Welcome to One Last Move, where our writers pitch a move to the Mets that would close out their off-season and make the team better in 2019.
Despite massive improvements to the lineup and the bullpen, the Mets have not added much starting pitching depth this off-season. And while there’s a lot of optimism that 1-4 in the Mets’ rotation could be among the best in baseball, starters 5-8 don’t give off similar hope. Luckily for the Mets, there are still some fairly good, relatively cheap, options on the free agent market that would likely be an improvement over Jason Vargas.
Like, say, Gio Gonzalez.
Gonzalez, like Vargas, is left-handed, and so wouldn’t hurt the Mets’ relative rotation balance. Unlike Vargas, Gonzalez is an innings-eater. Only once since he became a regular starter has Gonzalez thrown less than 170 innings or made less than 31 starts. Vargas, in contrast, has only thrown more than 170 innings once in the last five years. For a young rotation without a proven track record of health, having a pitcher you can pencil in to start every fifth day would be a huge relief.
While Vargas has traditionally walked less batters than Gonzalez (Vargas’s career BB/9 is 2.7, Gio’s is 3.8), Gonzalez is much more adept at keeping the ball in the park. Vargas’s HR/9 in 2018 was 1.8, compared to Gonzalez’s 0.9. That is in line with Gonzalez’s career norms, while Vargas has never had a full season below 0.9.
Gonzalez has also been much more consistent with his strikeouts, even if his career 8.7 K/9 doesn’t exactly pop off the page. But for a fifth starter, consistency is what you want.
This idea isn’t so out of left field, either, as the Mets reportedly have interest in a one-year deal with Gio, but even a two-year deal for the 33-year old doesn’t seem like a terrible move, either. Given the state of the free agent market, it seems like the deal wouldn’t cost the Mets very much, either. Based on his age, track record, and performance in 2018, Gonzalez’s average annual value would likely fall somewhere between Jeremy Hellickson’s $1.4 million and Matt Harvey’s $11.0 million, likely in the $3-6 million range.
Baseball-Reference projects a 3.90 ERA, a 2.19 K/BB ratio, and 166 innings for Gonzalez is 2019. That seems like a solid move for the Mets.