In a move that everybody saw coming, the New York Yankees have officially released Gio Gonzalez after the left-hander opted out of his contract on Saturday afternoon. The 11-year veteran is now free to sign with any of the remaining 29 major league clubs.
If it wasn’t apparent already, the New York Mets are in desperate need of starting pitching depth and should be the team to sign Gonzalez. They should do that sooner rather than later. Preferably, they should already be on the phone with him. Over the offseason, Brian Salvatore wrote that the team should sign him in our “One Last Move” series, and the need for another starting pitcher has never been more frustratingly obvious. If the Mets will not dip their toe in the deep end of the pool and sign Dallas Keuchel—for the record, they should sign both—then the very least they can do is add Gonzalez to the mix.
Let’s start with the Mets: Their starting pitching has been atrocious, to be generous. Their rotation owns a 5.80 ERA 21 games into the season, which is the worst among all 15 National League clubs. Their 5.66 ERA overall ranks second-to-last among all 30 major league teams. If it weren’t for Jacob deGrom, those numbers would look much, much worse.
Steven Matz takes the hill tonight sporting a 4.96 ERA and a 5.23 FIP in 16.1 innings after failing to record an out in his last start. Zack Wheeler is coming off two encouraging starts but still owns a 6.35 ERA and a 4.72 FIP in 22.2 innings and remains a bit of a question mark. Even Noah Syndergaard hasn’t quite been himself so far, pitching to an ghastly 5.90 ERA, although he’s done that with a much more palatable 2.92 FIP in 29 innings. Jacob deGrom has struggled in his last two appearances and missed a start over the weekend, although it appears he will at least be ready to go soon. Still, the injury shows us their already-thin depth is in danger of taking a hit at any moment, and they are not currently equipped to sustain any sort of hit to these four players.
That brings us to Jason Vargas, who has been a mess. In 9.1 innings as a starter, he has a 6.75 ERA and a 7.05 FIP. Despite coming off what can loosely be called his “best” start of 2019, he has still been very bad since signing a two-year deal with the team prior to 2018. The club doesn’t appear willing to part ways with him—at least not yet—but that might have more to do with the options behind him. Without signing somebody from outside the organization, the next best options are Corey Oswalt, Chris Flexen, and Drew Gagnon, none of whom inspire a tremendous amount of confidence.
Just over the weekend, the Mets watched the aforementioned Flexen get rocked to the tune of six earned runs over 4.1 innings against the St. Louis Cardinals in place of the injured deGrom. There is, quite simply, no contingency plan in place should anybody get hurt or should anybody (Vargas) need to be replaced.
To his credit, Vargas was adamant this offseason that he would not be insulted if the Mets were to pick up another starting pitcher, saying “Anything to strengthen the team is what I’d be looking for... the ultimate goal is to have the big ring on our finger.” This would be the perfect time to add Gonzalez and throw Vargas in to the bullpen as somebody who can mop up or perhaps provide long relief should one of the starters turn in an less-than-adequate outing, like Matz did last week in Philadelphia.
Gonzalez would be a perfect fit in the rotation for the same reasons that Brian outlined in his piece over the offseason. He has thrown at least 170 innings in each of his last four seasons and in eight of his last nine dating back to 2010, which can help spare the bullpen. He is somebody who has kept the ball in the park throughout his career, as he owns a 0.8 HR/9 across 11 seasons. After struggling with the Washington Nationals and being traded to the Milwaukee Brewers, he bounced back with a 2.13 ERA and 3.63 FIP in 25.1 innings for Milwaukee. He has posted a very commendable 3.69 ERA and 3.63 FIP in 313 career appearances. It has also been pointed out numerous times that he is very comfortable pitching at Citi Field with a career 1.75 ERA in 108 innings (albeit while pitching against the Mets). As a fifth starter, these numbers would suffice and would certainly give him the edge over present-day Vargas.
He also has pitched in Triple-A games for the Yankees and could likely slot right into the rotation, as opposed to Keuchel, who would still need some time to get ready. While he struggled badly in his first start with Scranton (eight runs over four innings), he recovered to allow two runs across 11 innings while striking out 18 in his next two outings. While he is far from the pitcher who was named to back-to-back All-Star teams in 2011 and 2012 and who finished in the top-10 in Cy Young Award voting in 2012 and 2017, he can still be a valuable asset even if his best days are behind him.
Gonzalez didn’t sign his contract with the Yankees until March 19. It’s pretty hard to believe that it took a reliable starter that long to sign, but all indications are that he won’t be available for that long this time around. Andy Martino has already speculated that the Brewers could be interested in re-acquiring his services, and there are a number of teams with injuries and holes in their starting rotation who could take a long look at Gonzalez. Whatever the case may be, the Mets cannot afford to wait on the sidelines while another team is proactive and swoops in to pick up the 33-year-old for themselves.
There is no guarantee that Gonzalez will be better than any of the team’s current starters, but his career numbers at least suggest that there’s a chance he’ll give the team some good starts along the way. For a team that considers itself a contender, they cannot sit on their hands and ignore their lack of rotational depth for that much longer. While they’ve hung around this long, this could turn into a major catastrophe over the course of a 162-game season, especially if anybody sustains a serious injury. At this point, the Mets have nothing to lose by taking a shot on signing Gonzalez to a contract, but they have everything to lose by letting him get away.