It was very clear heading into the offseason that starting pitching was one of the Mets’ biggest needs for 2021. The loss of Zack Wheeler to free agency, Noah Syndergaard’s Tommy John surgery, and Marcus Stroman opting out of the 2020 season left giant voids in the Mets rotation, which Rick Porcello and Michael Wacha could not adequately fill. As a result, starting pitching was a major source of liability for the Mets last season; the rotation posted a collective 5.37 ERA in 2020 and that included Jacob deGrom continuing to be his elite self, as well as a breakout performance from rookie David Peterson. Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman were both forced into service as starters and it did not go well for either of them. Steven Matz had the worst season of his career and while the Mets tendered him a contract, it’s hard to feel confident in him as an option for the rotation next season.
By accepting the Mets’ qualifying offer in November, Marcus Stroman helped ensure the Mets would have at least one “sure thing” in the rotation besides deGrom. And it is likely that Peterson pitched well enough last season that the Mets feel comfortable penciling him into a role in the rotation next season. But an ace, a solid #2/#3, and a promising MLB sophomore do not a rotation make. With Noah Syndergaard not due back until June, according to the most recent estimates, the Mets needed at least one solid mid-rotation starter and likely another backend starter to round out the rotation.
Cue the Mets’ blockbuster trade with Cleveland that netted them both Francisco Lindor and that mid-rotation starter they needed in Carlos Carrasco. And “mid-rotation” is likely selling Carrasco short. After a slow start to his career, his star truly began to rise in the second half of the 2010s and he put together back-to-back dominant seasons in 2017 and 2018 before being diagnosed with leukemia in 2019. After returning to Cleveland as a reliever at the end of the 2019 season, he resumed work as a starting pitcher in 2020 and was very nearly as good as he was before his diagnosis, still striking out over ten batters per nine innings and posting a 2.91 ERA in 68 innings. His walk rate increased, but he was otherwise the same pitcher. On some teams that do not have Jacob deGrom in their rotation, Carrasco would be the ace of the staff.
During the press conference in which Sandy Alderson and Jared Porter discussed the trade, Porter said that the Mets now have “potentially six starters”—not counting Syndergaard—in Jacob deGrom, Carlos Carrasco, Marcus Stroman, David Peterson, Steven Matz, and Seth Lugo. Alderson also said during the presser that whether Seth Lugo will serve as a starting pitcher or a relief pitcher will be a conversation the team will have in the spring. This means that as things currently stand, the Mets either have to acquire another starter to fill the fifth spot in the rotation or allow Steven Matz and Seth Lugo to compete for the role—until Noah Syndergaard returns from the injured list.
Current projected 2021 starting rotation
Free agent acquisition/Steven Matz/Seth Lugo*
* Noah Syndergaard to take this spot in June
Starting pitching depth on the 40-man roster
The starting rotation looks pretty darn good with Carrasco in it, will look even better once Syndergaard returns, and will look even better still if the Mets make a free agent signing to fill things out. But, as has been a problem for the Mets the past few seasons now, beyond the starting five, the picture is bleak as far as depth is concerned. If Seth Lugo is not in the rotation, he can be a valuable fallback option, but the fact remains that his strongest production has been as a reliever. Robert Gsellman has similarly suffered from bouncing between roles. That leaves little else in the way of dependable options. Corey Oswalt and Franklyn Kilome have not experienced much success at the major league level, but can likely eat some innings if needed. Thomas Szapucki was a rising star in the Mets system, but still has serious durability concerns after his Tommy John surgery and may no longer be equipped to handle a starting pitcher’s innings load. Sam McWilliams is a lifetime minor leaguer, but a potential diamond in the rough.
More work likely needs to be done to provide insurance against injury and ineffectiveness, but with the Carrasco acquisition, that work can be done at the fringes. Plenty of starting pitchers remain on the free agent market—James Paxton, Jose Quintana, Julio Teheran, Taijuan Walker, Corey Kluber, and others—who the Mets could sign cheaply to hold the fort until Syndergaard returns and ensure the Mets have the necessary depth to contend once he does. And most importantly, the Carrasco acquisition helps the Mets not just this year, but for multiple years in the future, avoiding the Porcello/Wacha stop-gap style measures of the past that we’ve become all too accustomed to.