The Mets have begun the offseason in a bit of a bind in their rotation. On one hand, they have a 1-4 most teams would gladly sign up for in Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Marcus Stroman and Steven Matz. On the other, they’re facing the loss of Zack Wheeler – undoubtedly one of the best free agents available – and find themselves lacking answers at the back of their starting staff.
Considering the Mets play in a massive market, they should theoretically have the money to re-sign Wheeler and/or acquire some other pricey starter. But the Mets don’t behave like a team with a near-endless supply of money, and as MLBTR’s Jeff Todd explained a couple weeks ago, paying for improvements looks as if it will be a challenge for the club this offseason. The Mets have never started a season with a $160MM-plus payroll, yet they already appear to be above that figure right now without having made a single offseason improvement. Barring a significant spike in payroll, then, it’s doubtful the Mets will be serious players for Wheeler or any other starters who are remotely close to the top of the market.
Thanks in part to their payroll problems, the Mets seem to be making in-house contingency plans for the back of their starting staff. When introducing new manager Carlos Beltran on Monday, GM Brodie Van Wagenen told reporters including Tim Britton of The Athletic (subscription link) that the Mets are considering deploying Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo as starters in 2020. The two “are preparing this offseason with the expectations that they may well enter the rotation,” according to Van Wagenen.
Gsellman and Lugo were starters as prospects who frequented the Mets’ rotation a few years back, but they’ve settled into relief roles in recent years. Still just 26 years old, Gsellman thrived as a starter during a brief debut in 2016, but his bubble burst the next season. Since then, all 120 of Gsellman’s appearances have come as a reliever. He amassed 63 2/3 innings over 52 appearances this year and logged a 4.66 ERA/4.13 FIP with 8.48 K/9 and 3.25 BB/9. Those aren’t great numbers, though Gsellman did average a career-high 95.4 mph on his fastball and 90.6 mph on his slider. He also ranked near the top of the majors in curveball spin (83rd percentile), hard-hit rate against (88th percentile) and average exit velocity against (85.3 mph; 96th percentile), among other Statcast metrics.
Gsellman’s more traditional production hasn’t been dominant, whereas Lugo has been lights-out since moving to the bullpen on essentially a full-time basis in 2018. The soon-to-be 30-year-old pitched to a matching 2.70 ERA/FIP with outstanding strikeout and walk rates (11.7 K/9, 1.8 BB/9) in 61 appearances and 80 innings this season. Like Gsellman, Lugo’s fastball (94.4 mph) and slider (88.1 mph) clocked in at personal highs, and he was another Statcast favorite. Amazingly, Lugo’s curve spin ranked in the game’s 100th percentile, while his expected weighted on-base average against (.234, compared to a real .237 wOBA against) placed in the 99th percentile.
To varying extents, Gsellman and Lugo have clearly been assets for New York’s bullpen. Whether that would carry into the team’s starting five if necessary remains to be seen. However, moving one or both into the rotation may just create another hole for the club. The Mets’ bullpen, after all, was a consistent issue throughout this year and looks like an area they’ll somehow have to address as a result. That already looks as if it will be difficult when considering what seems like a lack of financial wiggle room for the team, and that’s with Gsellman and Lugo penciled in to remain part of the late-game setup.
The Mets are in a good spot with deGrom, Syndergaard, Stroman and Matz, though there’s little in the way of solutions or depth otherwise. That helps explain why Van Wagenen claimed lefty Stephen Gonsalves, a former top 100 prospect, from the Twins on Monday. Gonsalves could end up as one of at least a few low-cost hurlers the Mets pick up this offseason as they look for back-of-the-rotation help. But if no one they bring in pans out, perhaps Gsellman or Lugo will slot back into a starting role.