As the MLBPA and owners slowly inch toward a new CBA for the 2022 season and beyond, perhaps we can now start dreaming about the electric free agency rush we are certain to see once the lockout ends. This will certainly be an active time for the Mets, though just how eventful remains to be seen. In early December, it appeared Max Scherzer was the last major addition, but a more recent Jon Heyman report says otherwise:
Another key question is what aisle will the Mets be shopping in? They were connected to a few pitchers pre-lockout and could use another bat, particularly from the left side of the plate. However, for anyone who watched far too many 2021 Mets games, the clear priority is starting pitching.
To begin with, the Mets 2021 staff was not great. After the loss of Jacob deGrom, the only stabilizing factor was Marcus Stroman, who has since signed with the Cubs. There were certainly occasional bright spots, including Taijuan Walker’s hot start and Tylor Megill’s initial success. However, all five members of the Mets projected staff also have reasons to doubt their 2022 performance. Both deGrom and Carrasco will be coming off of concerning injuries; Walker and Megill seemed to sputter out in September after breaching career-high innings totals; and Scherzer was gassed in the playoffs, though if you ask him it’s actually due to not pitching enough.
On the hitting side of things, the Mets appear to have bought themselves a decent amount of depth. Even if they sustain a few key injuries, daily reps for Jeff McNeil, J.D. Davis, or even an up-and-comer like Mark Vientos are not hard to stomach. On the other hand, if the Mets’ fragile starting rotation sustains even a pair of injuries we’re back to starting Jordan Yamamoto or Trevor Williams, which doesn’t feel like a division-winning recipe. Even in the bullpen, the Mets have retained a number of proven arms, and relief pitchers are notoriously volatile year-to-year anyhow.
Who’s On the Market?
With Eppler and co. certainly looking to add starters, who are the best available options? The top of the market largely signed pre-lockout, with Scherzer, Stroman, Kevin Gausman, and Robbie Ray off the board. However, there are still several solid choices out there.
Kershaw is far and away the best pitcher still available. Despite recent injury problems, he is likely the best pitcher of his generation as well. While the Mets would love to add Kershaw and continue assembling a rotation of Every NL Cy Young Winner, he likely wouldn’t consider it. His market is rumored to be limited to the incumbent Dodgers and his hometown Texas Rangers, with Kershaw not interested in other destinations at this point in his career.
Just below Kershaw is Rodon, also a lefty with similar injury concerns. Rodon proved he had the talent to be a top-tier starter in 2021, but ran out of steam late in the year. He has an electric fastball/slider combination that generated a 2.37 ERA, but over just 132.2 innings. Adding the former White Sox starter would likely give the Mets the league’s best on-paper rotation; on the other hand, he would not do much to mend the rotation’s health concerns.
Yusei Kikuchi and Others
Beyond those two headliners is a lower tier of pitchers, including Kikuchi, Zack Greinke, Michael Pineda, and Tyler Anderson, among others. The Mets were heavily linked to Kikuchi pre-lockout, and figure to re-ignite those discussions once a new CBA is agreed upon. Whether he’s their guy or not, it seems likely the Mets will sign one of this group, adding much-needed depth and stability to the rotation.
With the free-agent starter pool already drained significantly, all remaining options are either significant risks, or don’t move the needle much. With this being the case, the Mets may pivot to the trade market to find their ideal candidate. There are a number of options available, namely the Oakland Athletics’ big three of Chris Bassitt, Sean Manaea, and Frankie Montas, as well as the Reds’ Sonny Gray or Luis Castillo. Manaea may be of particular interest, seeing as the Mets could use a lefty with their top five starters currently all throwing right-handed. In addition, Manaea has just one year remaining on his contract, and with the A’s looking to shed payroll he could be had for relatively little prospect capital compared to the other names listed above.
So what could a potential Manaea trade look like? Despite a fairly weak farm system, the Mets benefit from having a number of movable pieces. For one, J.D. Davis and Dominic Smith are still young and have shown serious offensive potential, but don’t quite have a spot in the 2022 lineup. In addition, well-regarded prospects such as shortstop Ronny Mauricio and third baseman Mark Vientos may be expendable, considering their long-term future with the club may be blocked by the presence of Francisco Lindor and Brett Baty respectively.
Realistically though, Manaea will likely not cost such a high-level prospect. Perhaps the Mets could get a deal done offering Dominic Smith and a top-15 pitching prospect, such as Robert Dominguez or Dominic Hamel. Smith may be of particular interest with Oakland looking to move current 1B Matt Olson. Manaea could add significant upside to the rotation while also providing reliability and a different look from the left side.
Further, if the Mets do opt to trade a major league position player for a pitcher, this could then allow them to spend any remaining cash on another bat. This may open the door for one more big addition like Kris Bryant or Kyle Schwarber.
The Nuclear Option
There is one additional option in all of this, adding both an impact starter and final bat in the same trade. Again, we look to the Oakland A’s, whose third baseman Matt Chapman was rumored to have garnered the Mets’ interest back in November. Chapman boasts an above-average bat, and is easily one of the best defensive players in the game, winning the AL Platinum Glove twice. He posted back-to-back 7.5+ WAR seasons in 2018 and 2019, and even in a down 2021 year still posted 3.5 WAR. Acquiring Chapman may just give the Mets the best defensive infield in the sport.
With the Athletics looking to trade assets and retool for the future, they may be hesitant to move two bigger names in one deal. However, with the lockout continuing to linger, a series of rapid-fire February transactions could pressure them to do so. If the Mets offered a package of Smith, Mauricio, and Davis/Vientos, it would go a long way towards shaping the Athletics’ infield of the future.
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