Regardless of whether the Mets trade Noah Syndergaard, it makes sense for them to sign free-agent Nathan Eovaldi, who is reportedly being pursued by up to 10 teams.
To be clear, I've heard just as many MLB insiders predict Syndergaard will be dealt as say the Mets are simply using him as bait to get in conversations with interested teams. I can see it both ways and I think we'll only know the truth when players report to Spring Training.
The thing is, with or without Syndergaard, the Mets can state their belief in Jason Vargas all they want, but the fact is he had such a terrible 2018 that he has to be a considered a major question mark. Similarly, while Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler seemingly turned the corner in their respective careers, it was Wheeler's first full successful season in three years and the first time Matz (who is already 27 years old) made more than 30 starts in a season.
And, frankly, for all the buzz surrounding a potential trade of Syndergaard, it's Wheeler who appeared to come the closest to being dealt this past summer. He enters this winter coming off a career year, at the peak of his value, seemingly healthy and with one year left on his deal before becoming a free agent. So, it stands to reason that, in failed talks for Syndergaard, teams might turn their focus to Wheeler and then who knows what happens.
The weak wheel is Vargas, who did well in his final three starts of the season, though it's hard to gloss over just how bad he was before his summer layoff.
As a result of his late-season run, Mickey Callaway said Vargas proved he should be part of next year's rotation, especially given how he finally settled in to a routine.
"I think we're the best team we can possibly be with Vargas being the guy he was last year in our rotation," Callaway said. "I think we all feel confident that Jason, when he gets going and gets on a good schedule, he's going to be competitive."
The thing is, short of a few months between 2016 and 2017, Vargas has mostly been just an average pitcher with below average "stuff."
The point is, the Mets -- especially with Wheeler potentially leaving as a free agent after 2019 -- need another pitcher in the middle of the rotation who has major upside, and Eovaldi fits that mold.
First off, I love that he has experienced life pitching for the Yankees in New York, and he pitched multiple heroic moments for the Red Sox under the unique scrutiny of their local media. He's battle-tested in a way most pitchers are not when coming to the Mets, which, as you know, can be a crippling environment for some free agents. However, at this point, given what he pitched through in the Bronx and Boston, I don't expect Queens will be an issue for him.
The folks I know in Tampa and Boston all describe the 28-year-old Eovaldi as very focused, an intense worker, and a kid that puts winning and his teammates above everything.
Eovaldi is known around baseball for attacking the strike zone with a fastball that can rival Syndergaard's, with it often hitting triple digits during the past year. He pairs it with a devastating cutter, which is why some teams interested have approached him about being a combination starter and reliever.
This past season, he did a tremendous job throwing hard and in the strike zone, though his strikeout rates don't reflect this as well as they should. This, to me, suggests a tandem like Mickey Callaway and Dave Eiland could do great things for him, especially helping him better use his off-speed pitches to end up with more swings and misses.
Eovaldi was drafted out of high school in the 11th round in 2008. The Dodgers promoted him at 21 years old, shortly after which he was traded to the Marlins and then to the Yankees. In the Bronx, he pitched until 2016 when needing a second Tommy John surgery.
During his rehab, the Yankees released him. The Rays then claimed him. He missed all of 2017 rehabbing with Tampa and returned to the big leagues in 2018.
He pitched well enough for the Rays that the Red Sox traded for him to join their rotation down the stretch of their World Championship season. In Boston, he had a 3.33 ERA and 1.27 WHIP in 12 appearances (11 starts) during the regular season, which was followed up by a terrific postseason run where he allowed just four runs in 22 innings during four relief appearances and two starts.
It's hard to know what a team will get out of Eovaldi, who is clearly still getting his legs beneath him. The fact is, he's been a professional baseball player for seven years, during which he's pitched for five teams and has tossed 850 innings. So, for a 28 year old, he actually has a lot of pitches left in his arm. By comparison, most guys with seven-year experience at 28 usually have at least 1,000 innings under their belts.
Another positive is that Eovaldi has already had Tommy John surgery twice, and his doctor has signed off on the health of his elbow going forward. So this specific, devastating injury should not be a concern for his new team.
The buzz in baseball puts Eovaldi being valued at three years, no more than $50 million. I'm sure he's asking for four years and $70 million, but he'll be hard pressed to land that level deal given the number of pitchers available on the free agent and trade markets. Also, I hear his value is taking a hit given his double Tommy John surgeries and having pitched so deep into October this past season.
In the end, feeling out all of the above, Eovaldi's ceiling is probably lower than Syndergaard's. However, the risk assigned to both, though different in specifics, is generally the same, given that Syndergaard throws so, so hard and has yet to suffer a truly major injury.
In a perfect world, the Mets have six quality starters, including Vargas for depth, all of whom rotate in and out of the rotation and (in the case of Vargas and Eovaldi) possibly even in the bullpen. So, if the Mets and their researchers are confident Eovaldi can produce at least similar to Syndergaard during the next three seasons, they should push to sign him. Because, by having him under contract, they can comfortably entertain trading Syndergaard for young position players making the league minimum that can fill immediate holes in the lineup.
What's more, even if no one is traded and no one gets injured and all six pitchers are amazing the entire season, by locking in Eovaldi at 28 years old for three seasons, it provides the team leverage and coverage for when Wheeler and Vargas become free agents after this season.
Matthew Cerrone (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Contact) is lead writer of MetsBlog.com, which he created in 2003. He also hosts the MetsBlog Podcast, which you can subscribe to here. His new book, The New York Mets Fans' Bucket List, details 44 things every Mets fan should experience during their lifetime. To check it out, click here!