This Week in the Mets Offseason: Starting Pitching Depth

With all of the heavy lifting for the Mets finished all that is left is adding a few more depth pieces to strengthen the roster.

In my article last week, I pointed out that the Mets only really need another pitcher that can add to their starting pitching depth and a veteran catcher to be depth behind the plate.

Dallas Keuchel would be nice, but the Mets don’t need to spend money on an aging star because their top 4 starters can go head to head with any team in baseball. The only true question mark in the Mets rotation is Jason Vargas and their sustained health.

Injuries happen at a blink of an eye and they are unpredictable, but I think that this will be the year that the Mets can get a combined 120 starts between Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Zack Wheeler, and Steven Matz. I can even say I would expect 30 starts from Vargas, as he has the strongest track record of health among the bunch, but I’m not sure he will start the season as the 5th starter.

I think the Big 4 will stay healthy this year because of the recent adjustments they have made. A few years ago Jacob deGrom reached out to Hall of Famer John Smoltz and asked for advice as to how he could stay consistent throughout the season. Conversations with Smoltz led to deGrom pitching two bullpen sessions in between starts and he is now a Cy Young award winner.

DeGrom passed this advice on to Zack Wheeler last season who watched deGrom’s bullpen sessions to pick up on certain techniques. Zack Wheeler then began pitching two bullpen sessions and had the best season of his career without any injury issues along the way. In 29 starts he threw 182 and 1/3 innings and had a 3.31 ERA, which was 18th best in all of baseball.

This offseason, Dave Eiland, developed a program for Steven Matz according to SNY.TV’s Matt Cerrone¬†that had him throwing every couple of days and will include two bullpen sessions between starts this season as well.

Matz took a huge step forward last season by staying healthy the whole year and starting 30 games, however, he only pitched in 154 innings. The hope is that he can take another step forward this season and be more consistent start to start and at a minimum add 25-40 innings to his season total.

It has worked great for Wheeler and deGrom; if Matz reaps the same benefits this will be the scary rotation it was expected to be when Matt Harvey was still the ace.

It has not been reported that Noah Syndergaard has changed his routine, but he was largely healthy last season besides some fingernail and blister issues as well as suffering from hand foot and mouth disease. He is elite, some argue as good as deGrom and I believe that his age 26 season will be his healthiest to date.

All of the above sounds nice and maybe the Mets will get through the season needing only 15 spot starts. That number by today’s standards would be easy to handle considering how often teams have needed 10 or more starters throughout the season in recent years.

With that said, the Mets do have some depth pieces that can easily step in and start a few games admirably throughout the season. The players on that list are Hector Santiago, Corey Oswalt, Kyle Dowdy, Drew Gagnon, and Walker Lockett. In that order.

Santiago has the most experience by far and from 2013-2016 he was an above average starter in the American League. Last season he was a swingman for the Chicago White Sox, starting 7 times and pitching in relief 42 times. That is a role he will compete for in Spring Training with the pitchers named above.

Corey Oswalt has plenty of potential to be a number four or five starter one day and he showed that multiple times last season with a few starts in which he went 5 innings and gave up no runs.

However, in my opinion, the Mets have not helped him fully develop. In the starts that he shut down the opposing lineup, he would be taken out when pitching less than 70 pitches. They feared allowing the opposing team to see him three times through the order.

He also was called up, sent down, and used out of the bullpen throughout the season, which must’ve been a challenge mentally for the young starter. His numbers aren’t pretty, but I think he could fill in for an extended period of time and still give the Mets a chance to win.

Dowdy, Gagnon, and Lockett are interesting pitchers that have little to no big league experience on their resume and unimpressive numbers in AAA. Dowdy is ahead of the latter two on the depth chart and has a decent chance to make the Opening Day roster because he is a Rule 5 Draft pick and if the Mets don’t keep him on the big league roster the whole season the team the Mets took him from can take him back.

If the Mets need to use any of those three for a long period of time in the starting rotation they will be in a bad spot. They just need one more starter that has a similar, or better, track record to that of Hector Santiago I think they would be fine going into the season.

 

The team has been connected to Gio Gonzalez, the second-best starting pitcher available in free agency, and he would be perfect for the Mets. For 9 consecutive seasons, he has pitched in at least 158 innings and has made 31 or more starts on 8 of those seasons. He has all of the talent in the world, but is very similar to Steven Matz in the fact that his emotions can get the best of him and he struggles to stay consistent.

The biggest reason why the Mets haven’t signed him is because of the strong second half Vargas posted last season after finally being able to pitch on a regular schedule. Signing Gonzalez would lead to a legitimate competition between him and Vargas for the fifth spot in the rotation with the loser likely to take on a role in long relief and as the first man up should a starter go down.

It is a move championship contenders make to strengthen the team as a whole. The goal is to win the World Series. Everyone should realize that, check their egos at the door, and fill the role asked of them.

Gonzalez could swing a deal the Mets deem to be too expensive for their taste since they believe Vargas can be a more than capable fifth starter. In that case, there are still plenty of other options that are more like Santiago than they are Gonzalez, but still represent stronger fallback options than Dowdy, Gagnon, and Lockett.

The list of remaining depth options includes Clay Bucholz, Ervin Santana, Brett Anderson, Doug Fister, Jeremy Hellickson, and others. The list could include 10 pitchers that are all in relatively the same class as each other and will warrant minor league deals with plenty of incentives and opt-outs throughout the season. The five I listed above are just the pitchers I think would fit the Mets best.

Bucholz has the most upside of the group above but has had consistent injury problems throughout his career, also making him the highest risk. Just last season he was dominant on the mound pitching mound with an ERA of 2.01 through 16 starts, but was on and off the disabled list all season long.

Santana has the most career success and is the person I would like the Mets to go after should they miss out on Gonzalez. He has been good to great in 10 of his 13 full major league seasons and his only injury history came last season when he had recurring issues with an injured finger in his throwing hand. If he is healthy he is more than worth a gamble.

Hellickson has spent the last three seasons mostly in the NL East. He is a prototypical 5th starter that would make a great swing man.

Fister and Anderson are the two guys on my list most likely to accept minor league deals and they are the worst of the 5. However, they have been serviceable starters throughout their career and the goal for the Mets is to acquire depth, they don’t need someone to compete with Vargas for the 5th spot, no matter how much sense it makes.

If you are wondering why I haven’t mentioned Seth Lugo or Robert Gsellman as depth options yet it is because the Mets need them in the bullpen.

However, I do have one last option for the Mets to improve their starting pitching depth and it is to sign reliever Adam Warren. You may be confused as to how this makes any sense at all, but don’t worry I will explain.

Signing Warren would accomplish a few things. First, it would improve an already strong bullpen, giving the team a third reliever along with Lugo and Gsellman that can pitch multiple innings at a time.

Second, It would allow the Mets to use Lugo as a depth option for the rotation without impacting the bullpen on a large scale. Lugo could then be a swingman and a late-inning reliever, depending on what role the Mets need him to fill.

Finally, it would allow the Mets to give Vargas a spot in the rotation without having to evaluate whether or not the starter they signed for a cheaper contract should knock Vargas into the bullpen.

Signing Warren would be just about as expensive as signing Gonzalez, but the Mets would probably have to give him a two-year commitment. I would expect a contract for him to be similar to the two year 10 million dollar pact the Mets have with Justin Wilson.

If I was advising Brodie Van Wagenen on how to strengthen the starting pitching depth I would give him the three best options in order. #1 sign Gio and have him compete with Vargas, #2 sign Warren to strengthen two areas at once, and #3 sign Santana, Bucholz, Hellickson, Fister, or Anderson to minor league deals.

And Brodie, if you’re reading this feel free to reach out, I’ll be more than willing to accept an advisory position in the Front Office.

February 5, 2019

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