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Let’s find the Mets a ‘second-tier’ starting pitcher, Part 1

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We run down some of the options left for the Mets in free agency, starting with a group of fairly well-known names.

MLB: Atlanta Braves at Philadelphia Phillies Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

As one of the slowest offseasons in baseball history as continued to move along at a snail’s pace, we all learned recently that the Mets might actually be interested in adding a starting pitcher. That tidbit of information came with a caveat, of course: Don’t get your hopes up about Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta, as the team is considering a lesser tier of pitchers. And at the moment, there are quite a few pitchers left on the open market.

The fact that pitchers like Darvish and Arrieta weren’t ever under consideration for the Mets shouldn’t be ignored. But in this reality, one in which other pitchers just might fall into a price range that the Mets are comfortable with—coming off an abysmal season of pitching—let’s run down the list of the remaining free agents by fWAR. That’s admittedly not the best metric out there for measuring past pitching performance, but FanGraphs makes it really easy to put all of these guys on one page. And fWAR still incorporates innings pitched, something the Mets could really use to mitigate the lack of durability among their current group of pitchers, particularly Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler, who have long track records of not pitching full seasons, and Matt Harvey, whose health issues are a relatively recent development by comparison.

Alex Cobb

In 29 starts for the Rays last year, Cobb threw 179.1 innings, which would have made him something of an iron man if he had been pitching for the Mets. He had a 3.66 ERA and 4.16 FIP, neither of which were his best marks, and he only threw 22 innings in the big leagues in 2016 after missing all of the 2015 season because of Tommy John surgery. He wasn’t the epitome of durability before that surgery, either, as he threw 136.1, 143.1, and 166.1 innings in the three seasons that preceded the Tommy John surgery.

Jaime Garcia

Not much jumps off the page with Garcia, but he threw 157.0 innings last year with a 4.41 ERA and 4.25 FIP. He was pretty much the same pitcher the year before, when he threw 171.2 innings with a 4.67 ERA and 4.49 FIP. Somewhat depressingly, that would have made him the Mets’ third-best starting pitcher last year—and second-best starter if you ruled out Noah Syndergaard, who only threw 30.1 innings because of all the time he missed with his lat injury. And if it helps, Garcia has some experience pitching out of the bullpen and throws with his left hand, something of a rarity on the Mets’ 40-man roster right now.

Andrew Cashner

Much like Cobb and Garcia, Cashner isn’t a perennial 200-inning man. He did throw 166.2 innings last year, though, with a pretty respectable 3.40 ERA, especially considering he played his home games in the Ballpark in Arlington. His 4.61 FIP was less encouraging and very much tied to his incredibly low strikeout rate, something that might not work out so well on a Mets team that doesn’t emphasize defense.

R.A. Dickey

All things considered, Dickey just might be the perfect fit for the Mets right now. Unfortunately, it sounded like that bridge may have been unnecessarily been burnt after the team made a very good trade, sending him to Toronto for Syndergaard and Travis d’Arnaud plus a couple of other players. Dickey wasn’t at his best last year, but he made 31 starts, threw 190.0 innings, and had a 4.26 ERA and 4.72 FIP. A return to his Cy Young form should not be expected, but Dickey has been far more durable than any just about any Mets pitcher over the past several years and could be a stabilizing force in the middle of a rotation that could see a ton of turnover all around him.

Jason Vargas

Like Garcia, Vargas is a lefty. And he threw 179.2 innings last year with a 4.16 ERA and 4.67 FIP, none of which are super encouraging numbers but all of which would have been a big upgrade at the back of the Mets’ 2017 rotation. Picking him up wouldn’t be quite as exciting as bringing back Dickey, but it might give the Mets a bit more roster flexibility, which beats the concept of payroll flexibility.

Lance Lynn

Although the 30-year-old righty is coming off a season that wasn’t his best, with a 3.43 ERA and 4.82 FIP in 186.1 innings after missing the 2016 season entirely because of Tommy John surgery, he has one of the better track records of any pitcher on the market. Before running into that elbow problem, he had eclipsed 200 innings twice, in 2013 and 2014, and never threw fewer than 175.1 innings in a his full seasons in the big leagues, dating back to 2012. And his changeup caught the eye of Eno Sarris in the second half last year.