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Finding starting pitching for the Mets, Part 4

Let’s look at five more starting pitchers on the free agent market.

MLB: NLDS-Los Angeles Dodgers at Washington Nationals Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

We continue searching the depth of the free agent market for starting pitching this morning as the Mets continue to have a need to fill their rotation. Whether or not they decide to tender a contract to Steven Matz, the team should only have three pitchers currently penciled in to its Opening Day rotation: Jacob deGrom, Marcus Stroman, and David Peterson. Ideally, even Peterson wouldn’t be guaranteed a spot—despite coming off a solid short rookie season—and pitchers like Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman won’t be thrown around as potential options to make starts.

It would also be ideal if the Mets choose to aim for the best of the best free agents at all times under new owner Steve Cohen, but assuming there is some limit involved, players from lower tiers of free agency could still prove useful. The Mets should get better pitchers than the ones below as their Plan A for their rotation, but they lack pitching depth in the upper minors. On top of that, major league pitchers all pitched in a very short season, while minor league pitchers didn’t have a season at all in 2020. Even if there are no significant injuries, fatigue figures to be a factor in 2021.

You can check out Parts 1, 2, and 3 of the series for the pitchers we’ve covered already. And here’s the next batch, which would have started with Robbie Ray if he hadn’t already signed a one-year contract with the Blue Jays.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at New York Yankees Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

J.A. Happ was with the Yankees since they traded for him during the 2018 season and signed him to a two-year, $34 million contract following that season. The 38-year-old lefty struggled in 161.1 innings over 30 starts in 2019, as he finished the year with a 4.91 ERA and a 5.22 FIP. In nine starts that totaled 49.1 innings this year, he had a 3.47 ERA and 4.57 FIP. Those numbers were closer to the ones he had posted in 2017 and 2018, but it’s hard to ignore his most recent full season of work. Still, compared to the pitchers not named deGrom and Peterson who made starts for the Mets this year, he was far more cromulent.

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Speaking of former Yankees, Ivan Nova threw just 14.0 innings this year for the Tigers, as he spent time on the injured list with right triceps tendinitis. In 2019, he threw 187.0 innings for the White Sox, albeit with a 4.72 ERA and 4.98 FIP. Having always had a very low strikeout rate, he might not be the greatest fit for a Mets team that—at least at this moment—isn’t exactly specializing in defense. The arm health is a question, too, but presumably he wouldn’t take much to bring in is a depth option heading into the 2021 season.

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Minnesota Twins Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

Rich Hill is set to turn 41 in March, and he’s coming off a 2020 season that saw him put up a 3.03 ERA and 3.99 FIP in 38.2 innings over eight starts for the Twins. Since his breakout age-35 season in Boston in 2015 , he has a 2.92 ERA in 505.0 innings of work for the Red Sox, A’s, Dodgers, and Twins. Durability has been the issue, but when he has been healthy, he’s been good.

MLB: Atlanta Braves at Philadelphia Phillies Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Jake Arrieta will turn 35 in March, but he had a 5.08 ERA for the Phillies this year after he had a 4.64 ERA for them in a full season’s worth of work in 2019. Since his excellent 2015 season with the Cubs, which netted him the National League Cy Young Award, he’s seen his ERA trend upward. Given the trends, it’s hard to see things turning around significantly at this point, but Arrieta is still a capable back-of-the-rotation starter who might not take much to bring on board as depth this winter.

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Kansas City Royals Peter Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Since this series has been based on fWAR from the beginning of the 2019 season, Jordan Zimmermann slots in here thanks to his 4.79 FIP in 112.0 innings for the Tigers last year. But his 6.91 ERA in that season demonstrates the limitation of fWAR for pitchers, which is that it is based on a metric describing what should have happened—FIP—rather than what actually did happen. Most of the times, those things aren’t that far apart, but Zimmermann was very bad in 2019 and threw just 5.2 innings this year. After being a very good pitcher for the Nationals for several years, he no longer looks like a legitimate option for a major league team—especially one that might be trying to contend in the immediate future.