The market for starting pitching is noticeably thin and old. Teams have made it a top priority to lock up their young pitching talent and as a result the only familiar names on the market under the age of 30 are Phil Hughes and John Lannan. The Mets are in the advantageous position to retain the majority of their pitching staff that finished fifth in the league in quality starts. The situation that the Mets will likely address is to find temporary solution that can bridge them between Opening Day 2014 and the return/arrival of Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, etc.
Yesterday the Giants set a precedent by signing Tim Lincecum to a 2-year, $35 million contract. Is he worth it? Probably not. But the fact that my answer was “probably not” rather than “no” is enough to warrant a significant amount of money these days.
Two of the higher-end, more intriguing names on the market are Scott Kazmir and Josh Johnson. Both are appealing for a variety of different reasons including their reputations, past accomplishments and willingness to sign a short-term contract.
The most recent word on Kazmir is that his agent will look to negotiate with Cleveland before exploring the open market. Earlier this month, Johnson had minor elbow surgery to remove bone spurs but will be ready to pitch come spring training. The report is that he would be willing to sign a one-year contract while he attempts to rebuild he value.
The main difference between the two free agents is the current state of their value compared to the value that they have established over the course of their careers.
Returning to professional baseball on a minor league contract, Kazmir posted his best numbers since 2007. His fastball velocity climbed back up to 92.5 mph as opposed to 86.5 mph where it sat during his previous stint in the majors. Despite his recent success, his unpredictable career path indicates that it would be in his best interest to lock up guaranteed money for as many years as he can.
In the case of Johnson, it would benefit him to seek a short-term opportunity to rediscover his form. His first season in Toronto happened to be the worst of his career, posting a 6.20 ERA. Johnson is routinely plagued by injury and has failed to reach the 20-start plateau in three out of the last six seasons. An effective and healthy stint could eventually allow him to maximize his value as a free agent by age 31 or 32.
Historically, Johnson has the edge in terms of raw stuff as he was once a dominant pitcher that notched a 2.64 ERA over 70 starts between 2009 and 2011. Despite pitching to underwhelming numbers the last two seasons, Mets fans know how talented Johnson is based on his 8-2 record and 2.58 career ERA against them.
At a common age of 29, Johnson has experienced an overall decline in velocity over the last five seasons while Kazmir experienced a sudden boost back up toward his career high.
From a superficial standpoint, the appeal of Kazmir surrounds his controversial trade to Tampa Bay at the 2004 trade deadline and what it represents to the Mets organization. Whereas Johnson is a former nemesis of the Mets that brings the stature of an overpowering pitcher.
The fact that Kazmir is a left-handed, fly ball pitcher may be more conducive to what the Mets are looking to add this off-season. With all of their right-handed arms (particularly among their top prospects) the thought of adding another lefty to balance out the rotation could spark their interest.
However, the potential that Johnson offers cannot be ignored. A new approach offered from the Mets coaching staff could give them exactly what they are looking for out of a replacement starter next season.
In the end, the Mets would not be alone in their interest in either pitcher. Both pitchers are certain to be commodities on the open market that is characterized by a deficiency in dependable arms.
The fact Kazmir is a relatively young left-hander and Johnson has a strong track record combined with high demand means that it will likely take a two-year offer or one-year plus an option to lock up either one.