The Mets have already been active in the starting pitching market this winter, adding Justin Verlander on a two-year, $86.6MM deal before bringing in Jose Quintana for two-years, $26MM. Yet they’re not stopping there, with Joel Sherman of the New York Post reporting that the team is telling agents at the Winter Meetings they plan to obtain a third starter this off-season. Sherman cites Japanese star Kodai Senga and Ross Stripling as two players the team is interested in, while also exploring other options on the trade and free agent market.
While the Mets have been linked to a number of starting pitchers this winter beyond the two they’ve signed, their reported interest in Stripling is new. He’s a free agent after a strong platform year in Toronto, where he tossed 134 1/3 innings of 3.01 ERA ball. He struck out batters at a below-average 20.7% clip, but limited the walks at an impressive 3.7% rate. He doesn’t throw the ball especially hard, mixing in a low-90s fastball with a slider and changeup, as well as a curveball on occasion.
While Stripling, 32, certainly showed enough to be offered starting roles, he’s spent much of his career with the Dodgers and Blue Jays in a hybrid role between the bullpen and rotation. Indeed, just this season Stripling was only pushed into a full-time starting role by the injury to Hyun Jin Ryu. He did average just five frames per outing, but he was thrust into a starting role from the bullpen and starters are going shorter nowadays anyway. Nonetheless, with a full pre-season to ramp up towards a starters workload, it’s certainly possible Stripling handles a bigger workload next year.
Senga would represent a higher upside, but also vastly more expensive option should the Mets go down that route. MLBTR predicted a two-year, $18MM deal for Stripling, whereas Senga was tabbed to get a five-year, $75MM contract. While owner Steve Cohen has shown a willingness to spend aggressively to build a contender, their recent moves have taken their luxury tax payroll to an estimated $306MM, and as a second-time offender they’ll pay a 90% tax on any salary over the $293MM mark. Put simply, signing someone like Stripling or Senga would, as things stand, mean the Mets have to pay almost double whatever annual salary is written on their contract.
One option would be to consider ways to lower their payroll, and Sherman does mention that the signing of a third starter could motivate the Mets to trade someone like Carlos Carrasco, who has one-year and $14MM remaining. While the idea of adding a pitching only to subtract another might appear counter-intuitive, the Mets would still be well positioned in their rotation with Verlander, Max Scherzer, Quintana, an external addition and probably David Peterson rounding out the five, with Joey Lucchesi, Tylor Megill and Elieser Hernandez providing depth.