Even when you think you have enough starting pitching, the rigors of a 162-game season often test that to the limit. The obvious key to overcoming that is not just depth, but quality depth. That is an area that the Mets were seriously lacking in 2023, a weakness exposed first by injuries and then at the trade deadline.
By most metrics, Mets starters in 2023 were middle of the pack, led by the fantastic rookie season of Kodai Senga. However, a disastrous season by Carlos Carrasco, and having to rely on David Peterson and Tylor Megill for a combined 46 starts of 4.95 ERA ball dragged down the group.
While reports came out following the Mets’ sell-off that the team was targeting 2025 as the year they are targeting to compete, the organization has not explicitly stated that, but for the sake of argument, let’s assume that is correct.
One move the team could make this offseason with an aim toward 2025 is to sign the recently non-tendered Brandon Woodruff, who was released by the Milwaukee Brewers last Friday. When Healthy, Woodruff has been one of the best starters in baseball since he burst on the scene in 2019. In five full seasons in the majors he is a two-time NL All-Star and finished fifth in the 2021 Cy Young Award voting. Since 2020, he has a 2.76 ERA in 473.1 innings.
The reason why he is available is the huge caveat – Woodruff was limited to just 11 games and 67.0 innings in 2023, and underwent surgery on Oct. 13 to repair the anterior capsule in his right shoulder. He is likely to miss most, if not all, of the 2024 season, and then there are major questions about what Woodruff will be when he comes back.
That makes him the kind of low-risk, high-reward type signings with an eye toward 2025 that the Mets could make this offseason, especially considering his previous connection with David Stearns through the Brewers. Even if he regresses to a back-end of the rotation starter coming back from injury, that is still better than what the team got from Carrasco, Peterson and Megill in 2023. On the high-end, he could re-gain his form as a frontline starter and be an anchor of a contender.
The Mets should propose a two-year deal with Woodruff this offseason – essentially you are paying him for him to rehab from surgery in 2024 in order to secure his services for when he is healthy in 2025. Teams have utilized these types of deals in recent years to varying levels of success, and it is worth exploring for the Mets and Woodruff.
As a team, the club assumes the risk that Woodruff will return from injury and not be the same All-Star he was before, but would reap a ton of benefits if he does return to form. Woodruff gets security of being able to rehab with a team and have a guaranteed deal for 2025, even if it is below normal market value for a player of his caliber. Then if he returns to form, he’ll be able to hit the free agent market and sign a better contract.
The Mets need first and foremost to improve the roster for 2024, but doing a deal like this with Woodruff could be a great way to gear up for future years as well.