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On Monday, Zack Scott sounded like a man ready to trade for pitching help as the July 30 deadline approaches, making it clear the Mets can’t bank on the potential return of Carlos Carrasco or Noah Syndergaard to solve their need for reinforcements in the starting rotation.
“Given their timetables, I can’t make assumptions,” Scott, the acting GM, told reporters. “There’s only one trade deadline, so I go into it thinking, if we get them back it’s a bonus. And if you have more guys, then we’ll figure it out.”
On the other hand, as SNY’s Andy Martino reported Tuesday, the Mets very much want to avoid trading from their limited number of high-end prospects, which makes it unlikely they’d outbid other teams for top trade targets such as Jose Berrios, Kyle Gibson, or German Marquez.
So, they might settle instead for the likes of Zach Davies, Jon Gray, or Tyler Anderson, middle-to-back-end starters whose pending free agency will lower their cost. Those aren’t names that will excite fans but any one of them might be important in helping the Mets at the back end of their injury-riddled rotation.
And the Mets could always decide to aim higher.
An executive from a non-contending team did raise the possibility of the Mets reducing the trade cost for Berrios by taking Josh Donaldson and the remaining $50-plus million on his contract in the same deal.
“I think the Twins would want to get out from the last two years of that contract,” the exec said. “If the Mets took back Donaldson that might make for a package deal with Berrios. But I would think some teams are going be willing to give up a lot for Berrios.”
Another exec wondered if Mets owner Steve Cohen will get into the spirit of the trade deadline, considering he has a first-place team, and make more of a go-for-it deal than Sandy Alderson or Scott might deem prudent.
“If the Cubs make Kris Bryant available and the Mets still aren’t hitting, is he going to see a guy like that as putting his team over the top?” the exec asked. “I think that’s something to watch.”
No doubt the Cubs’ 10-game losing streak has pushed them closer to being sellers, which could put Bryant in play, and the Mets surely would have interest. He’s a free agent going into next season who seems unlikely to re-sign with the Cubs but could still command more in a trade than Alderson or Scott want to give up.
It makes for great intrigue, but at least for now it seems the Mets’ priority in a trade is pitching that won’t put a major dent in their farm system. Here, then, is a list of potentially available starters, and how I’d rank them -- not in terms of ability but the likelihood of them coming to Queens.
1) RHP ZACH DAVIES, CHICAGO CUBS
Davies looms as an ideal low-cost candidate, a solid starter who has pitched to a 2.86 ERA in 13 starts since a very poor April. The Cubs’ 10-game losing streak has put them on the verge of being sure sellers, and because Davies is a free agent after the season, it won’t take much to get him. And he’s making $8.63 million this season, so he won’t push the Mets over the luxury-tax threshold.
2) RHP JON GRAY, COLORADO ROCKIES
Gray is just back from a stint on the IL due to a forearm flexor strain, so that bears watching. But he’s pitched to a 3.89 ERA this season, allowing 61 hits in 74 innings, nice numbers considering he’s pitching Colorado. For what it’s worth, he’s pitched much better in the thin air of Coors Field, with a home ERA of 3.22 compared to a road ERA of 5.32. Another pending free agent who won’t cost a lot.
3) LHP TYLER ANDERSON, PITTSBURGH PIRATES
Another free agent-to-be, Anderson is a decent back-end-of-the-rotation lefty who has pitched 92 innings this season, with a 4.92 ERA for a bad team. He’s gone deep enough into most starts to give the Pirates a chance to win, and in his last start, he shut out the Brewers on three hits over seven innings, ending their 11-game winning streak. Think of him as an even exchange for the injured Joey Lucchesi.
4) LHP CALEB SMITH, ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
Smith is under control for two more seasons, but he’ll be 30 later this month. And as the Diamondbacks look at a potential rebuild, they might be willing to part with him for a mid-level prospect. Injuries forced Smith from the bullpen to the starting rotation this season, and he has pitched to a 2.87 ERA in six starts. If the Mets do get Carrasco and Syndergaard back at some point, Smith could give the Mets another lefty arm in the bullpen.
5) DANNY DUFFY, KANSAS CITY ROYALS
As a 10-year veteran, all with the Royals, Duffy has the right to veto a trade, and he has said publicly he wants to remain in KC. But as a free agent after this season, there’s a chance he’d be willing to go a contender with the idea of re-signing with the Royals next winter. He pitched brilliantly before a forearm flexor strain put him on the IL for a month, and the Royals have limited his innings since his return a couple of weeks ago.
6) KYLE GIBSON, TEXAS RANGERS
At age 33, Gibson is having an outstanding season, 6-0 with a 1.98 ERA in 16 starts. But the Rangers are rebuilding and it might make sense for them to sell high on their righthander, who has never pitched at this level previously. With another year on his contract at $7.6 million, Gibson will be in demand and thus perhaps too pricey for the Mets.
7) GERMAN MARQUEZ, COLORADO ROCKIES
Marquez would be an ideal pick-up, a workhorse who has pitched 102 innings this season, with a 3.59 ERA in the difficult altitude conditions in Denver. However, he has a very affordable contract with team control through 2024, which raises his value and makes it likely some other pitching-needy team will be willing to give up more than the Mets.
8) JOSE BERRIOS, MINNESOTA TWINS
Berrios has never quite lived up to expectations that come with what scouts have long said his ace-worthy arsenal of pitches would, but he’s pitched well this season at 7-2 with a 3.52 ERA. And that high-ceiling potential, along with another year of control before he reaches free agency, makes the 27-year old righthander very desirable to other teams. If the Twins decide to trade him, it’s only because they don’t think they can sign him after next season, and they’ll want a haul for him.