Although it played quite a hand in the Mets’ success during the second half, the starting rotation will not enter the 2019 season without its share of questions. Durability remains a concern for Steven Matz and Noah Syndergaard, and the back-end doesn’t inspire nearly the same confidence, at least as it currently stands. Seth Lugo averaged just 4.2 innings per start last year, while Corey Oswalt, Héctor Santiago, and Jason Vargas compiled a 5.52 ERA and 1.46 WHIP across 39 total starts.
Surely, this organization can find a better way to protect itself every fifth game while maintaining depth in the high minors and carefully treading their current payroll. As Gio González, Marco Estrada, and Dallas Keuchel headline the current group of mid-tier free agent starters, a handful of names are likely to slip through the cracks. Wade Miley is one the Mets would be wise to make a play for.
Miley, 32, came to the Milwaukee Brewers on a minor-league deal in February, and despite an early oblique injury that sidelined him through July, still managed 16 starts with a 3.59 FIP – his lowest since 2013.
Following a disastrous 2017 campaign with the Baltimore Orioles in which he averaged 5.3 BB/9, Miley cut his walks down to 3.0/9, though his career-best 0.3 HR/9 ultimately made the biggest difference as he recovered his credibility in a make-or-break season.
Prior to 2018, Miley had turned in five consecutive seasons of 30 or more starts, churning out a 50% groundball rate that ranked second among qualified starters behind Mike Leake. As the years wore on, however, the fastball-heavy repertoire lost its flare, and the hard-contact rate began to climb.
This past year was defined by a much-needed step away from a four-seam/two-seam contrast, as Miley developed a cutter that checked in (per Pitch Info) at 11 runs above average – the third-best figure in the Major Leagues behind Corey Kluber and Aníbal Sánchez.
Miley’s groundball/flyball ratio of 2.24 tied for the fifth-highest in the league, to boot. While his arsenal may have changed, it’s tough to dispute how well his success as a finesse pitcher translated.
All told, only his fastball and slider registered at negative values, though they still accounted for just 15.8% of his pitches, with his fastball maintaining a respectable average velocity of 91.8 mph – a considerable improvement over each of Oswalt, Santiago, and Vargas’ figures. The latter’s current place in the rotation makes for a clear obstacle, especially given the possibility that Miley – as projected by MLB Trade Rumors – brings in $6MM per year.
As a point of reference, Vargas will be owed $8MM in 2019 – possibly $10MM if the team decides to buy out his option for 2020. Trading the veteran from the current payroll in favor of a left-hander with far more upside in Miley is certainly attractive in theory, though Vargas’ current value would almost certainly necessitate that New York wear additional salary in order to push the envelope.
A commitment to Miley, therefore, could force the front office to fork over between $14MM to $16MM over a two-year arrangement as it would eat a slice of Vargas’ contract. If the team does expect to compete through an immediate window, however, such an option cannot be ignored.
Though Miley’s prior season in Baltimore suggested regression, the progress he made on a playoff team in an age-31 season cut straight through that, and the Mets would be wise to buy in while it’s still within the realm of possibility.