The Mets need a starting rotation overhaul to seriously compete in 2021. Here’s an obvious choice plus a sleeper or two to consider.
The Mets proved two things this season:
First, leading the league in batting average and having three players in the Top Ten of most batting categories is meaningless when the same team leads the league in leaving runners on base who are in scoring position. (Baseball-Reference)
For the moment and because there are more significant holes to fill, we can chalk that up as a fluke because it’s unlikely the Mets or any other team will duplicate that oddity again.
And second, The Mets need more than Jacob deGrom in their rotation to compete with their brethren in the NL East.
Noah Syndergaard remains a question mark until he proves to team doctors and himself that the April 2021 return from surgery is real.
If he does return at some point in the season, the team gets a huge list. Syndergaard will be motivated in his walk year to show the Mets and the rest of the baseball world he is worthy of a multi-year deal as a free agent in the Class of 2022.
Whatever his problem is, no one can say the Mets have not devoted a significant amount of time and provided him with the TLC he needs. But 0-5 in six starts with a 9.76 ERA is the only thing we need to know about Steven Matz after six seasons with the team.
David Peterson, 5-2 with only seven walks against thirty-seven strikeouts, looks like a keeper, and he will be slotted into the Mets rotation for 2021.
But Peterson is not the Number Two or Three to complement Jacob deGrom.
The discussion, of course, leads us to the obvious question – where can the Mets find two reliable and proven starters, age 30 or under, they can pursue when the free-agent market opens for business five days after the World Series?
Mets Candidate For A Number Two Starter
Using Spotrac’s list of free-agent starting pitchers, the Mets need for a number two, ironically, works for a team that plays a short ride over the Triborough Bridge from Citi Field.
Mets fans may rebel at the thought of a “Yankee” joining their team, but Masahiro Tanaka is a perfect fit, with or without Noah Syndergaard next year, and the seasons that follow.
Six years removed from refusing surgery for a UCL tear in his elbow, Tanaka has (with no argument) been the Yankees’ most consistent pitcher. Moreover, he seems to find a second wind when it’s time for the playoffs (5-3 with a glowing 1.76 ERA).
Tanaka, at 32 by next season, falls ahead of what teams typically look for in starting pitchers seeking a multi-year deal, but again, Tanaka is the real deal.
Assuming several teams, including the Yankees will aggressively pursue Tanaka, Steve Cohen will be tested to put up or shut up in terms of letting loose with some of the cash in his treasury.
Tanaka has total control of his destiny in signing what purports to be his final contract as a player in the United States.
To wit, he could decide he wants to be 3,000 miles closer to his native land Japan, choosing a West Coast team to finish out his career.
Still, it behooves the Mets to put in a supreme effort to sign Tanaka – perhaps the only player on the Yankees over the last decade who you can say – he earned every penny the Yankees have paid him.
Starter For 2021 – This Time A Sleeper
Usually, in any free-agent class, you need to skip down several lines, passing over the obvious choices like Tanaka to find what we know in baseball as a “sleeper.”
He’s usually the guy playing for a losing team for a small-market franchise who has yet to gain anyone’s attention, except for the team that covets and would like to keep him.
In that light, the Mets need to resist the temptation to sign high-salaried pitchers who are noticeably on the downside of their careers.
Taijuan Walker is finishing out the 2020 season with the Toronto Blue Jays on a one-year deal worth $2 million.
Only 28, Walker has bounced around a bit after having stints with the Seattle Mariners and Arizona Diamondbacks before landing with the Blue Jays.
Walker’s stats, while not overwhelming, should at least earn the attention of the Mets.
Durable, Walker has made ten starts this year, compiling a 4-3 record with a 2.86 ERA. He surrenders fewer hits than innings pitched, but on the negative side, he has shown a tendency to give up the long ball (27 in 2016 with Seattle).
Sleepers like Porcello and Wacha, Van Wagenen’s experiment in 2020, are a ticking time bomb, and Walker certainly falls into the same nest.
But indeed, he’s worth a look by the Mets.
And If All Else Fails
If all else fails, let’s not forget Marcus Stroman, who left the team with fear of the oncoming COVID pandemic.
Stroman never had a chance to pull out all the stops after landing in New York via a trade with Toronto at the deadline in 2019.
A full-fledged free agent now, Stroman figures to be in play for teams looking for a number four.
Capable of rising to a number three, his success in Toronto seems ages away from today, and it hasn’t helped that his absence from the Mets this year caused the team some grief.
But again, we’re looking at a relatively young (29) pitcher who lapped up the opportunity to join the Mets for a cameo appearance.
Currently, at $11 million in salary for 2021, no more than a three-year deal is warranted for this promising. However, still unproven pitcher “ready” for New York, Stroman deserves the attention of the Mets for another go-around.
Mets 2021: Wrapping It Up
The Mets forecast for 2021 will produce the same result as this year if things stay the same.
In that regard, J.T. Realmuto looms as the “big splash” Steve Cohen may be looking for when he takes over the reins of the Mets franchise.
All well and good – can’t hurt if he lands him – but the full concentration of the Mets front office needs to be on putting together a starting staff – at least one through three that can compete with the rest of the league.
Filling one hole at a time requires patience and deliberation as to what the best way of accomplishing it is.
This is why we need to keep our eyes focused on the brand of Steve Cohen’s team brought in to accomplish what all Mets fans want and need to see.
We’ll have more on the possible makings of that team in tomorrow’s story.