Most of the top free agent hitters have inked deals for 2014 and beyond but the same cannot be said for the top free agent pitchers. Seemingly, everyone is waiting to see where Masahiro Tanaka lands – and for how much – before the other top hurlers make their deals. Ervin Santana, Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez, A.J. Burnett, Bronson Arroyo and Paul Maholm are still available.
The glut of SP on the top half of the market makes things tough for those at the bottom half. There are a bunch of guys who are questionable if they will get a guaranteed deal or if they will end up with a minor league contract and an invitation to Spring Training. Two guys likely to be had on NRIs are ones who pitched last year for the Mets – Aaron Harang and Daisuke Matsuzaka.
Both players had brief moments of good pitching for the Mets last year. After failing miserably with Seattle in the beginning of the year, it looked like Harang’s career was over. But he came to the Mets and threw three Quality Starts in four outings and posted a 3.52 ERA in 23 IP. If Harang still has the desire to pitch, and is willing to go to the minors to prove it, those numbers should earn him an NRI from some club.
Matsuzaka made more appearances for the Mets. He looked absolutely horrible in his first three starts but in his final four appearances, he looked terrific. In those four games he posted the following line:
26.1 IP, 1.37 ERA, 0.835 WHIP, 2.3 K/BB, .461 OPS
In his last start of the season, Matsuzaka pitched 7.2 scoreless innings against the Reds and allowed just four hits and struck out six batters. It certainly looked like it took a few outings for Matsuzaka to find his sea legs but that he proved he could still be successful in the majors.
Now, you may be saying – It’s a small sample, so what difference does it make? Well, Edinson Volquez hasn’t had four games like that since 2008 and last year he put up a 5.71 ERA yet he got $5 million guaranteed from the Pirates. If you had to gamble on a pitcher, would you really take Volquez over Matsuzaka? Would you pay 10 times more for the privilege? It seems backwards to me.
My preference is for Jenrry Mejia to be the Mets’ fifth starter this year. If an opening arises in the starting rotation, there are a bunch of guys in the farm system that deserve to get a shot. But we all know that the Mets are going to sign a veteran pitcher to an NRI – so why not Matsuzaka? Sure, he rivals Steve Trachsel in terms of being a frustrating guy to watch. But he showed that he still could get major league hitters out last September. And that’s what’s important with a veteran signed for rotation depth.
Perhaps Matsuzaka is unwilling to sign a minor league deal. If that’s the case then there should be no problem with the Mets moving on to the next guy on the list. But there are going to be warts on whichever veteran the Mets bring in for depth. A wart for Matsuzaka is that he’s a chore to watch work on the mound. But he’s healthy and has an established level of performance (4.52 ERA, 4.57 xFIP) that makes him a quality depth guy.