Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, and Steven Matz are coming off season ending surgeries, and the Mets most likely don’t want them making over 30 starts and/or going over 200 innings. The Mets need someone to fill-in for those starts and eat up some innings.
Additionally, the team needs a fifth starter. If the season was going to begin today, the fifth starter would be determined by a competition between Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman. Both pitchers showed enough to prove they deserve the job out of Spring Training. However, both pitchers are likely going to be on innings limits, which would prevent them from pitching the entire 2017 season unless the team skips a couple of their starts. That reverts back to the issue created by Harvey, deGrom, and Matz that the Mets need another arm to eat up some innings.
Naturally, the hope is that Zack Wheeler could be the fifth starter at some point during the season. However, after missing two straight seasons due to Tommy John surgery, the Mets would be hard pressed to rely upon him to provide anything during the 2017 season. It is a large reason why the Mets have at least discussed the possibility of putting Wheeler in the bullpen to start the season.
Pitchers like Sean Gilmartin and Gabriel Ynoa did not show the Mets enough in 2016 to prove they can be relied upon to make more than one or two spot starts. With that, it is likely the Mets are going to need to look outside the organization for a pitcher who is willing to start the year as a fifth starter, but is willing to transition to the bullpen as the year progresses. Ultimately, the Mets are looking for someone to reprise the role that Bartolo Colon was slated to serve during the 2016 season. With that in mind, here are some available free agent pitchers who could serve in that role:
2016 Stats: 4-5, 4.26 ERA, 13 G, 10 GS, 50.2 IP, 1.243 WHIP, 9.6 K/9
While Welington Castillo got most of the publicity, De La Rosa was another surprise non-tender by the Arizona Diamondbacks. The reason De La Rosa was non-tendered was because there remains a real possibility he needs a second Tommy John surgery. At the moment, he has been trying to use stem cell treatment as a means to circumvent the surgery. For what it is worth, Bartolo Colon used the stem cell therapy back in 2010, and he was able to revive his major league career.
When he is healthy, De La Rosa has a live arm with him throwing a mid to high 90s fastball with a curve and slider who has shown some flashes of dominance. De La Rosa does have issues walking batters in his career, but it should be noted he was pitching to the aforementioned Castillo who is a terrible pitch framer.
Assuming the stem cell therapy will work, and further assuming De La Rosa is ready by Opening Day, the 27-year old needs a team who will help him harness his stuff and a catching staff that will help him get those borderline pitches. With that in mind, there are few places that are better fits for De La Rosa than the Mets. At a minimum, the Mets can offer the young pitcher at least a chance to pitch in the rotation while also assuring him a spot in the bullpen where he could become a lights out reliever.
2016 Stats: 7-4, 3.97 ERA, 40 G, 5 GS, 77.0 IP, 1.377 WHIP, 6.5 K/9
While Feldman has spent the majority of his career as a league average starting pitcher, the Astros moved Feldman into the bullpen in the 2016 season, and Feldman pitched well for the team in that role. What is interesting about Feldman’s success was he didn’t throw any differently out of the bullpen than he did as a starter. The main reason is that in his career as a starter, batters tend to hit Feldman much harder the third time through the lineup.
Overall, Feldman’s numbers would have been much better had he not struggled in his 14 appearances for the Blue Jays. In those 14 appearances, he pitched to an 8.40 ERA and a 1.933 WHIP. It might have just been a slump or a poor mix with the Blue Jays because Feldman has not wilted under pressure in his career. In nine postseason relief appearances, Feldman is 1-0 with a 3.29 ERA, 1.024 WHIP, and a 7.2 K/9.
Given Feldman’s ability to pitch as a league average starter, and his being even more effective out of the bullpen, Feldman could very well be the exact pitcher the Mets need in 2017.
2016 Stats: 5-7, 5.89 ERA, 21 G, 13 GS, 84.0 IP, 1.583 WHIP, 6.5 K/9
For nearly 14 years, there have been 11 franchises that have taken on the mantle of being the franchise that is going to be able to figure out Jackson and help him unlock his potential. With a career losing record and a 4.65 ERA, none have been successful, and now the 32 year old is a free agent.
There is no doubt Jackson has talent. He is a five pitch pitcher that predominantly relies upon a low to mid 90s fastball and a slider. Through his tenure as the Mets pitching coach Dan Warthen has been successful in helping pitchers like Jackson. Like many of the other pitchers on this list, Jackson should be aided by the Mets pitch framing. The combination of Warthen and the pitch framing has been shown to help a number of pitchers who have come to the Mets the past few seasons.
Over the last two seasons, Jackson has also begun pitching out of the bullpen. In 2015, he showed some promise in the role making 47 appearances while going 4-3 with a 3.07 ERA and a 1.168 WHIP. He would limit batters to a .218/.291/.332 batting line. Unfortunately, he regressed as a reliever in 2016 after he had failed again as a starter. Overall, as is the story with most of Jackson’s career, there is promise here, and a union with the Mets could be mutually beneficial.
2016 Stats: 1-3, 7.77 ERA, 6 G, 6 GS, 2.055 WHIP, 6.7 K/9
Medlen has gone from a promising young pitcher with the Atlanta Braves to a pitcher whose career is a crossroads with him being limited during the 2016 season with shoulder issues. While these shoulder issues did not require surgery, they limited Medlen in 2016, and it had an impact on his performance. Another issue with Medlen is his having two Tommy John surgeries.
With that said, when Medlen is right, he is a good pitcher. His last year with the Braves, before he needed a second TJS, he was 15-12 with a 3.11 ERA, 1.223 WHIP, and a 7.2 K/9. In 2015, his first year back from his second TJS, Medlen was 6-2 with a 4.01 ERA, 1.269 WHIP, and a 6.2 K/9 between eight starts and seven relief appearances. In the 2015 postseason, he made two appearances pitching six innings with a 3.00 ERA, 0.667 WHIP, and a 12.0 K/9.
If the medicals check out, Medlen can be a very effective pitcher for someone. Considering the need to get a pitcher comfortable in the rotation and the bullpen, the Mets might be a good fit.
There is certainly any number of places the Mets could go this offseason. There are pitchers like Matt Harrison who are injury risks, but who can also be dominant pitchers when healthy. There are also reclamation projects like Jered Weaver and Tim Lincecum. Overall, there are many different ways to go. At this point, the Mets just need to identify their guy, be patient, and let the market develop. Once it does, the Mets could obtain a pitcher who could very well help eat some innings during the 2017 season.