be a scenario in which Marcum's injuries made him available on a one-year deal, and a low-cost trade for Capuano wouldn't be a bad idea, either.

Charlie Wilmoth, manager of SBN’s Bucs Dugout, is taking a guest-turn with the Designated Columnists.

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