The Mets’ season has gotten off to a great start, and that’s yet another reason that it would make sense for the team to sign Dallas Keuchel. The 31-year-old lefty is somehow still a free agent, and he would give the Mets an instant and obvious upgrade to their starting rotation.
On Tuesday night in Miami, Jason Vargas gave up two runs in five innings of work despite the fact that he gave up eight hits, issued a walk, and only struck out two Marlins hitters. Even some of the outs he got came on balls that were hit hard.
That performance had Mickey Callaway acknowledging that the plan was to have Vargas pitch just five innings and saying things like:
“He’s going to make them mis-hit it, and some of their mis-hits go a little bit farther than other guys’ mis-hits, but they result in outs.”
If the Mets want to stay competitive throughout this season, they could easily increase their odds by bringing in Keuchel and removing Vargas from the starting rotation. Vargas signed a two-year deal with the Mets after the 2017 season, a decent season that he spent with the Royals. But last year, he had an awful 5.77 ERA and 5.02 FIP and only pitched 92 innings, all of which was good for -0.3 bWAR.
Keuchel had a far better year for the Astros, as he threw 204.2 innings with a 3.74 ERA, 3.69 FIP, and 2.6 bWAR. By his own standards, that was merely a good year, as he has finished three of his past five seasons with ERAs under 3.00. Though he wasn’t as durable in 2017 as he was in 2018, he finished that season with a 2.90 ERA in 145.2 innings. Over the last five years, the only dud of a season he had came in 2016, when he had a 4.55 ERA in 168 innings of work.
If Zack Wheeler lives up to the high standards of his second half performance last year, he might edge Keuchel out as the Mets’ third-best pitcher by the end of the season. But Keuchel would have a real shot at being as good as the Mets’ second-best pitcher, and even if Wheeler and Steven Matz have great years, he’s incredibly likely to be much better than Vargas.
Signing Keuchel wouldn’t just make sense for this year, either. Wheeler and Vargas are both set to hit free agency after this season, and the list of starting pitchers who could join them is already not very impressive. If some of those better pitchers end up signing extensions with their current teams—Gerrit Cole being perhaps the star of the potential class if he were to come close to matching his 2018 numbers—it’ll be even less appealing to rely on the free agent market.
Even with Jacob deGrom’s extension on the books, the Mets have $127 million committed to 2020 payroll right now and just $69 million committed to 2021 payroll, per Cot’s Contracts. And those totals include all of deGrom’s salary, a significant percentage of which is going to be deferred, and all of David Wright’s salary for 2020. So taking on Keuchel shouldn’t be considered an issue on that side of things.
In a division that figures to be fiercely competitive, the Mets would benefit greatly from bringing Keuchel into the fold as soon as possible.