The Mets came into the offseason with a starting rotation full of holes and question marks that needed to be filled and addressed. They were set to lose Marcus Stroman to free agency, and things only got worse when Noah Syndergaard bolted for Anaheim. Things were pretty dire.
A good way to fix that is to sign the best pitcher on the market and one of the best pitchers of the last 15 years. Unbelievably, long-time foe Max Scherzer is now coming to Queens to wear the blue and orange, changing the entire outlook of the rotation for 2022. Let’s have a look at how things currently stand:
1. Jacob deGrom
We all know the story with deGrom: he’s the best pitcher on Earth when he’s healthy, but nobody actually knows If he’ll be healthy going into 2022 or for how long he will be. After a season where it seemed like he had a new injury issue every week, deGrom’s body holding up is the biggest determiner in how good the Mets will be in 2022.
2. Max Scherzer
If deGrom is the best pitcher on Earth, then Scherzer is not a distant second. He may be 37-years-old, but the future Hall-of-Famer has shown no signs of decline, with his average fastball velocity sitting at 94.5 MPH in 2021, roughly the same area it has been his whole career, with a strikeout rate over 34%. Plus, he just posted a career-low ERA in 179.1 innings for the Nationals and Dodgers and finished third in the Cy Young balloting.
The only red flag here is Scherzer’s dead arm he felt late in the playoffs after being used heavily by Dave Roberts. Given the unusual nature of the season coming off the pandemic season and how many pitchers ran out of gas early in 2021, it’s not the reddest flag in the world, but it is there.
3. Carlos Carrasco
Things drop off quickly from here. Carrasco was a paragon of consistency for seven years in Cleveland. From 2014-2020, the only time Cookie had an ERA above 3.62 for a full season was in 2019, when he was diagnosed with leukemia midway through the year. Upon his trade to the Mets in 2021, he immediately got hurt in spring training with a hamstring tear. He missed most of the season as a result and never had a full ramp-up period, and he wasn’t at all himself upon his return, posting a 6.04 ERA in 12 starts and just 53.2 innings.
A fully healthy Carrasco with a regular ramp-up period could be one of the better #3 starters in baseball, but hoping he bounces back completely in his age-35 season is a giant risk.
4. Taijuan Walker
It’s easy to forget that Walker was the Mets’ lone representative at the All-Star game last year, but a second half ERA of 7.13 will cloud pretty much any success you had in the first half. Yes, Walker was one of the better pitchers in the NL early on by having a sparkling 2.66 ERA, but that was partially built on smoke and mirrors with a 3.94 xFIP and a ridiculously low 6.6% HR/FB before the All-Star break. Compound that with him throwing more innings than he had in a season since 2017 resulting in him likely running out of gas very early on and it was always a recipe for a second-half disaster.
Walker will look for more consistency in 2022, but given just how much of a nightmare his last 64 innings were last year and the fact that he’s never been much more than a bottom of the rotation guy, it’s hard to expect more from him than his overall 2021 output.
5. Tylor Megill/David Peterson
These two, as it stands, would fight it out for the fifth spot in spring training. Megill was a godsend upon his call up last year, outperforming all reasonable expectation he had as a prospect in 11 excellent starts when the Mets desperately needed them. But his lack of strong secondary stuff started to become more of a factor as he went around the league more. Megill got beat around to a 6.68 ERA in his final 7 starts, while allowing 12 homers in that span.
Peterson, for his part, didn’t do much in 2021 to build off his strong rookie campaign in 2020. He had a devil of a time trying to get hitters out, posting an ugly 5.54 ERA of his own in 15 starts before going down in June with an oblique injury. He then broke his toe walking in the clubhouse in August, ending his season. Peterson doesn’t have overwhelming stuff of any kind and has significant command issues, limiting his ceiling as a pitcher at the MLB level.
Depth: Sean Reid-Foley, Adam Oller, Jordan Yamamoto, and Thomas Sczapucki
There’s not much here. Reid-Foley flashed in short spurts out of the bullpen last year, but still wound up with a 5.23 ERA after it was all said and done. He hasn’t started a game at any level since 2019. Adam Oller had a nice brief showing at Syracuse last year, but he is 27-years-old and isn’t much of a prospect. Jordan Yamamoto and Thomas Sczapucki both have questionable injury situations, with the former missing nearly the whole season and the latter undergoing ulnar nerve surgery in July. Both are potential 40-man roster casualties this offseason.
Overall, the rotation looks a heck of a lot better now than it did a few days ago. However, despite having potentially one of the best 1-2 punches in baseball history at the top, it still needs another surefire option. Not only are deGrom and Scherzer injury risks, but Megill and Peterson are best suited as depth options in the minors instead of members of the Opening Day rotation. Neither has the track record or the upside to warrant giving a guaranteed spot to with all of the other options still on the market.
If Carrasco can’t bounce back to his pre-2021 output, then the rotation is still sorely missing a solid, mid-rotation pitcher who can at least reliably eat innings. Luckily, the Mets have made it publicly known that they are not done adding pitching, and lower-end free agent options like Yusei Kikucki and Carlos Rodon have piqued their interests. Additionally, there is likely to be more of a vibrant trade market on the other side of the lockout.
The Mets could also use some more depth options and look for this year’s versions of the Joey Lucchesi, Jordan Yamamoto, and Sean Reid-Foley acquisitions last year to stack in the minors. With the recent round of non-tenders, there are some depth options out there that they should be keeping an eye on. The last thing they need is to have to rely on a Jerad Eickhoff again.