Danny Abriano, SNY.tv | Twitter |
The Mets have been one of the most active teams in a free agent market that has been so stagnant that a prominent player agent recently threatened a player boycott of Spring Training. By signing Todd Frazier (to go along with the signings of Jay Bruce, Jose Reyes, and Anthony Swarzak), the Mets have done a solid job. But if they want to enter the 2018 season as a legitimate contender, they can't stop now.
While GM Sandy Alderson said earlier this offseason that starting pitching was fourth on his list of three needs, SNY contributor and former Mets GM Jim Duquette said last week that the team was starting to consider making a play for free agent starting pitchers Lance Lynn, Alex Cobb, or Jason Vargas. And after signing Frazier, reports indicated that the Mets are still interested in signing one of the above pitchers if the price is right.
To put it simply, Lynn and Cobb are on a different level than Vargas. And with the market in its current state, it's Lynn or Cobb who the Mets should sign to put an exclamation point on their offseason. Here's why...
The Mets need another sure thing in the rotation
Beyond Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard, the Mets don't have another starting pitcher they can count on. Matt Harvey, Steven Matz, and Zack Wheeler all dealt with serious injury issues and ineffectiveness in 2017. While the Mets would have a full rotation if they are all healthy, it's simply not something they can count on.
Alderson has spoken about the Mets' starting pitching depth, but that depth is suspect. There's Robert Gsellman (who struggled mightily in 2017), Seth Lugo (pitching with a torn UCL in his elbow), Chris Flexen, and Rafael Montero.
The case for Lynn:
The 30-year-old Lynn, who missed the 2016 season due to Tommy John surgery, has made between 31 and 35 starts every other season between 2012 and 2017. He has a career ERA of 3.38 to go along with a 1.29 WHIP. And his velocity in 2017 was nearly identical to what it was in 2015. His strikeout rate was just 7.39 per nine innings last season, but most pitchers don't round back into form until their second season back from Tommy John surgery. Matt Harvey's 2015 season was a rarity in that regard.
The case for Cobb:
Cobb, 30, has a career 3.50 ERA and 1.22 WHIP. Like Lynn, he recently had Tommy John surgery -- undergoing it during the 2015 season and missing that season and the majority of 2016 because of it. Before surgery, he had a 2.76 ERA in 2013 and 2.87 ERA in 2014. Last season, Cobb tossed 179.1 innings and had a 3.66 ERA and 1.22 WHIP -- though his declining strikeout rate is something to keep an eye on.
Adding Lynn or Cobb would allow for greater flexibility
If the Mets signed Lynn or Cobb, it would create a wide range of possibilities regarding what they can do in the starting rotation and bullpen.
They could go to a six-man rotation consisting of Syndergaard, deGrom, Lynn or Cobb, Harvey, Matz, and Wheeler. It would allow them to go easier on the pitchers in the rotation whose injury risk is greater. Pitchers are creatures of habit, though, and there has been pushback from some of them in the past when a six-man rotation has been used or discussed.
If they don't use a six-man rotation, the Mets could move a pitcher such as Harvey or Wheeler to the bullpen in an effort to further strengthen what already looks like a strong part of the team. Wheeler, who returned in 2017 after missing all of 2015 and 2016 due to Tommy John surgery, may be better suited in the bullpen than Harvey. If the team would rather keep both Harvey and Wheeler in the rotation, Gsellman would make sense as a bullpen option.
Lynn or Cobb would help stabilize the post-2018 rotation
Yu Darvish, the top starting pitcher on the free agent market, is reportedly fielding five-year offers. The market for Jake Arrieta, right below Darvish, is a mystery. MLB Trade Rumors predicted in November that Arrieta would sign a four-year deal worth $100 million, with Lynn ($56 million) and Cobb ($48 million) each signing four-year deals for a much lower average annual value.
However, with the way the market has cratered, it's fair to think Lynn and/or Cobb can be had on a three-year deal. And either of those pitchers on a three-year deal would give the Mets a jolt in 2018 and some more certainty in 2019 and 2020 -- when it's expected that Matt Harvey will have moved on.
With Lynn and Cobb, who both rejected one-year qualifying offers, the Mets would have to surrender their second round draft pick in the upcoming MLB Draft. Alderson said last week at Citi Field that draft pick compensation was one of the reasons the team was unlikely to sign Mike Moustakas -- who Alderson suggested could settle for a one-year deal. But giving up that pick while adding a starting pitcher for three seasons is far more palatable than adding Moustakas for one year when Frazier (who wasn't attached to a draft pick) is arguably the better player.
As presently constituted, the Mets are projected by FanGraphs to go 81-81 this season. With some health issues breaking their way, they may be a contender without Lynn or Cobb. But adding either of them would give the Mets a large boost as they attempt to reach the postseason for the third time in four seasons -- and remain contenders beyond 2018.