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Dallas Keuchel, Craig Kimbrel, and the Mets’ missed opportunities

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The Mets could have chosen to improve, but they didn’t.

World Series - Boston Red Sox v Los Angeles Dodgers - Game Four Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Craig Kimbrel and Dallas Keuchel are officially not free agents anymore, but the Mets—very unsurprisingly—chose to sit out their time on the free agent market until the bitter end. In doing so, they chose not to upgrade their roster at a time when they’re fortunate enough to be within reach of both the National League East and at least one Wild Card spot with a 30-32 record.

Those who wish to defend the front office, ownership, or both for choosing not to pursue either pitcher can contort the Mets’ lack of effort however they’d like, but either pitcher would have easily given the team a boost. Fans shouldn’t be concerned with things like the luxury tax, but teams and the league have made it enough of a talking point that some do. And the Mets at least introduced that concept into the conversation when it came to spending more money late in the offseason, through spring training, and into the regular season.

Even if you were very concerned with how much the Wilpons were paying players, though, you’d have to recognize that they just don’t have that much actual money invested in payroll this year or beyond. They originally had a combined $44.5 million committed to David Wright and Yoenis Cespedes for the 2019 season, but we know they are getting the vast majority of that money back through insurance policies on those contracts. And next year, they have just $127 million committed to payroll, a figure that includes a combined commitment of $41.5 million to Cespedes and Wright. We know Wright won’t play next year, and whether or not Cespedes will remains to be seen.

Barring contract extensions, Noah Syndergaard, Michael Conforto, and Steven Matz will get raises in arbitration. Among the team’s pending free agents, only Zack Wheeler figures to make a good amount of money if he hits the market this offseason. And if you look beyond next season, the team’s commitments are still very reasonable.

Keuchel signed for just one year, $13 million with the Braves. Kimbrel got quite a bit more, as he signed for three years, $45 million with the Cubs. Neither contract should have been considered one that would break the Mets’ budget—certainly not this year but also not for the next two.

At the moment, the Mets’ bullpen consists of Edwin Diaz, Jeurys Familia, Wilmer Font, Drew Gagnon, Robert Gsellman, Seth Lugo, and Hector Santiago. Mickey Callaway has struggled with managing bullpen workloads, but it’s not fair to place all of the blame on him given the roster he’s been working with. Kimbrel would have undoubtedly made the Mets better, and he signed a contract that was worth more—but not all that much more—than the one the Mets gave Familia.

On the rotation side of things, the Mets’ Opening Day five have remained mostly healthy and pitched all but a handful of the team’s games. But the best pitcher in the rotation, at least by ERA as a starter, has been Jason Vargas, whose recent performance is completely out of character with what he’s normally done in his major league career. And in those handful of games that were started by other pitchers, we’ve seen just how thin the Mets’ starting pitching depth is. Inserting Keuchel into the rotation would have been an upgrade, and it just wouldn’t have cost the Mets anything they hadn’t budgeted for before they were certain that Yoenis Cespedes would not play at all this year.

But the Mets sat all of this out. Whether that was decided by Brodie Van Wagenen, the Wilpons, or both, well, you can decide. And instead of having upgraded their own roster, the Mets will now get to face Keuchel with the Braves, a clear competitor in their own division, and Kimbrel with the Cubs, who could at least theoretically end up being the Mets’ Wild Card competition.