According to The Athletic, the Mets continue to check in on the market for closer Craig Kimbrel and starter Dallas Keuchel, which I'm sure is true. However, team sources Sunday were quick to leak to several reporters that Rosenthal's report is a bit overstated and that the team is simply doing standard due diligence.
I have no doubt that Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen is always in touch with other teams and agents, keeping an open mind to any way his team can improve. So, the above report and response shouldn't be surprising because, 1) the Mets have available money in their 2019 budget, 2) they remain $30-40 million under the luxury tax threshold, and 3) both players would significantly improve Van Wagenen's roster.
The thing is, if given the green light and forced to choose, should Van Wagenen go Keuchel or Kimbrel?
To date, and since the end of last season, every team in the NL East (including the Marlins) has reportedly shown at least some level of interest in Kimbrel, though all five teams were said to only be willing to give a short-term deal. The Rays, Padres, Brewers and multiple other teams have reportedly shown interest in him as well.
Kimbrel, 30, had been seeking a nine-figure, six-year contract, which he is obviously not going to get at this point. This is why multiple insiders expect him to take a short-term deal allowing him to opt out after this season when he'll have very little competition on the open market.
In 62.1 innings during 2018, he had a 2.74 ERA (3.13 FIP), 0.99 WHIP and 96 strikeouts, though he walked eight batters and allowed seven runs in 10.2 innings during the postseason.
The idea of Kimbrel joining Justin Wilson, Seth Lugo, Robert Gsellman, Jeurys Familia and Edwin Diaz is worth considering because they would be - without question - the best bullpen in the National League. It would also mean Kimbrel NOT going to the Braves, Phillies or Nationals.
The thing is, even if the Mets were to outbid the competition with a lucrative short-term deal, I bet Kimbrel would take slightly less to join a team that would let him accumulate more saves and pitch in more high-leverage innings than he would get with the Mets - given the presence of Familia and Diaz. If Kimbrel's goal is to take one year and hit the free-agent market again next season, pitching for the Mets is not very smart.
Regardless, I'd prefer Van Wagenen make a push for Keuchel, who would cost New York a draft pick because he rejected Houston's $17.9 million qualifying offer after the 2018 season.
Kimbrel, a seven-time All-Star who won a World Series with the Red Sox, would be the better move on paper, but even the best relievers are so hit or miss that I'd rather see Brodie's remaining budget go to reinforcing the rotation, which is the backbone of his roster.
Keuchel, 31, won the AL Cy Young Award in 2015 after going 20-8 with a 2.48 ERA in 33 starts. In 204.2 innings and an American League-best 34 starts in 2018, he was 12-11 with a 3.74 ERA (3.69 FIP) and a 1.31 WHIP.
The way it stands, Corey Oswalt is expected to be Van Wagenen's first choice to be called up in the event Callaway is in need of a sixth starting pitcher. After Oswalt, the Mets would be forced to choose from Hector Santiago, Chris Flexen and others or weaken the bullpen to use Seth Lugo or Robert Gsellman.
On the other hand, Keuchel would give the Mets another left-handed pitcher and likely push Jason Vargas to a long-man, spot starter role, thus bumping Oswalt down in line. Callaway could also consider shifting to a six-man or one-on, one-off style rotation through most of the season, which is something he mentioned doing last year.
Frankly, if Keuchel is smart, he'd wait to see how Vargas does in his season debut Tuesday against the Marlins. Vargas had a terrific end to his 2018 and continued to look strong during Spring Training. If he pitches well to begin 2019, Van Wagenen and Callaway may be more inclined to trust he will continue what he started late last summer. If Vargas gets rocked, though, who knows, maybe Van Wagenen will give Keuchel's agent, Scott Boras, a call to do more than just 'check in.'
The Phillies, Nationals, Brewers and Padres had all been linked to Keuchel at some point during the offseason. However, from what I've heard, while the Phillies remain interested in giving him a short-term deal, the Nationals are unlikely to sign him because he'd essentially cost them $50 million in 2019 due to the luxury tax. And, while the Braves certainly need him, they too are an unlikely destination because signing him will cost a second-round draft pick, which they can't afford to do.
In the end, I expect Keuchel to eventually return to the Astros. My hunch is these recent rumors about the Mets and other teams are a last-ditch effort by his agent to squeak as much out of Houston as possible before going home instead of taking a similar deal from the Phillies.
Matthew Cerrone (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Contact) is lead writer of MetsBlog.com, which he created in 2003. He also hosts the MetsBlog Podcast, which you can subscribe to here. His new book, The New York Mets Fans' Bucket List, details 44 things every Mets fan should experience during their lifetime. To check it out, click here!