John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
For all of the promise their starting rotation offers in 2019, the Mets badly need to add depth there as insurance against the inevitable injuries that will occur.
My solution? Sign David Robertson.
Let me explain.
Not only would Robertson make the bullpen stronger, giving the Mets someone who has dominated lefthanded hitters throughout his career, but his presence would free up Seth Lugo to be more available as a starter if needed.
And Lugo is the best option as a sixth starter, if you will, in part because the presence of Jason Vargas complicates matters.
Simply put, the Mets are paying Vargas $8 million for a second straight season, so as poorly as he pitched last season, he'll be the No. 5 starter behind Jacob deGrom, Zack Wheeler, Noah Syndergaard, and Steven Matz.
Which means that even if GM Brodie Van Wagenen is shopping in the free-agent bargain bin for another starter, it's tricky because he can't offer the enticement of earning a spot in the rotation, barring injury.
Yet with so little starting-pitching depth in their own farm system, the Mets need to address the situation in some way.
Consider, for example, a statistic that SNY displayed on the Mets' Hot Stove show Thursday night: In 46 starts made last season by anyone other than deGrom, Wheeler, Syndergaard, and Matz, those starters went 10-18 with a 5.72 ERA.
Vargas made 20 of those starts, but that still left 26 starts to be filled outside the regular rotation, mostly because of injuries, and that was in a season when the Mets' top starters were relatively healthy.
Last season Corey Oswalt showed promise as a capable fill-in, but for a team whose GM is calling the favorite in the NL East, the Mets need more protection.
Lugo is the obvious alternative, but he has also proven to be valuable as a reliever, and even after Van Wagenen has added Edwin Diaz and Jeurys Familia this offseason, Lugo and Robert Gsellman both still loom as important bullpen pieces.
Which brings us back to Robertson, the 33-year-old ex-Yankee.
He's still in demand, in part because his breaking stuff is so good that it has allowed him to pitch at a high level even as he's lost some velocity on his fastball.
Indeed, his curveball largely explains why he held lefthanded hitters to a .188 batting average last season -- a weapon that would lessen the need to add a lefty reliever.
Robertson has let people know he'd prefer to pitch in the Northeast, but the problem is that he's probably going to command a three-year deal for slightly more than the $30 million the Mets committed to Familia.
Still, if the Mets aren't going to spend big on A.J. Pollock to upgrade their center field situation, as Van Wagenen indicated last week, they really should load up and build a monster bullpen.
That would allow them to be more flexible with Lugo, building him up as a potential starter in spring training and using him as a multi-inning reliever to keep him stretched in case of an injury in the rotation.
One way or another, the Mets need to maximize Lugo's usage. In an era in which analytics are telling teams their pitchers should be using their breaking stuff more than ever, Lugo's famously high spin rate on his curveball gives him quite a weapon, especially when complemented with a high-velocity fastball.
When not overused, in fact, Lugo has proven he can be dominant as either a starter or reliever. In five starts last year he went 1-2 with a 3.91 ERA, but as Nelson Figueroa pointed out on Hot Stove, the righthander was pushed to throw more pitches in at least a couple of those starts than he was ready for, after being in the bullpen.
Even in that case, Lugo averaged 10.6 strikeouts per nine innings in his five starts, speaking to his potential dominance.
Ideally, he's a better option as the No. 5 starter than Vargas, but the Mets remain convinced the lefty can be an adequate option -- though obviously his $8 million salary is the primary factor.
For now, though, the Mets also need Lugo in the bullpen. Last year he pitched to an impressive 2.30 ERA in 49 appearances as a reliever, allowing only 57 hits in 78 1/3 innings.
So it's a bit of a dilemma for New York, and if all goes well for the Mets, their rotation is already a strength, even with Vargas at the back end.
Indeed, over the second half of last season Mets' starters went 30-17 with a 2.97 ERA, the lowest in the majors.
But more than ever these days, contenders protect themselves against injury to their starting pitching. So the Mets can sign a fringe starter or two to a minor-league contract and hope for the best, or they can deepen their bullpen to free up Lugo.
If they really want to be considered the favorite in the NL East, then they should act like a team that is all-in on winning in 2019.