Welcome to One Last Move, where our writers pitch a move to the Mets that would close out their offseason and make the team better in 2020.
There’s never a “sexy” One Last Move. The Mets’ missed their window to actively improve the team in favor of replacing Zack Wheeler with Rick Porcello and Michael Wacha, for example, and replaced Tomas Nido with... wait, Tomas Nido, but a year older? Sure, they added Dellin Betances to complete a theoretically dominant bullpen, if everything breaks right, but if your best acquisition of the offseason is either a guy who ruptured his Achilles after pitching 0.2 innings or the guy who saw the highest percentage of TCBPP (trash can bangs per pitch) for the 2017 Astros, then your offseason was probably a wash.
All of that is to say: the Mets’ offseason is pretty much over, but it is in no way “complete,” so it’s time to honor the time-honored tradition of taking a flier on a former All-Star coming off of injury in a supreme buy-low situation. My nominee for this season: former Cleveland starting pitcher Danny Salazar.
The door is wide-open for a couple of last season’s reliever also-rans to return, and the Mets should be trying much harder to prevent that.
I derided the Betances signing because of his 0.2 innings in 2019, so let’s get this out of the way: Salazar has pitched 4.0 innings in the last two seasons. He missed all of 2018 with a shoulder cuff injury, which is always scary, and then injured his groin in his first start back in 2019 after looking wholly ineffective against the Astros. None of this inspires confidence, but that’s why we’re in One Last Move territory.
Let’s talk pros for Salazar. For one, he’s always been a high-strikeout arm, averaging 10.5 K/9 through his six-year career, including 12.7 K/9 in his last full season, 2017. If he had qualified (he missed a month with shoulder problems and another couple weeks with an elbow issue — are you detecting a pattern yet?), he would have had the second-best K/9 in baseball.
But, besides injuries, his other flaw has been his walk rate, with an average of 3.23 BB/9. In his All-Star season in 2016, he did manage to pull that down to 2.56, however.
Salazar has been a starter for his entire career, outside of scant bullpen appearances coming off in injuries, but at this point in his career seems primed for a bullpen role.
Salazar’s All-Star 2016 actually serves as the best reason to convert him to the bullpen. After looking like potential Cy Young candidate in the first half — a 2.75 ERA in 17 starts, 118 strikeouts to 46 walks, an opponent OPS of just .613 — he absolutely collapsed in the second half. He made just eight starts with an ERA of 7.44 before missing the final almost two months of the regular season with elbow inflammation before popping up in the bullpen in the World Series. His body seemingly can’t handle being a starter. And yet, Cleveland has kept trying to trot him back out as one, for the most part.
There’s a chance he’s irrevocably broken, but what if he’s not? The Mets super-recent track record of taking a fragile starter and putting him in the bullpen has gone fantastically in Seth Lugo (even if both he and the organization keep talking about it as being temporary). Will Danny Salazar be the next Seth Lugo? Almost certainly not.
For one thing, Salazar’s go-to offering is a heavily-implemented change-up off of what is supposed to be a mid-90s fastball, as opposed to the patented Seth Flugo breaking ball, which he can even snap off in the rain.
(If Danny Salazar is awful with the Mets or anyone else you absolutely may not tweet at me saying he was going to be the next Lugo.)
If Salazar can’t find that velocity again, his chances of success plummet dramatically, which is all the more reason to get him into the bullpen in hopes of letting him uncork more speed. On the off chance he can 1) stay healthy and 2) re-discover his velocity (apparently he was so off in his lone start last season that some of his fastballs were registering as change-ups), that’s one less bullpen spot that Tim Peterson or Stephen Nogosek could show up in.
Plus, Salazar isn’t a total bullpen novice. Sure, he’s only made seven relief appearances, but three of them were in the postseason, and if I’ve learned anything from Hall of Fame arguments, what you do in the postseason counts quadruple; he’s never given up a postseason earned run, and trying to multiply by zero to find a positive outcome feels very Mets, doesn’t it?
Isn’t this the spirit of One Last Move? Trying, desperately, to clean up the back end of a shaky bullpen with an equally-shaky proposition? I think so.