Stay or Go: Should Mets pick up Carlos Carrasco's option for 2023?

Carlos Carrasco two panel stay or go treated art 2022
Carlos Carrasco two panel stay or go treated art 2022

During Carlos Carrasco's first season with the Mets, which began a few months after he was an incredibly important piece in the blockbuster trade that brought Francisco Lindor to Queens, pretty much nothing went right for him.

Carrasco missed the first four months of the season due to injury, delaying his Mets debut to July 30. And in the 12 starts Carrasco was able to make in 2021, he looked nothing like the pitcher the Mets thought they were getting.

Over 53.2 innings in 2021, Carrasco had a 6.04 ERA (5.22 FIP) and 1.43 WHIP while allowing 59 hits and giving up 12 home runs -- an averaged of one per start.

It was clear that Carrasco was not right, and shortly after the season he had surgery to remove a bone fragment from his right elbow.

Then came 2022, when Carrasco didn't quite resemble the No. 2 starter he was during much of his 11-year tenure with Cleveland, but was one of the Mets' most reliable starting pitchers as he tossed 152 innings over 29 starts, posting a 3.97 ERA (3.53 FIP) and 1.32 WHIP.

Now, with the Mets holding a $14 million option on Carrasco for 2023 ahead of his age-36 season, they have a decision to make. 

Jul 30, 2022; Miami, Florida, USA; New York Mets starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco (59) celebrates with teammates after leaving the game and shutting out the Miami Marlins at loanDepot Park.
Jul 30, 2022; Miami, Florida, USA; New York Mets starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco (59) celebrates with teammates after leaving the game and shutting out the Miami Marlins at loanDepot Park.

With literally everything in the Mets' rotation in flux aside from the presence of Max Scherzer, picking up the option on Carrasco should be an easy call.

Is it?

WHY IT COULD MAKE SENSE TO LET CARRASCO GO

While Carrasco was a key cog in the rotation for the entire season and performed well overall, his struggles from Aug. 15 on were alarming.

Over his last seven starts of the season, Carrasco's numbers were poor (4.88 ERA and an opposing triple slash of .296/.354/.504), but the main concern was his inability to provide length.

That seven-start stretch included starts of 2.0, 2.2, and 3.0 innings pitched, and two starts of 4.0 innings pitched. That first 2.0-inning stint came on Aug. 15 in a blowout loss to the Braves in Atlanta, when Carrasco left early with left side tightness after allowing three runs on four hits. That injury kept him out until Sept. 4.

Carrasco struggled so badly over his final three starts (including a terrible performance against the offensive-challenged Marlins in Miami during a loss on Sept. 27) that there was a question of whether he would even make his final start if the Mets were still in serious contention for the NL East title. They were not, and he did.

So it's fair for the Mets to ask themselves which Carrasco they'll be getting if they pick up his option. Will it be the Carrasco they saw from Opening Day through Aug. 15, or the one they saw after?

Sep 4, 2022; New York City, New York, USA; New York Mets pitcher Carlos Carrasco (59) walks off the mound after being taken out of the game in the third inning against the Washington Nationals at Citi Field.
Sep 4, 2022; New York City, New York, USA; New York Mets pitcher Carlos Carrasco (59) walks off the mound after being taken out of the game in the third inning against the Washington Nationals at Citi Field.

A look at Carrasco's advanced stats is a mixed bag.

He was among the best in baseball in chase rate (94th percentile), had a walk rate that was well above average, and was also above average in whiff percentage and barrel percentage. But his hard hit rate was in the 32nd percentile after being in the 51st percentile in 2021, and he was well below average when it came to xBA and xSLG.

Hitters also teed off on Carrasco's four-seam and two-seam fastballs, slugging .549 against the four-seamer and .609 against the two-seamer.

WHY IT COULD MAKE SENSE TO KEEP CARRASCO

Despite his late-season struggles, Carrasco was a positive for the 2022 Mets, and $14 million for one season of a pitcher who is able to produce a sub-4.00 ERA and eat lots of innings is very reasonable.

The Mets are also in need of what they hope will be more certainty in a rotation that right now only includes Scherzer, and perhaps has David Peterson penciled in as the No. 5 starter.

Picking up Carrasco's option and having him locked in as the No. 4 starter would help the Mets map out the rest of their offseason plan, and it's something they have to decide on soon -- they have until five days after the end of the World Series to exercise or decline the option.

That timing could be viewed as a bit of an annoyance since the Mets are unsure what's going to happen with pending free agents Jacob deGrom, Chris Bassitt, and Taijuan Walker. But again, $14 million for one season is not a lot.

Jun 28, 2022; New York City, New York, USA; New York Mets starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco (59) pitches against the Houston Astros during the first inning at Citi Field.
Jun 28, 2022; New York City, New York, USA; New York Mets starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco (59) pitches against the Houston Astros during the first inning at Citi Field.

It also needs to be pointed out that the Mets' starting rotation depth is not great. They have Tylor Megill, but he dealt with multiple injuries during the year and ended the season in the bullpen.

As far as pitchers in the minors who could help soon, the only one who comes to mind is Jose Butto, who was rushed up last season for what was a forgettable debut and can use more seasoning in Triple-A.

If Carrasco's option is picked up, the Mets will be less reliant on what-ifs -- both in terms of what they do via free agency and/or trade and the depth pitchers they'll have to rely on.

VERDICT

Unless the Mets have confidence by the time they have to decide on Carrasco's option that both deGrom and Bassitt will be back (which would likely cost around $65 million annually), or have a plan to trade for Shohei Ohtani that they have faith will come to fruition, they should pick up Carrasco's option.

The Mets will likely be blowing past the highest luxury tax level of $290 million for 2023 no matter what, and the money that would be owed to Carrasco is not going to be a huge impediment. And it will be off the books after the season anyway.

In a best-case scenario, the Mets have an embarrassment of riches in their starting rotation and some tough decisions to make. In a worst-case scenario where both deGrom and Bassitt walk, Carrasco will help stabilize the rotation along with whoever else is added to replace them.