For better or worse, the Mets have recently managed to acquire a few position players to serve as depth or bench options for the major league roster at relatively low cost as far as payroll dollars are concerned. Therefore, despite rumors that the Mets are just about maxed out on payroll, they should be investing in pitching—particularly starting pitching—if money is not being spent on any more position player free agents. While the Mets’ five rotation spots are filled, the depth behind them is alarmingly thin and the Mets have multiple starters with rather robust injury histories—not to mention the chances of Jason Vargas being ineffective are also quite high. The Mets do have Seth Lugo as an option to slot into the rotation, but last season they were pretty reluctant to do so, even when the need was there, due to the value he provided out of the bullpen. Behind Lugo, you’re likely looking at an unfortunately high number of innings out of the likes of Corey Oswalt and Chris Flexen. To mitigate this, acquiring a pitcher with at least some past experience as a starter than can also pitch out of the bullpen would be a wise allocation of resources for the Mets.
The Mets have already dipped their toe into the starting pitching depth pool somewhat. They recently inked Hector Santiago to a minor league contract. They drafted a starting pitcher in the Rule 5 draft and acquired some other pitching depth via trade and minor league contracts to fill out the roster at Syracuse. These moves are all positive developments, but in order to have truly adequate depth, the Mets likely need one more starting pitching addition to the major league roster above the likes of Santiago, Oswalt, and Dowdy in the pecking order. Earlier this winter, the Mets reached out to the Rangers about Mike Minor. While those talks never gained traction, Minor is exactly the type of pitcher the Mets should be looking to acquire and that kind of player is almost always available in free agency for relatively low cost. Let’s take a look at the remaining options in free agency that fit this mold.
2018 fWAR: 2.0
Predicted contract: 2 years, $15M (MLBTR)
As recently as a few days ago, the Mets were showing interest in Holland, who turned out very well as a reclamation project for the Giants last year. After it appeared his career was basically over due to injury, the Giants took a chance on him on a minor league deal and he put up a 2 WAR season, posting a 3.67 ERA and 3.87 FIP with an 8.5 K/9 in 30 starts. If he can do that again, he’ll prove to be excellent value. He also has the advantage of being left-handed, which is something the Mets are lacking. However, he is likely to get a guaranteed rotation spot somewhere and the Mets seem committed to Vargas in the rotation.
2018 fWAR: 1.5
Predicted contract: 2 years, $12M (MLBTR); 2 years, $16M (Fangraphs crowdsource)
Miley is another back-end starter who outperformed everyone’s expectations in 2018. After two straight seasons with an ERA over 5, Miley threw down a 2.57 ERA seemingly out of nowhere and was indispensable for the Brewers’ playoff run last season, despite missing a large chunk of the beginning of the season due to injury. Most projections are unsurprisingly predicting some regression for Miley, but his solid peripherals indicate that his 2018 season couldn’t have been entirely luck. However, he too is likely to land a gig with a guaranteed rotation slot.
2018 fWAR: 2.0
Predicted contract: 2 years, $24M (MLBTR, Fangraphs crowdsource)
Our old friend Gio Gonzalez quietly put up another solid season in 2018. His biggest asset is his ability to stay healthy, which he has done remarkably well in his career. And perhaps his Citi Field superpowers would transfer over if he were wearing orange and blue. He is also left-handed and would provide desperately needed stability to the Mets, but he likely comes at too steep a price for the Wilpons.
2018 fWAR: -0.3
Predicted contract: 1 year, $6M (MLBTR)
We have now exited the realm of pitchers who are likely to earn guaranteed spots in a team’s rotation and entered the true swingman zone. Pomeranz is a former All-Star and we all know how the Mets love former All-Stars. He was effective as recently as 2017, but a forearm flexor strain and biceps tendonitis sidelined him for a part of 2018 and he found himself in a bullpen role by the time he returned from the disabled list. Absent that, he’s a player that would have probably commanded a pretty hefty multi-year deal, due to his young age compared with other similar caliber pitchers available, but given his risk, he instead is reduced to an interesting guy perhaps worth taking a flyer on in 2019.
2018 fWAR: -0.5
Predicted contract: 1 year, $6M (MLBTR)
Santana is another guy who had a lost 2018 season, but the durability and consistency the veteran righty has otherwise provided throughout his lengthy career make him a potential bargain this offseason.
2018 fWAR: 1.9
Honorable mention (MLBTR)
Yes, you read that right. Clay Buchholz had a nearly 2 WAR season. That Clay Buchholz. I was surprised too. The last time he was healthy in 2016, his strikeout rate was 16% and his walk rate was 10%—not exactly a recipe for success. But Clay Buchholz’s cutter in 2018 was a revelation and seems to have resurrected his career. After being released by the Royals, he found success in Arizona, to the tune of a 2.01 ERA in 98 1⁄3 innings. Granted, his FIP was a much higher 3.47, but that’s still something the Mets would take every day of the week and twice on Sunday.
2018 fWAR: 1.2
Hellickson is a fly ball pitcher and so can be prone to the home run ball, but that is exactly the sort of pitcher whose ills could potentially be cured by Citi Field—where home runs go to die. He started just 19 games for the Nationals last season, but the results were certainly there. He put up a 3.45 ERA over 91 1⁄3 innings and was worth over a win more than Jason Vargas. Hellickson is certainly not the sexiest of options, but he should be available for cheap; it’s the type of signing a team like the Mets should consider making.
Other free agent starting pitchers that exist
Bartolo Colon - I mean, why not?
James Shields - He’s old, but he did throw 200 innings last year.
Brett Anderson - On the young side and potentially decent enough value, but high injury risk.
Francisco Liriano - He’s coming off a down year, but like everyone at the bottom of the barrel, he will be cheap.
Shelby Miller - Non-tendered after many injuries and disappointments, but the upside is still there if you squint hard enough.