The Mets good start masks weaknesses in starting pitching they need to compensate for. Albeit a giant leap for the franchise, Dallas Keuchel can fill the gap.
Arguably, the Mets have one of the top starting rotations one through three in the National League. Barring injuries, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, and Zack Wheeler form an arsenal of talent lying in wait for the teams they anticipate meeting in the playoffs.
But obviously, the Mets are not there yet and the regular season demands quality fourth and fifth starters who can take the ball every fifth day and deliver credible, though not necessarily sensational starts on a consistent basis (consistent being the operative word).
Jason Vargas is best characterized as a journeyman pitcher. At 36, over 14 big league seasons, Vargas is a .500 pitcher (93-90) and has worked his way through six teams, including the Mets twice. The Mets are enthused by his output in Spring Training and his first start of 2019 in which he pitched his typical five innings, surrendering two runs on eight base hits. You might say, not bad – but is it good enough?
Which brings up to Steven Matz with a big C for consistency in question. Matz, now 27, over his five big league seasons is a sub-.500 pitcher at 20-26.
He reminds of Zack Wheeler, who struggled and struggled until the light came on following his return from exile in Las Vegas, whereupon Wheeler discovered he could get major league hitters out by pitching with authority – in the strike zone.
Matz has yet to reach that level. Until he does, he is a train wreck waiting to happen each time he takes the mound. Not everyone is Jacob deGrom, but you would think a pitcher like Matz would be watching deGrom with intensity from the dugout every chance he has.
Trusting his stuff and challenging batters in the strike zone is what separates deGrom, Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, et.al. from pitchers like Matz. In sum, Matz is still a work in progress at a time when the Mets are not conducting school – but trying to capture an extremely competitive division.
Dallas Keuchel – Savior, Substitute, Or Neither
Dallas Keuchel needs no introduction to anyone who has been following baseball over the last three seasons. Left-handed like both Vargas and Matz, Keuchel, at 31, remains in limbo as a free agent with no job for the 2019 season.
Over the course of his career, he’s won 16 more games than he’s lost (79-63), and he is playoff-tested with a 4-2 record over nine starts for the Houston Astros.
All of which points to the fact Dallas Keuchel is not to be taken on the cheap. His agent is Scott Boras, who is known to squeeze every last penny out from team owners for his clients.
Having said that, the Mets, among several other teams (Padres, and Brewers mainly), are – or could be – in the ballpark for his services, strictly from a payroll vantage point. But there’s a caveat, and it’s that Keuchel will need to accept a back-loaded (four-year?) contract with team and player opt-outs within. Doable? From the Mets standpoint, let’s see.
Dallas Keuchel – Do The All Important Numbers Match?
According to Spotrac, the Mets 2019 payroll, after all, is said and done stands at a reputable $194 million. This represents a significant increase from recent years, indicating General Manager, Brodie Van Wagenen, has “gotten thru” to the Wilpons.
If the Mets make the leap now to sign Keuchel, assuming they can, Van Wagenen has about $11 million to spend before reaching the threshold of this year’s luxury tax. Or, Van Wagenen can wait until the July trade deadline to spend the money with a clearer picture of where the Mets are in the standings by then.
Either way, it’s a gamble and both strategies assume Van Wagenen can convince Jeff Wilpon to make the leap – financially.
Adding to the intrigue is a report from The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal and Dennis Lin, which points out that if Keuchel waits until the end of this year’s college draft (June 12) to sign, the cost of a draft pick for signing him is removed, and thereby lessening the “cost” for the team that eventually employs him.
One thing is certain. The Mets willingness (or not) to push their dollars to the limit will tell us all we need to know about how they view the 2019 season.
Is this one of those, “Let’s show our fans we’re trying” years, and they’ll (internally) be satisfied with 87-90 wins, but less than a spot in the playoffs?
Or, is the aggressiveness of Brodie Van Wagenen contagious enough that it spreads to the Wilpons and Stanley Katz, with a spirit that says, “Hell yes, we can do this”?
Eventually, Dallas Keuchel will be signed by a team much like the Mets (Padres or Brewers), a team on the outside looking in and hoping for a chance to crack the code this year.
No predictions on this one, except to say to Brodie – “You’ve done a splendid job building a new version of the Mets for 2019 – but your work is still unfinished…”