Starting pitcher health the key to Mets’ 2017-18 offseason

While everyone’s attention is on the GM Meetings, mine are focused more on an internal issue. While important groundwork is laid during these meetings, typically very little is consummated right now. Which is why my mind is centered on the walking wounded. One of the problems with the offseason is that we don’t get updates on how injured players are progressing. And when seemingly half of your team finished the season on the DL, that’s a pretty big issue.

It’s been apparent that the Mets can’t really move forward with their offseason plan without some idea of how Matt Harvey, Seth Lugo, Steven Matz, Noah Syndergaard and Zack Wheeler are doing and where they expect to be, health-wise, at the start of the season. Surely, Sandy Alderson has a much better idea than anyone else. It just makes it much more difficult for the armchair GMs out there.

What little we’ve heard about Harvey seems to come from new manager Mickey Callaway, who seemingly has no illusions about a return to 2013 or 2015 form for the former ace. Instead, Callaway wants Harvey to be the best his body will allow him to be in 2018. That’s either an extremely pragmatic or extremely depressing point of view. Perhaps it’s both things at once. Either way, hopefully Scott Boras will come out with a 25-page book detailing Harvey’s offseason workout in an effort to build up his trade value. Not because of a preference to see Harvey traded but rather so we know what’s going on with him.

Lugo pitched last year with a partial tear in his elbow and also missed two starts due to a minor shoulder injury. Because of his elbow issues, the Mets decided he would be better off working as a starting pitcher, with the more established work/recovery patterns. But all things considered, it’s likely the Mets would prefer to use Lugo out of the pen. Will he be recovered enough this year to be a reliever? While he may have the lowest ceiling of the five pitchers mentioned in the second graph, his health might be the biggest factor in how the team’s offseason plans unfold.

Few were surprised that Matz was injured again last season. But there’s more, for lack of a better word, optimism around this particular issue than the ones he’s suffered previously. That’s because Matz had the same injury and surgery in late 2017 that Jacob deGrom had in late 2016. And deGrom was easily the Mets’ best pitcher last year. Can Matz make the same recovery that deGrom did? That might be the default stance if it was another pitcher. But given Matz’ history, it seems that most people are just waiting for the next injury to happen.

Syndergaard was so good in 2016 and the club was expecting more of the same last season. Instead he came down with a lat injury that cost him most of the year. The good news is that Syndergaard came back and made two Spring Training-like appearances for the Mets at the end of the season. The reasonable projection would be for Syndergaard to be the healthiest of our quintet. And since he’s the best pitcher of the group right now, that’s indeed good news. But since it seems like we’re not allowed to have good things, you’ll forgive those of us who are still nervous about his health.

Wheeler was shut down with a stress reaction in his pitching arm. It was originally thought he would return in 2017 but after throwing off flat ground in mid-August, his rehab was terminated. While his injury history isn’t as lengthy as Matz’, Wheeler seems to be doing his best to catch up to the lefty in that regard. We saw a glimpse of what a healthy Wheeler could be last year, as in a 10-start stretch he had a 2.91 ERA and a 1.227 WHIP. Getting that over 30 starts would be wonderful. But does anyone have any idea if Wheeler can actually give the club that?

Last year the plan seemed to be for the Mets to have three healthy pitchers all year long and rotate four guys through the remaining two spots depending on who was off the DL at the time. Of course the plan was doomed from the start, as Lugo and Matz both failed to make the Opening Day roster due to injury and they were soon joined by nearly everyone else. Only deGrom and Robert Gsellman were healthy all season and Gsellman was ineffective and sent to the minors.

Can the Mets make the same sort of gamble this time around? With Rafael Montero (18 starts last year) and Chris Flexen (9 starts) being more of an option that they were this time last year, the Mets would appear to have six pitchers to rotate through two spots, assuming three could remain healthy. But it seems unlikely that Alderson would go down that path again.

So the offseason direction might hinge on which pitcher(s) the front office feels the most confident about being healthy in 2018. The most likely outcome would have the team chasing a mid-rotation guy, leaving money for a half decent offensive addition, too. Maybe a Lance LynnNeil Walker combo or something similar. Recall that the Mets were open to a multi-year deal with Walker last offseason but – presumably due to pressure from the MLBPA – they couldn’t come to terms. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Walker back in Queens next year.

My preference would be to aim higher, either Jake Arrieta or J.D. Martinez, with Arrieta being the clear top choice due to Martinez’ defensive issues. Sure, that means other spots would have to be filled with current options or bargain basement free agents. Some people would rather spread the risk around and import upgrades at several positions. That’s certainly a defensible position.

But the Mets are playing a high-risk, high-reward type of game, trying to remain a playoff contender with an injury-filled roster. My opinion is that a high impact player fits better with what’s already on the team. Yet my expectation is that Alderson doesn’t view the team this way and will instead look to spread the risk around with multiple additions.

21 comments for “Starting pitcher health the key to Mets’ 2017-18 offseason

  1. Eraff
    November 15, 2017 at 11:08 am

    I’d like your take on arrieta, a guy who’e results waned versus the prior 3 outlandishly good years. His WHIP is up, but the K and BB rates are steady—he pitched “only” 150 innings,

    His last 12 games were much better than the first 18.

    In general, I love the guy, but adding a top shelf SP is scary business on $$$ and length. I also don’t see adding a finishing piece to what I see as a questionable collection. Too many other missing and unknown parts for an addition of this type.

    • November 15, 2017 at 11:40 am

      Yes, sure. If Arrieta says he expects 7/$210 then that’s out of the question. Alderson has seemingly drawn a line in the sand where he won’t give another team’s free agent a $100 million deal. I’m not sure if this would be necessary for Arrieta – my guess is yes – but I don’t think they should be afraid of the nine-digit boogeyman.

      Could a 6/$114 pillow contract work? Paying him 15-21-21-21-21-15 or something like that. Or maybe more backloaded to try to pay more once Wright’s contract decreases/disappears? It seems if there was a will there could be a way. I just don’t expect the will.

      • Name
        November 15, 2017 at 9:17 pm

        There were only 32 pitchers in baseball aged 35 or older.
        Of those 32 only 10 made any starts, with 2 of the 10 making less than 6 starts.

        They were:
        Colon 6.48 ERA
        Dickey, 4.26 ERA
        Arroyo : 7.35 ERA
        Lackey : 4.59 ERA
        Hill: 3.32 ERA
        Sabathia: 3.69 ERA
        Wainwright: 5.11 ERA
        Shields: 5.23 ERA

        Of the 8, 1 was a knuckleballer, 2 were utterly horrible, 2 were very ineffective, 1 was relatively average, and 2 were useful but averaged under 5.5 IP per start.

        Arrieta is playing his next season at 32. A 6 year contract would mean half of his starts would be at age 35+. I can understand padding an extra year to lure a FA, but 3 years of most likely dead weight? Hell no.

        The right move is 3 years for Arrieta, although in the real world someone is probably going to give him 5.

        • November 15, 2017 at 11:39 pm

          And if we go back to 2016 we find a dozen starting pitchers 35 and older who threw at least 50 IP, nine of whom topped 100 IP and six of whom bettered the NL average of a 4.26 ERA. And the 2015 results are similar.

          From 2010 to 2016, there were 31 SP who’ve topped 2.5 fWAR at age 35 or better. And another 14 who were between 2.0 and 2.4. That’s a seven-year stretch where there were 6-7 guys per year who were still solid or better pitchers at this age. This past year was an aberration.

          Is Arrieta the guy who ends up being the successful pitcher at 35 and later? Don’t know – all I can say is I wouldn’t rule it out. I like how he seemingly righted the ship the final three months of the year.

          You never want to give out a longer contract to a pitcher than you have to, regardless of what age he is. Certainly I would be beyond shocked if Alderson went six years with a pitcher that had never played with the Mets before.

          • MattyMets
            November 19, 2017 at 8:14 am

            Brian always does his homework. I had a feeling this past year was an outlier in that regard. Nolan Ryan’s are rare but there are usually plenty of sturdy pitchers over 35. I feel more comfortable with older pitchers than every day players.

  2. Metsense
    November 15, 2017 at 1:29 pm

    This is a very well thought out article that fairly presents the situation. Nice work.
    The Mets 2017 failure can be directly attributed to their pitching and an upgrade is needed. It would be a foolish mistake to rely on better health. The preference for me would be a shorter four year contract for a Lynn or Roth to solve the problem.
    Harvey concerns me. The consensus of the front office is that there is a strong possibility that Harvey will not a dominating pitcher in 2018 but a respectable pitcher. Eventually Harvey will get it together and be a major league rotation piece. The Mets should not wait for that to happen. Harvey should not be taking 2018 rotation starts to “find himself” so that when he does he can leave the Mets as a free agent in 2019. The Mets are not a training ground. Instead, make the best possible trade this winter and move on.
    Alderson plays everything close to the chest. He did a great job in the summer of 15 but should have reaped better rewards for the fire sale in 17. Your conclusion about Alderson spreading the risk seems right.

    • November 15, 2017 at 2:52 pm

      Thanks to you and Chris and John for the kind words.

      Forgive my ignorance but who is Roth?

      • Metsense
        November 15, 2017 at 3:02 pm

        I meant Alex Cobb, Roth is a type of IRA

    • MattyMets
      November 19, 2017 at 8:24 am

      As any loyal Mets 360 contributor knows, I’ve always been a huge Matt Harvey fan and I’ve desperately clung to the notion that he was meant to be the next Tom Seaver. I’ve thrown in the towel and I now completely agree with what Metsense points out here.

      What do we hope to gain by starting the season with him in the rotation? If he gets hurt again we’re stuck paying him an arb3 salary for the year. If he stinks we’re stuck with him clogging the roster after he loses 5 -10 games for us. And if he’s good, we trade him at midseason or lose him for nothing after. If he truly has no long term future in Queens than we may as well trade him now and bid adieu to the drama and risk that comes along with him. Even if we get little in return, we’ll shave $6mm or so off the payroll and open the door to more certainty in the rotation.

  3. Chris F
    November 15, 2017 at 1:31 pm

    Great article Brian. I think you have really touched on the pitching situation in a big way. I completely agree with your Arrieta plan. Im less enamored with JD Martinez, especially after hearing that Boras is projecting 7/210 for him. Lets say you knock it down to 5/150, do we want a guy for 30M$ that will be a DH for the end of the contract? I think he ends up in an AL uniform if they settle on >5 years.

    I also read the below article by Harper from the NYDN who interviewed Callaway the other day. It is so compelling because it deals with pitcher health, so I include the link. One can immediately see the Callaway/Eiland regime will look quite different from Collins/Warthen. And if this comes out, the team will be better. A couple things struck me:

    Players in Cleveland had to offer urine to the team daily to check for hydration. If they were not sufficiently hydrated, then they were not allowed on the field. *w-o-w*

    Also, pitchers need to train for a rough season, that he compared to a marathoner…you have to learn to run in pain and push through. Just going soft on training will never get through a long season, and likely head toward injury. They had all pitchers wear a “Motus sleeve”, which tracks arm forces on every throw, including warm up, only to find out long toss put the most stress on the elbow becuase its 100% arm action…they had their pitchers take every time they threw a ball dead serious as if it were in a game. *w-o-w*

    • November 15, 2017 at 2:49 pm

      I read that article earlier today when someone linked it on FB. I, too, was struck by the urine thing, even if my first thought was that it couldn’t possibly be legal to do that.

      My other thought was that in the article, Callaway talked about the pitchers going longer. Just wondering how that jived with Alderson’s proclamation a few days earlier that they would look to remove guys other than Noah and Jake after five innings.

      • Chris F
        November 15, 2017 at 3:07 pm

        I think it sounds like there will be a default plan for eveyone not named Noah or Jake, but wont be surprised to see otherwise.

        I also think we are now at a point where pitch counts v IP matters more, a thing I have advocated for for some time. Someone at 75 pitches through 5, mowing down batters will never com out. However, we saw a lot of 90 through 5 and fading. I cant help but wonder if building the strength and pushing through will help the whole staff overall. So far, from the words weve seen from Callahan, it makes a lot of sense.

  4. John Fox
    November 15, 2017 at 2:11 pm

    Well-done article. Another reason to be optimistic about Thor is that he has pledged to not do the kind of muscle bulking workouts he did last off-season, and to include a lot more stretching excercises this time

  5. Steve S.
    November 15, 2017 at 2:37 pm

    Sign Bruce to play RF ($14 million/year for 3 years), until Conforto comes back, and Bruce can play 1B, as well. Give Lagares and Nimmo a chance in CF.

    Sign Lynn ($15 million/year for 3 years) to bolster the rotation, “counting” on Syndergaard, deGrom, and Matz or Wheeler to be OK. Lugo, Gsellman, and Harvey are around, too, as needed.

    Sign Reed ($8 million/year for 3 years) for the bullpen, along with Joe Smith ($3 million/year for 2 years) and McGee ($5 million/year for 3 years).

    That’s $45 million for free agents, which the Mets should be able to “afford,” with all the money they have coming in.

    Flores can play some 1B and 2B, along with Rivera and Phillip Evans.

    • TJ
      November 15, 2017 at 6:12 pm

      That’s a great haul but with all due respect your bullpen salaries appear to be grossly underestimated, especially Smith and McGee, who will be paid way more AAV.

      • Steve S.
        November 17, 2017 at 8:36 am

        Not “grossly,” but maybe ($5 million/year for 2 years) for Joe Smith.

  6. Joe F
    November 16, 2017 at 10:45 am

    Don’t know why a team would feel it important to update “armchair GMs” on player injuries. For starters, we are taking about players health here, so there are always privacy concerns and many of the injured players are still rehabbing, so their future is still unknown and no team wants to come out with a too soon statement that could end up being contradicted later and then be excoriated by its fans for bad information

    • November 16, 2017 at 11:36 am

      The team never feels it’s important.

      During the season, the media sees club officials every day and ask these questions. It simply doesn’t happen much in the offseason.

  7. TexasGusCC
    November 16, 2017 at 10:52 am

    I, too, want to appreciate the article’s completeness in reviewing the Mets’ pitching position, and will read Harper’s article later today.

    Too often the Mets give up on players without giving them a proper chance. Then, they pick the Mike Baxters and Ruben Tejadas to never bench. The previous regime seemed to be partial to long-term mediocrity. How can we pass proper judgment on Dom Smith after a month and a half? Had he hit .330/.410/.570, we will hear “small sample size”, but because he did the opposite, we can’t enforce that concept?

    The Mets have options at first base, but their biggest need is a strong second baseman. The outfield is fine and of good caliber. There’s defense, hitting and athleticism. The infield is the problem, especially after signing a lesser third baseman to add to a rookie shortstop. If a Kinsler or Dozier is brought in, the team will have more balance and veteran presence in the infield. A Gordon is nice also, but is a different type of player. That can be weighed also. After all these changes settle, two months into the season, we can re-evaluate Smith.

    For seven years, we have not had a manager that can actually “manage” a roster. Meaning, when a player is struggling, more rest. [Or, how about even “rest” to begin with?] When a player is going well, more aggressiveness. Quite possibly, a different approach can help all players have a less stressed and fruitful experience, for a change.

    • November 16, 2017 at 11:39 am

      Thanks Gus.

      Right now, I’m fine with whatever the Mets do with Smith. I don’t believe it would be awful if he started the year in the majors and I’m okay if he’s in Triple-A. And if he’s part of a package deal to bring in a quality MLB player, that’s fine, too.

  8. Eraff
    November 16, 2017 at 10:04 pm

    A 2b with a decent bat would be helpful. It Provides for Wilmer to remain as a Rover/1b, providing some cover for a Smith fail.

    I don’t believe the Mets saw enough of Smith that they would plan to start him, if they believe they’re going to contend….especially with another rookie on the infield. Otherwise, throw him in the deep end and see how he does.

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