5 free agent starting pitchers Mets should have high on their wish list during 2022-23 offseason

Kodai Senga Justin Verlander Mets treated art November 2022
Kodai Senga Justin Verlander Mets treated art November 2022

With the exception of Max Scherzer, literally everything surrounding the Mets' starting rotation for 2023 is in flux.

Let's start with the smaller matters first, with no disrespect intended to the important and valuable pitchers who will be listed before the best pitcher in baseball.

Taijuan Walker is set to decline his player option and become a free agent, and the Mets hold a $14 million team option on Carlos Carrasco.

There's also Chris Bassitt, who -- like Walker -- will be declining his option and hitting the free agent market.

Then there's the big fish, Jacob deGrom, who will be opting out of the final two years of his contract.

What happens with deGrom will not only paint how the Mets proceed when it comes to rebuilding their rotation, but how their overall offseason -- one that could be the most compelling in the history of the franchise -- will play out.

With all of that as the backdrop, here are five external free agent starting pitchers the Mets should have high on their wish list...

JUSTIN VERLANDER

Yes, Verlander will turn 40 years old next February, right around the time pitchers will report to spring training. But age hasn't caught up to him yet.

Oct 19, 2022; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Astros starting pitcher Justin Verlander (35) reacts after striking out Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve (not pictured) to end the sixth inning in game one of the ALCS for the 2022 MLB Playoffs at Minute Maid Park.
Oct 19, 2022; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Astros starting pitcher Justin Verlander (35) reacts after striking out Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve (not pictured) to end the sixth inning in game one of the ALCS for the 2022 MLB Playoffs at Minute Maid Park.

In his first season back from Tommy John surgery, Verlander was absolutely masterful for the Houston Astros during the 2022 regular season while leading the league in ERA (1.75), WHIP (0.829), ERA+ (220), and hits allowed per nine (6.0). He will win the AL Cy Young award for his efforts.

Verlander struggled a bit to start the postseason, but turned in a gutsy performance in Houston's Game 5 victory over the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, firing 5.0 innings of one-run ball while at times dialing up his fastball to the high 90s.

The Mets will likely only be a fit for Verlander if deGrom leaves, and it's fair to wonder whether Verlander is open to leaving Houston. But if he is and deGrom is gone, the Mets should pounce since he can very likely be had on a deal for just one or two years at a very high average annual value.

CARLOS RODON

Similar to Verlander's performance for the Astros, Rodon was a dominant force this season for the San Francisco Giants.

While tossing a career-high 178 innings, the 29-year old had a 2.88 ERA (2.25 FIP) and 1.02 WHIP while striking out 12 batters per nine -- best among qualified starters.

San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Carlos Rodon (16) throws a pitch against the Chicago Cubs during the fourth inning at Oracle Park.
San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Carlos Rodon (16) throws a pitch against the Chicago Cubs during the fourth inning at Oracle Park.

The issues with Rodon are two-fold, though. The first is health, with him dealing with a shoulder issue as recently as 2021. The second is performance, with Rodon twirling back-to-back terrific seasons in 2021 and 2022 after being mediocre for the first six years of his career.

The team that gambles on Rodon will be betting he can stay healthy and maintain his ace-level performance. Can he?

KODAI SENGA

Senga, who will turn 30 in January, has been a star in Japan since 2012, when he broke into Western League as a 19-year-old.

In 11 seasons pitching in the NPB, Senga has a 2.42 ERA and 1.09 WHIP, and has averaged 10.0 strikeouts per nine over 1,340.2 innings. In 2022, Senga had a 2.25 ERA and 1.04 WHIP with 159 strikeouts in 148 innings. He missed a few starts due to elbow tightness and also missed time due to COVID.

As far as Senga's arsenal, he has a fastball that sits around 96 mph and grades out as average, along with a plus cutter and slider, and a plus-plus splitter, via a scouting report from Jim Allen.

In a free agent market filled with lots of question marks, Senga isn't a sure thing. But he's entering his age-30 season, has legit stuff, and should at least be explored by a Mets team that will be in need of multiple rotation reinforcements.

MIKE CLEVINGER

Clevinger, who is about to turn 32, is a bit of a wild card.

After being one of the best pitchers in baseball from 2017 to 2020, when he posted a 2.96 ERA (3.39 FIP) and 1.15 WHIP while striking out a shade over 10 per nine, Clevinger struggled for the San Diego Padres in 2022 in what was his first season back from Tommy John surgery.

Mike Clevinger
Mike Clevinger

In 114.1 innings, Clevinger had a 4.33 ERA (4.98 FIP) and 1.19 WHIP while striking out a career-low 7.2 batters per nine as his fastball was about two mph below where it sat in 2019 and 2020.

If can often takes pitchers until their second year back after Tommy John to round into form, so perhaps that's the case with Clevinger.

ANDREW HEANEY

There are questions about Heaney's ability to replicate what he did in 2022 after posting a 5.83 ERA in 2021 and having a 4.72 ERA over the first eight seasons of his career.

But unlike Rodon, Heaney should not be too expensive, making a gamble on him perhaps a lot easier to swallow.

And if the Mets believe Heaney unlocked something in 2022 with the Los Angeles Dodgers that they can help him replicate -- he had a 3.10 ERA and 1.08 WHIP while striking out 13.6 batters per nine in 72.2 innings over 16 appearances (14 starts) -- he could be an interesting fit.

But another concern with Heaney is that he's only pitched more than 130 innings once in his career, and he became less effective as the 2022 season went on, with a 4.85 ERA over his last six games spanning 26.0 innings.