With the trade for Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco now in the rear-view mirror, it’s time to start looking ahead towards the remainder of the offseason for the New York Mets. Now sitting at around $180 million in 2021 payroll, the Mets have less wiggle room than before if they want to remain under the $210 million luxury tax threshold. With Spring Training only a few weeks away, time may be running out for the Mets to bolster their pitching staff this offseason.
The Mets have already taken great strides in improving upon 2020’s fifth worst rotation (5.37 ERA). With the Carrasco trade and the resigning of Marcus Stroman, the team has a solid two and three behind Jacob deGrom.
However, aside from deGrom and breakout rookie David Peterson, no other Mets starter last year posted an ERA under 5.15. At this point, relying on extremely volatile guys like Steven Matz, Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman to be reliable starters is just too risky. The same goes for raw prospects like Thomas Szapucki. Furthermore, with Noah Syndergaard likely to return from Tommy John surgery in July, the Mets are still in need another proven arm.
While Trevor Bauer and Masahiro Tanaka may be the best starters available, their reported asking prices of over $30 million AAV and $18-$20 million AAV, respectively, are simply too high. That leaves the Mets with the likes of Jake Odorizzi, José Quintana, Corey Kluber, Taijuan Walker and James Paxton. All five have missed substantial time due to injuries in recent years, making this a high-risk high-reward decision. Though they would be coming in as a back-end starter, each one possesses the talent and track record to perform like a mid to top of the rotation starter. Lessening any concerns here is that each one projects to earn between $8-$12.5 million next year. This gives the Mets more salary flexibility and decreased financial liability should they underperform.
As for each man’s potential performance, their 2021 Steamer projections from best to worst are as follows:
Kluber: 26 starts, 4.05 ERA, 4.68 FIP, 2.5 fWAR
Paxton: 28 starts, 4.22 ERA, 4.32 FIP, 2.3 fWAR
Odorizzi: 28 starts, 4.64 ERA, 4.72 FIP, 1.8 fWAR
Quintana: 29 starts, 4.61 ERA, 4.68 FIP, 1.6 fWAR
Walker: 29 starts, 5.00 ERA, 5.00 FIP, 1.2 fWAR
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the two-time American League Cy Young Award winning Kluber is projected to have the best season. That said, Walker is the only one who is under 30, didn’t miss any time to injury last year and will likely command the lowest salary. Regardless, with all the uncertainties and concerns surrounding each starter, plus their past successes, this decision is basically a tossup.
The bullpen was another weakness for the Mets in 2020, finishing 18th in the league with a 4.60 ERA. This came fresh off the heels of a 2019 bullpen that had a franchise worst 4.99 ERA. Signing Trevor May was definitely a step in the right direction, but what the team really needs is another quality lefty. Currently, the top two candidates for the Mets are three-time All-Star Brad Hand and former Met Justin Wilson. Both are quality lefties with great splits between right and left-handed batters.
Hand is arguably the best lefty reliever in baseball, sporting a 2.70 ERA, 157 ERA+, 1.066 WHIP, and 12.2 K/9 since becoming a fulltime reliever in 2016. Wilson is no slouch either, with a 3.27 ERA, 123 ERA+, 1.279 WHIP, and 9.9 K/9 over nine seasons. That said, further pushing things in Hand’s favor is his experience as a closer. With 105 career saves and leading the majors last year with 16, he is no stranger to high leverage situations. This allows the Mets to create some competition for Edwin Diaz over the closer role, especially if he regresses again.
Further trivializing things, however, is the fact that both pitchers have nearly identical 2021 Steamer projections.
Hand: 65 games, 4.02 ERA, 4.15 FIP, 0.4 fWAR
Wilson: 58 games, 4.09 ERA, 4.29 FIP, 0.4 fWAR
Ultimately, the decision may come down to asking price, especially if the Mets decide that other positions take priority. In that case, Hand’s likely $10 million AAV vs. Wilson’s $5 million might just be enough to swing things in the latter’s favor.
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