Despite the New York Mets historically being built on starting pitching, 2020 saw one of the worst performances ever from a Mets rotation. From season-ending injuries, massive regressions, ineffective free agents and non-existent depth, the Mets were out of most games before they even started. The bullpen wasn’t much better, failing to significantly improve on a disastrous 2019 and finishing as one of MLB’s worst. However, since Steve Cohen took over as owner, all of that has changed. For the first time in years, the Mets approached the offseason like a big market team, building one of the league’s deepest and best pitching staffs.
While the Mets already had the undisputed best pitcher in baseball with Jacob deGrom, everything after him was a blank. Thankfully, the Mets have since assembled what should be one of the league’s best starting rotations.
First came Marcus Stroman who, rather than test free agency, accepted the team’s $18.9 million qualifying offer. He has much to prove after missing all of 2020 season with a calf injury and later opting out entirely. Whether or not the 2019 All-Star can return to form is up in the air right now. Luckily, with an improved defense behind him, the groundball pitcher should thrive like never before.
Next came the trade for Carlos Carrasco, who’s due $38 million over the next three years. The 33-year-old has quietly been one of the best pitchers in the league. Since 2014 he owns a 3.41 ERA, 129 ERA+ and 21.5 bWAR, stats that are comparable to aces Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander. Carrasco also proved he is one of the toughest guys in baseball, having overcome leukemia in 2019 and putting up elite numbers in 2020. Carrasco will likely slot in right behind deGrom, forming what is arguably the best one-two punch in MLB.
Finally, the Mets completed their rotation by signing Taijuan Walker to a two-year, $20 million contract. Despite being brought on as a back-end starter, Walker has flashed potential to be a legitimate front-end option. After missing most of 2018-19 recovering from Tommy John surgery, Walker made 11 starts in 2020, compiling a career-best 2.70 ERA as a starter. Granted, Walker also happens to be the most analytically polarizing pitcher in baseball, so take caution with any success, or lack thereof, he may have in 2021.
Luckily, the Mets have excelled in finding reliable starting depth this offseason. The most notable are Joey Lucchesi, Jordan Yamamoto, Sean Reid-Foley, Yennsy Diaz, and Sam McWilliams. Lucchesi is the best of the bunch, owning a career 4.21 ERA, and will compete with fellow lefty David Peterson for the final spot in the Mets rotation. Yamamoto is also in that mix, though, as a righty he faces a harder path as the Mets are unlikely to use an all right handed rotation. As for Reid-Foley, Diaz and McWilliams, each one of these hard throwing youngsters has a shot at making a spot start or two this year, but at this point each one looks more likely to appear in the bullpen due to their limited pitching repertoires.
Speaking of the bullpen, the Mets have made plenty of moves here as well. That said, the improvements weren’t quite as substantial as with the rotation.
Trevor May was the first free agent the Mets signed this offseason. Coming to New York on a two-year $15.5 million contract, he looks to bring some much needed stability to an otherwise erratic bunch. While he struggled in his first three seasons, mostly as a starter, since 2018 he’s put up a 3.19 ERA. May is also a strikeout machine, finishing in the 98th percentile in strikeout rate and 99th percentile in whiff rate in 2020.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is the soft throwing Aaron Loup. In need of a solid lefty reliever, the Mets secured one of the best for just $3 million. Like Stroman, Loup is a sinkerball pitcher who thrive on generating weak contact and ground balls. With a career 3.38 ERA (2.52 ERA in 2020), expect Loup to be the primary lefty out of the bullpen.
Beyond May and Loup, the Mets made a bevy of strong depth signings. The only other two on the 40-man roster are Stephen Tarpley and Jacob Barnes. Both are looking to figure things out after struggling heavily in their last two seasons. They were each great in 2018, however, posting a 3.00 ERA and 3.33 ERA that year, respectively.
As for the non-roster invitees, former Met Jerry Blevins is back and has decent odds of breaking into the major league roster with a good spring. Likewise, former Atlanta Braves closer Arodys Vizcaíno is looking for another shot in the majors after missing 2020 with a shoulder injury. If he can prove he still has high velocity on his fastball, he could be a reliable reliever.
While the Mets still had an excellent offseason, it’s hard to deny that some of the non-moves may sting. First was failing to sign reigning NL Cy Young winner Trevor Bauer despite being front runners for him all winter. Similarly, Corey Kluber, James Paxton and Jose Quintana were all available, but attracted little interest from the Mets. While each one comes with their own injury concerns, each also has a stronger track record than Walker and ultimately signed for $8-$11 million.
As for relievers, Justin Wilson choosing the Yankees over the Mets is certainly puzzling, especially given his success in Queens. Likewise, the Mets were heavily interested in top free agents Brad Hand and Trevor Rosenthal, yet both got away. The latter is truly concerning given the fact that the Mets are in need of a new anchor in the bullpen after losing Seth Lugo for the first month or two of the season.
Even in spite of these non-moves, the Mets still had an offseason for the ages in terms of pitching. Never before has the team made this many signings in both the starting rotation and bullpen in one year. From top to bottom, the Mets look primed to have one of their best pitching staffs in years.
Featured Image Courtesy of Aaron Josefczyk/UPI
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