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As the Mets' season has spiraled, the continued lack of consistent offensive production has been largely to blame, but the regression of the starting rotation has also been a big issue.
Without Jacob deGrom -- who hasn't pitched at all since the All-Star break and threw on Aug. 25 for the first time since July -- Marcus Stroman has continued to be a rotation anchor. But Carlos Carrasco has struggled since returning from a hamstring injury that took him roughly four months to recover from, Taijuan Walker went through a rough stretch before righting the ship, Rich Hill has an ERA around 5.00, and Tylor Megill has struggled lately after taking the league by storm.
Meanwhile, Noah Syndergaard is nearing a return from Tommy John surgery that cost him the entire 2020 season and all of 2021 to this point, but he will likely be used out of the bullpen when he's activated.
While the offense has been the undoing for the 2021 Mets, the failure of the rotation in the second half has been a key accomplice.
And the starting pitching situation looking toward the 2022 season is murky at best.
As things currently stand -- with Stroman and Syndergaard headed to free agency -- the Mets have deGrom (if he's healthy), Carrasco, Walker, Megill, and David Peterson as rotation options in 2022. But how many of those guys can be relied on?
It would be nice for the Mets to be able to depend on Carrasco as someone who can pitch near the top of the rotation next season, but his results so far this year -- an 8.82 ERA and 1.65 WHIP in 16.1 IP over five starts -- are a cause for concern.
Can Carrasco right the ship before the season ends and give the Mets some hope? His track record suggests he can and will, but it remains to be seen. And he'll be entering his age-35 season in 2022.
Walker, who hit a rough patch earlier in the second half that might have been partly due to his increased workload this season, has looked much more like his dominant first-half self lately. So there should be optimism that he can be a strong contributor next season.
Hill will almost certainly be gone as a free agent.
That leaves Megill as perhaps the X-factor at the moment. It's very likely he'll fall right in the middle of the guy who had a 1.04 ERA in July and a 7.03 ERA in August. And if that happens, he'll be a reliable back of the rotation starter at worst.
But the problem for the Mets right now is three-fold.
First, the uncertainty surrounding deGrom is clouding everything. There's a chance he'll be back in a matter of weeks, but there's also a chance that whatever is causing his elbow problem lingers into next season. That has to be a terrifying thought for a front office that already has lots on its plate this offseason.
Second, even if deGrom is healthy and himself in 2022, the Mets -- with only Carrasco, Walker, Megill, and perhaps Peterson behind him -- are dangerously thin and arguably don't have enough even in the unlikely scenario where every pitcher stays healthy.
The third issue is that there is no help on the way in the form of top pitching prospects. And the failure to sign Kumar Rocker, who could have contributed in 2022, is a big reason why. One of the Mets' top starting pitching prospects is recovering from Tommy John surgery and far away from debuting (Matt Allan, who could perhaps debut at some point in 2024), and the other is still in the low minors (J.T. Ginn, High-A).
So what should the Mets do?
The first move could be to re-sign Stroman, who accepted the qualifying offer before this season and has been largely dominant and dependable all year.
But with the dearth of above average starting pitchers expected to be on the free agent market (more on that below), re-signing Stroman could be easier said than done.
It would also be wise for the Mets to either extend a qualifying offer to Syndergaard or bring him back on a two-year deal that could be a win for both sides and allow the right-hander to rebuild value before hitting free agency again.
Whether the Mets bring Syndergaard back (via the QO or not) will likely depend a lot on how he looks when he's back this season. One potential caveat here is that if Syndergaard is dominant upon his return, a huge market could develop for him.
At that point, the Mets would have to decide how much they want Syndergaard back. The answer, as long as Syndergaard is healthy, should be that they badly want him back. Now is not the time for another Zack Wheeler situation.
And for those who continue to claim that Syndergaard has underwhelmed when healthy, here's a reminder that he has a career 3.31 ERA and 1.16 WHIP with 9.7 K/9 in five seasons -- even with his "down" 2019 included.
In a world where deGrom is healthy next season and the Mets have both Stroman and Syndergaard back in the fold, their rotation could be fearsome. Even if they only retain one of Stroman or Syndergaard to pair with deGrom, they should be in strong shape.
But if deGrom is out and the Mets don't bring back both Stroman and Syndergaard, they will need to find another top of the rotation arm. And with the team needing to hold on to its top prospects, that pitcher would likely have to be added via free agency.
The issue there is that the pickings are slim.
Max Scherzer had no interest in playing in New York when he was traded at the deadline, and it's hard to see that changing. He'll also be entering his age-37 season.
The only other ace-level pitchers set for free agency will be Clayton Kershaw (who has been injured this season and is entering his age-34 season) and Justin Verlander, who is coming off Tommy John surgery and will be 39.
So the Mets should be hoping for deGrom to make it back healthy this season and allay fears. They should also be looking to surround him with both Stroman and Syndergaard -- guys who have excelled for them in the past and could be better bets than any external free agent.