As injuries continue to mount on the Mets’ pitching staff — young lefty David Peterson is out up to eight weeks with an oblique strain — acting general manager Zack Scott spoke with reporters about his team’s approach at the trade deadline (links, with video, via MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo and SNY’s Andy Martino). While Scott took a generally open-minded approach, he did acknowledge the opportunity for upgrades in the starting rotation, given the health woes that have plagued the Mets’ staff this year.
“It’s like we’ve gone the reverse of where we were earlier, where we had several position player injuries early,” said Scott. “…I think the same thing could be said, especially for the starting pitchers. There’s uncertainty, so we need to make sure we put our best foot forward there.”
The Mets came to Spring Training with visions of an Opening Day rotation featuring Jacob deGrom, Carlos Carrasco, Marcus Stroman, Taijuan Walker and likely Peterson. In a best-case scenario, rehabbing flamethrower Noah Syndergaard would be back from Tommy John surgery by early summer.
That, of course, hasn’t been the case at all in 2021. Carrasco still hasn’t thrown a pitch thanks to recurring hamstring troubles. The Mets’ current hope is that he’ll return by month’s end, but Carrasco’s timeline has proven to be quite tenuous to this point in the season. Syndergaard, meanwhile, is not expected back until early September. The team’s top depth option, southpaw Joey Lucchesi, will miss the next year-plus due to Tommy John surgery. Right-hander Jordan Yamamoto is on the 60-day IL due to shoulder issues.
Given that context, Scott’s mention of starting pitching upgrades is perfectly sensible. However, Martino reports that the Mets are “reluctant” to move the top-tier talents from their minor league system in trades. That curbs the quality of pitcher the Mets can reasonably hope to acquire. Scott voiced a willingness to acquire rental players, noting that the cost of impending free agents is “most of the time fairly reasonable” due to that lack of club control.
The Mets will surely gauge the price of more controllable arms, but if they’re indeed reluctant to part with their very best prospects, such names will be difficult to obtain. For instance, the New York Post’s Ken Davidoff writes that the Mets have at least gauged the Twins’ asking price on right-hander Jose Berrios but consider it to be “sky-high.” The Mets have also been linked to Minnesota’s Josh Donaldson, so it’s only natural that they’d also see where things stand with Berrios. (Some fans will inevitably speculate about eating the Donaldson contract to get Berrios at a lower prospect cost, but there’d be little sense in the Twins tanking the value of their most appealing trade asset and instead leveraging him to dump the salary of a veteran who is performing quite well.)
A Berrios-caliber arm may be tough for the Mets to line up given their apparent reluctance to deal from the top of the farm, but Scott noted that the brilliant performance of his team’s top three starters also means he doesn’t need to prioritize a top-of-the-rotation arm. “It could be just someone that helps us stabilize things until we get healthier,” he said of a potential rotation acquisition.
Given the performances of deGrom, Stroman and Walker to this point in the season, it’s only natural that the Mets don’t feel pressured to pursue another high-caliber starter. They’ll surely keep themselves informed of the market for such arms. But with deGrom looking once again like the runaway Cy Young favorite and both Stroman (2.59 ERA, 3.64 FIP) and Walker (2.44 ERA, 3.05 FIP) both thriving, there’s an argument that a steady fourth starter — even a rental — is the most logical piece to prioritize for now. Speculatively speaking, available rentals in that mold would include the Twins’ Michael Pineda, the Rockies’ Jon Gray or the Pirates’ Tyler Anderson. D-backs righty Merrill Kelly also fits that general description, and he has an affordable club option for the 2022 campaign as well.