The Mets are listening to trade offers on right-hander Carlos Carrasco, reports Joel Sherman of The New York Post. There’s nothing to indicate that a deal is particularly close or that the Mets are actively shopping him, but the fact that they are open to a deal is noteworthy.
The Mets’ rotation has been in a constant state of flux over the past couple of months. Once the 2022 season ended, Max Scherzer was the only member of the group locked in for 2023. Jacob deGrom, Chris Bassitt and Taijuan Walker all reached free agency, while the club had an option on Carrasco’s services. Given all of that uncertainty, it wasn’t shocking that the Mets went for Carrasco’s $14MM option instead of the $3MM buyout. They still had plenty of work to do, but they at least went into the offseason with two rotation spots spoken for instead of just one.
Much has changed since that time, with deGrom, Bassitt and Walker signing with the Rangers, Blue Jays and Phillies, respectively. The Mets gave a qualifying offer to deGrom and Bassitt, meaning they will receive draft picks as compensation. To make up for those departures, the club replaced them by giving Justin Verlander $86.66MM (plus a potential player option), giving Kodai Senga $75MM and José Quintana $26MM.
Despite throwing all that money around to add to their rotation, it appears the club is now willing to consider a subtraction. Per Sherman’s report, trading Carrasco wouldn’t be about the money, which makes sense. The wild spending has shot up to record heights, with Roster Resource putting their payroll at $335MM and their competitive balance tax figure at $350MM. It wouldn’t have been likely that the club would have inflated the payroll to such a degree just to start pinching pennies after the fact. The logic is that the rising price of starting pitching this winter now makes Carrasco an attractive trade piece at a somewhat nominal salary.
Spending on starting pitching has indeed been surpassing expectations. MLBTR predicted deGrom to get $135MM over three years but he got $185MM over five. Jameson Taillon and Walker were each projected for four years at $56MM and $52MM, respectively. They did get four years but Taillon got $68MM and Walker got $72MM. Sean Manaea and Andrew Heaney came in under expectations but they each secured opt-outs that allow them to return to free agency a year from now. Though if they disappoint or get hurt, their signings clubs will be on the hook for a second season.
Carrasco comes with just a one year commitment, as he’s set to reach to reach free agency after 2023. Finding a quality free agent pitcher willing to sign a modest one-year deal is tough to do. Kyle Gibson secured himself a one-year pact with a $10MM salary from the Orioles despite being 35 years old and posting a 5.05 ERA in 2022. Carrasco has a more impressive track record than someone like Gibson and could be appealing to clubs that want to steer clear of the open market.
Carrasco is turning 36 in March but is coming off a strong campaign. He made 29 starts and tossed 152 innings with a 3.97 ERA, 23.6% strikeout rate, 6.4% walk rate and 46% ground ball rate. Most advanced metrics thought he deserved even better, with Carrasco pegged at a 3.53 FIP, 3.45 xFIP and 3.60 SIERA. A .337 batting average on balls in play likely helped push his ERA up a bit. Most teams could fit a pitcher of this quality in their rotation, especially at the back end. Carrasco has some health concerns, as he’s gone to the IL for oblique and hamstring strains in recent seasons and had elbow surgery between 2021 and 2022. Nonetheless, he still proved valuable in 2022 and would certainly garner interest.
For the Mets, the calculus would likely come down to how much they value their depth. With Scherzer, Verlander, Senga and Quintana in the front four, they could rely on pitchers like David Peterson and Tylor Megill to take the final spot while using a trade of Carrasco to bolster another area of the roster. However, doing so would come with risk, given that their rotation is on the older side. Verlander turns 40 in February, Scherzer will be 39 in July, Quintana 34 in January and Carrasco 36 in March. The youngest of the bunch is Senga, who turns 30 in January. However, he will be coming over from Japan, where pitchers typically throw once a week instead of every five days in MLB. It’s unknown how his arm and body will respond to that adjustment.
Every baseball team will deal with rotation injuries throughout a lengthy season, even if it’s primarily built of young hurlers in their prime. This group will certainly have ailments from time to time as the campaign rolls along, meaning the Mets will surely have to rely on guys like Peterson and Megill even if they hang onto Carrasco. Subtracting him from the mix makes it more likely that they will have to reach deeper into their farm at some point.
The Mets still have areas they could upgrade, particularly a bullpen that lost a number of pitchers to free agency. Sherman suggests that the ideal return would actually be a young starter to plug into the farm and help them down the line. Addressing those areas could make sense but it would also deal a blow to the rotation security they have worked so hard to strengthen.