I said this cliché way too recently, but I’ll say it again: MLB teams can never have enough pitching. And, more specifically, they can never have too much starting pitching.
This area of the New York Mets’ roster certainly feels like the squad’s greatest strength. But it’s also part of the reason why there have been somewhat constant public requests for the Mets to sign another free-agent starting pitcher, with Dallas Keuchel and Gio Gonzalez being the most notable hurlers still available. After all, following the kind of year Jason Vargas just had in 2018 (despite turning things around in the second half), it’d be nice to have him be starting-pitching depth instead of a rotation lock.
Now that we’re so close to Opening Day, is it too late to sign a starting pitcher? Here are a couple pros and cons that I can see from potentially acquiring another arm for the rotation.
Pro: Improved Pitching Depth
Well, this one is pretty obvious. Jacob deGrom has been a model of consistency throughout his big-league career. However, the rest of the Mets’ main starting pitchers — Noah Syndergaard, Zack Wheeler, and Steven Matz — have all racked up their fair share of injuries (to varying degrees). As general manager Brodie Van Wagenen said earlier in the winter, it was his goal to improve the depth of this roster and eliminate as many “if’s” as possible.
Time will tell as to exactly how much depth New York has now, but it certainly appears that this was accomplished on the position player side of things. There is improved pitching depth from some of the moves BVW made, but it would be awesome to slot in a pitcher like Gonzalez or Keuchel into the back of a rotation, who have put together a longer (or, just better) overall track record than Vargas.
Con: Recent History of March Signings
While it took Manny Machado and Bryce Harper until the brink of March to finally sign, they’ll both be more than ready for Opening Day. It’s a lot harder for pitchers — especially starters — to ramp up quickly prior to the regular season, even if they’ve been throwing on their own. If necessary, hitters can easily hit in game-like situations and rack up five, six, or seven plate appearances in a given day. Pitchers can only throw so many innings against big-league hitters in a small window of time.
If the Mets sign either Gonzalez or Keuchel, there is no chance they’ll be ready for Opening Day. Having Game 1 of 162 as a benchmark is rather arbitrary since being fresh and productive down the stretch is more important. It’s worth noting, though, that recent March signings have mostly not panned out the way teams would’ve hoped — with last March acting as a great example.
Below are four pitchers who signed in March 2018 (three starters, one reliever) and how their season-long stats sussed out:
Arietta was the only pitcher to post a first-half ERA below 5.00 (it was 3.96). Unfortunately for him, he couldn’t keep that performance going after the All-Star break and finished the year with a 5.04 second-half ERA.
This should caution any and all MLB teams to not rush late-winter pitcher signings to a big-league mound. Even though Cobb, Lynn, and Holland all got their respective performances on track in the second half, that may be too late for a contending team — kind of like what happened with Vargas last year.
If the Mets were hypothetically in a situation where they nabbed either Gio or Keuchel, it would only make sense to give them as much time as possible to be in the best position to succeed. That would mean having Vargas occupy the fifth rotation spot for a considerable amount of time.
Pro: A Multi-Year Deal Would Help in 2020
As we can all see, the Mets are hoping they’ve opened up their window of contention for, at the very least, the next handful of years. Their biggest perceived strength — the starting rotation — could potentially be going through significant changes in the coming years, though. Here’s a quick list of when each of the current starting five is set to hit free agency:
- DeGrom: 2021 (let’s hope this is settled soon)
- Syndergaard: 2022
- Wheeler: 2020
- Matz: 2022
- Vargas: 2020
New York technically has some wiggle room with deGrom (but not really), Syndergaard, and Matz, but two-thirds of their projected 2019 rotation is set to hit free agency at the conclusion of this season. Gonzalez (33 years old) and Keuchel (31 years old) are both veterans, but it wouldn’t crazy to sign one of them to a two- or three-year deal.
Having that steady veteran presence will be helpful, and it could also help soften the blow if Wheeler, who currently isn’t looking to take a hometown discount, signs elsewhere this winter.
Con: If Signed to a One-Year Deal, How Helpful Is It?
On the other side of this argument, it’s March 7th. Both Gonzalez and Keuchel have likely been looking for multi-year deals since free agency opened, and nothing has come to fruition. If they really want to pitch as early as possible this year, it may be best to just take a one-year contract and hope for the best.
If the Mets were to sign one of these hurlers just for 2019 and have them take their time ramping up, how much of a difference will they truly make on the field? That’s certainly up for debate, as their past track records could suggest that having them for part of a year is better than dealing with a full year of Vargas in the rotation. Or, if a pitcher gets injured and is forced to miss a significant period of time, the Mets don’t have to immediately dip into their minor-league depth.
All in all, there may not be as many negatives of signing another starting pitcher as there is positives, but there are different a number of things to think about here. It doesn’t seem like the Mets will make another signing at this point, but you never know. If they do, it’ll be important to temper any expectations given the time of year, though.