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The Mets need to acquire starting pitchers for 2018

We’re not at the offseason just yet, but it’s already clear.

New York Mets Photo Day Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images

There will be plenty of time to discuss the Mets’ offseason when it gets underway about two months from now, but just past the middle of August, one thing is already clear: The Mets need to bring in starting pitchers from outside the organization before the 2018 season begins. Coming off either of the past two seasons, that might have sounded crazy, but the struggles by and injuries to the majority of the team’s starting pitchers have changed the reality.

Among the pitchers who have started games for the Mets this year, there are two clear classes: good and bad. Jacob deGrom has clearly been the best of the bunch, at least when it comes to the combination of quantity and quality. He hasn’t been the dominant deGrom of years past overall, but he in 25 starts and 165.0 innings, he has a 3.49 ERA and 3.62 FIP and has unquestionably been the team’s best starting pitcher. Noah Syndergaard’s performance was better—3.29 ERA, 1.12 FIP—but he only made five starts before a lat tear sidelined him for the majority of the season. Still, even though there are no guarantees, there’s nothing wrong with penciling those two pitchers into the top of the 2018 rotation, especially not if Syndergaard comes back healthy and strong before this season ends.

As for the bad, well, that’s a much longer list. The best ERA for any other pitcher who has made a start for the Mets this year belongs to Seth Lugo at 4.93, and he’s dealt with a partially torn ligament in his elbow and a shoulder impingement that have limited him to eleven starts. Let’s just go on down that ERA list on an individual basis:

  • Tyler Pill has a 4.96 ERA in his three major league starts and recently went to see a doctor.
  • Zack Wheeler has made seventeen major league starts this year and has a 5.21 ERA and 5.01 FIP. He’s on the disabled list with no reports of any sort of timetable for a return this year. He has thrown 86.1 innings.
  • Matt Harvey has a 5.25 ERA and 6.18 FIP with career worsts—by far—in strikeout and walk rates. He’s made thirteen starts and pitched 70.1 innings. He’s on a rehab assignment that is progressing and should be back soon, but there’s plenty of uncertainty here.
  • Rafael Montero has pitched better lately, but he had a 5.53 ERA and 4.54 FIP. If you squint a little, you might be able to see a back-of-the-rotation starter in Montero, but even that seems like the absolute best case scenario right now.
  • Robert Gsellman has a 5.65 ERA and 5.03 FIP, which are disappointing numbers given the way he pitched in his first stint in the majors last year. And a hamstring injury has limited him to 87.2 innings over seventeen starts and three relief appearances.
  • Steven Matz has a 6.08 ERA and 5.03 FIP on the season, which started late because of injury and is ending early because of injury. He threw 66.2 innings over thirteen starts.
  • He made the jump straight from Double-A to the big leagues at least partly because the Mets had a need at their highest level, and in five starts, Chris Flexen has a 6.55 ERA and 7.27 FIP. That doesn’t mean he won’t be better in the future, but it makes him something of an uncertainty for 2018.
  • The last two pitchers on the ERA list who have started for the Mets are Tommy Milone and Adam Wilk. The former is set to start in the injured Matz’s place tonight, and Wilk made just one start that went poorly before the Twins claimed him on waivers.

All of that pretty much sums it up. The vaunted starting rotation that had pitched so well in the two seasons before 2017 just isn’t what it was supposed to be. If the Mets are looking to contend next season—and they should be—it’d be incredibly risky to roll into Opening Day with only the internal options available for the starting rotation. We’ll get into lengthier profiles of all the available free agents once the offseason actually begins, but let’s run down some of the players who will be available on that market per the list at MLB Trade Rumors. There are plenty of other pitchers with options or opt-outs, some of which are 99.9 percent sure to be used or not used, but we’ll skip the assumptions for this brief review of the Mets’ options.

Top tier

There are really only two pitchers hitting free agency this year who can be considered potential top-of-the-rotation arms for 2018. Yu Darvish hasn’t been as quite as good as he was in years past, but he’s been decent and has a very good track record, especially considering he spent his home games in Arlington over those years. And the stretch that Jake Arrieta put together in 2014-15 is probably the best he’ll ever do, but he has a 3.63 ERA and 3.96 FIP this year and posted a 3.10 and 3.52 in those metrics last year, respectively.

The rest

Calling these guys “the rest” isn’t entirely fair, as some of them are pretty good major league pitchers. They’re just not Darvish or Arrieta. But alphabetically, there’s quite a few pitchers who could help the Mets next year:

  • Trevor Cahill
  • Andrew Cashner
  • Jhoulys Chacin
  • Tyler Chatwood
  • Jesse Chavez
  • Alex Cobb
  • Bartolo Colon
  • Marco Estrada
  • Scott Feldman
  • Doug Fister
  • Jaime Garcia
  • Miguel Gonzalez
  • Jeremy Hellickson
  • Derek Holland
  • Ubaldo Jimenez
  • John Lackey
  • Francisco Liriano
  • Jordan Lyles
  • Lance Lynn
  • Michael Pineda
  • Clayton Richard
  • CC Sabathia
  • Hector Santiago
  • Chris Tillman
  • Jason Vargas

There’s some variance in there in terms of results and health this year, and there are other pending free agents who didn’t make this arbitrary cut. There are almost certainly some players on the list who wouldn’t find the Mets a fit, even if the team is offering the most money, but supply is high.

Sandy Alderson’s recent comments that indicated the Mets overspent on 2017 payroll in an attempt to go for it—and under the premise that salary could be shed late in the season if things went poorly—are not encouraging for the offseason ahead. But if the Mets are spending money on free agents, they should bring in one or two of the available starting pitchers. If all of the team’s in-house pitchers are healthy an effective, a couple of them will have to move to the bullpen. That’s a good problem to have—and not likely to actually happen—and something that those pitchers will just have to deal with. The Mets can’t just assume their ideal rotation will come to fruition next year.