The Mets have plenty of needs as they prepare for the 2018 season and beyond, especially if they intend to contend as soon as next season. And while their deficiencies on other parts of the roster aren’t nothing, the performance and health of their starting rotation in 2017 screamed out for help as the team moves forward. There are quite a few pitchers on the open market now that free agency is officially underway, and the Mets need to do more than open next season with the same group of starting pitchers they carried into this offseason.
Mets pitchers had a staggering 5.01 ERA, the third-worst mark in all of baseball. Their starting rotation had a 5.14 ERA, which is still hard to believe and ranked fourth-worst in the game. And of all the pitchers who started games for them, only Jacob deGrom threw enough innings—201.1 of them—to be considered qualified on the leader boards. The next-highest total after that, as a starter, belonged to Robert Gsellman with 115.2 innings. No other Mets pitcher eclipsed 100 innings in a starting role.
Combined with that lack of health and durability, these pitchers were just plain bad. Other than deGrom, who finished the year with a 3.53 ERA, only Noah Syndergaard finished the year with a sub-4.50 ERA at 2.97 in his limited 30.1 innings of work. The next-best ERA among Mets’ starters after deGrom’s belonged to Seth Lugo—at 4.76. It was ugly, and the Mets might reasonably expect improvement simply from having Syndergaard healthy and getting a big step forward from one of the other pitchers who struggled this year. But that cannot be the entire plan, which brings us to those free agent pitchers.
Pretty, pretty, pretty good
Among the free agent starters, there are two clear standouts: Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta. Both are almost certainly out of the Mets’ price range, as the team is expected to come down from its approximately $155 million salary at the beginning of the 2017 season by the time the 2018 season begins. Neither pitcher was at his best this year, but they were both still good. Darvish had a 3.86 ERA and 3.83 FIP in 186.2 innings in the regular season, which he spent with the Rangers and Dodgers. And Arrieta’s best years may be behind him, but he finished the year with a 3.53 ERA and 4.16 FIP in 168.1 innings. They’d both be significant additions to the Mets’ rotation, but the team’s budget would seem to rule them out entirely.
The Mets haven’t been mentioned in any of the Shohei Otani rumors, either, but the Japanese star—on the mound and at the plate—still sounds likely to be posted this winter. And given the complexities of Major League Baseball’s rules and his age, he won’t be paid nearly as much as the other top tier free agents in this group, despite the fact that he could be valuable as a two-way player. But again, the Mets don’t seem to be in on him.
Pretty, pretty good
Strictly in terms of ERA, Andrew Cashner was the best of the free agent starters this year with a 3.40. His strikeout rate was really low, and his walk rate wasn’t that great, either. He limited home runs more than your average pitcher did this year, but he still ended the year with a 4.61 FIP. But hey, he might be an improvement.
Lance Lynn seems to have popped up frequently in discussions of the Mets’ options, and he had a 3.43 ERA this year with a 4.82 FIP. Other pitchers who landed in this vicinity by ERA this year included Dillon Gee, Alex Cobb, CC Sabathia, Jhoulys Chacin, Jason Vargas, R.A. Dickey, and Hisashi Iwakuma. Cobb got a qualifying offer from the Rays, which complicates matters since he might accept it or will have some penalization in the draft attached to him if he turns it down. His track record is probably the most appealing of this group, but several of these guys could be good fits in theory. Sabathia doesn’t seem likely to leave the Yankees, and who knows if Dickey would want a reunion with the Mets.
Things get worse as you go down the list from there, but we still haven’t made it to Seth Lugo’s ERA mark on this list yet. Michael Pineda, Jaime Garcia, John Lackey, Miguel Gonzalez, occasional starter David Holmberg, and Tyler Chatwood finished the year in the 4.41-4.69 range. Scott Feldman had a 4.77 ERA, too, one one-hundredth behind Lugo. Doug Fister, Ricky Nolasco, Trevor Cahill, and Matt Garza came in between that mark and 5.00, though only Nolasco threw significantly over 100 innings.
There are plenty of flaws here. Pineda had Tommy John surgery and won’t be ready to start the season. Garcia’s track record is not very good over the past few years, Lackey isn’t getting any younger and seems pretty clearly to be in a state of decline. But given the state of the Mets’ rotation, adding someone from this group could help. Several of the other pitchers haven’t really been above average in quite some time, if ever.
All of the rest of the pitchers out there were above 5.00 in ERA. In descending order, they were: Jacob Turner, Jesse Chavez, Jeremy Hellickson, Wade Miley, Hector Santiago, Francisco Liriano, Yovani Gallardo, Derek Holland, Mike Bolsinger, Brett Anderson, Anibal Sanchez, Bartolo Colon, Asher Wojciechowski, Chris Smith, Ubaldo Jimenez, Chris Young, Tyson Ross, Jordan Lyles, Chris Tillman, Wily Peralta, Jeff Locke, and Clay Buchholz. Many of those pitchers threw well under 100 innings as starters. Colon would certainly be a fun reunion as far as the story goes, but even though his stint with the Twins went far better than his time with the Braves, it still didn’t go particularly well.
We’ll be taking a look on a player-by-player basis as the offseason continues, but for now, there are at least a few viable options for the Mets out there. The team is said to be seeking someone to slot in behind deGrom and Syndergaard in the third slot in the rotation. If that’s all they do, they’ll still need their collection of starting pitchers to produce two capable members of a starting rotation. That’s not exactly inspiring, but if the Mets can reduce the risk of having a tire fire at the back of the rotation, it would go a long way toward making the team competitive.