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.
The Mets had an abysmal lack of pitching depth in 2019. It miraculously failed to burn them in their starting rotation, where they experienced incredible health amongst their regular starting pitchers. It scorched them in their bullpen, where they trotted out one bad reliever after another and wound up with the third worst bullpen ERA in the National League. The team has made some additions to their staff so far this offseason—Rick Porcello, Michael Wacha, and Dellin Betances—but these moves are not enough to give the roster a suitable amount of pitching depth in either the rotation or the bullpen.
If the Mets are looking to make any final moves before the club heads into spring training, they should try to improve the pitching depth so that they will be prepared if/when the injury wave hits the team’s crop of pitchers. As luck would have it, an old friend of theirs would serve as a solid bullpen option while simultaneously giving the club another option to turn if the need for a starter arose. Collin McHugh was drafted by the Mets and made his debut with the team, but he hasn’t worn the orange and blue since getting traded by the club in the 2013 season. But now he would be a perfect final move for Brodie Van Wagenen and the Mets to make to enter spring training with a pitching staff that they can be reasonably confident in.
After a brief stint with the Rockies, McHugh has spent most of his post-Mets career with the Houston Astros. His first four seasons with the club were spent entirely in the rotation, where his production was mostly very solid. In 102 starts over four seasons, he put up a 3.70 ERA/3.60 FIP and generally provided stability to a playoff-caliber rotation. After missing a solid chunk of the 2017 season due to injury, McHugh transitioned to a bullpen role in 2018 and excelled in the role, putting up a 1.99 ERA in 72.1 innings over 58 appearances with a 33.2 K%.
He was given the chance to rejoin the rotation at the start of the 2019 season, but it did not go according to plan. After eight mediocre starts in which he put up a 6.37 ERA, he was banished back to the bullpen, where he remained for the remainder of the season. The good news is that he picked up right where he left off in a relief role, as he put up a 2.67 ERA in 33.2 innings over 27 appearances with a 28.2 K%. His year did end prematurely, however, as he was shut down in August due to right elbow soreness and did not make it back for the remainder of the season. After the Astros lost to the Nationals in the World Series, McHugh became a free agent for the first time in his career, and his market has seemingly been slow to develop so far.
McHugh will have to show that the elbow issue which ended his 2019 season is a thing of the past, but if it is then he would be a great addition. His days of being a reliable starter may be numbered, but there is every reason to believe that if healthy, he can continue to be a very solid reliever. His strikeout numbers since becoming a reliever have been thoroughly impressive and would make him right at home in the Mets’ pitching staff. He also would be able to join Seth Lugo and Michael Wacha as bullpen arms who would be able to go 2+ innings with relative ease thanks to his history as a starter. And in a bullpen that still carries a lot of question marks, having someone who has put up solid relief numbers in each of the past two seasons would do wonders to improve its stability.
In comparison to some of the other relief options that are still on the market, McHugh would have the added benefit of being able to slot into the rotation if the need arose. Again, it’s been a few seasons since he’s has been a capable starter, so he would hardly be a suitable long-term option for the club’s rotation. But as the team’s 7th or 8th starter or someone who could provide a spot start in a pinch, he would be a more palatable option. In an ideal world, of course, he could just fully commit to being a reliever in 2020. But pitching depth is necessary precisely because we do not live in an ideal world and teams need to be prepared when injuries arise. Adding McHugh to the mix would go a long way towards accomplishing that goal.
Van Wagenen’s failures to adequately address the pitching depth of his club during his first offseason remains one of his greatest failures up to this point in his tenure as general manager. While he has made some solid additions in his second go-around, wrapping it all up with a McHugh signing—who, given the sluggishness of his market up to this point, is not likely to cost too much—would show that he has truly learned from his mistakes and is truly trying to eliminate the “ifs” attached to the Mets’ roster. And it would be a delightful homecoming for a pitcher who came up in this organization as a largely unheralded prospect, one whose career has been an excellent story up to this point. Coming back to where it all started would be a wonderful next chapter for both parties.