Target or Avoid? Ranking the Mets' second-tier free agent starting pitching options

Danny Abriano
·3 min read
Charlie Morton and Corey Kluber TREATED ART
Charlie Morton and Corey Kluber TREATED ART

With Marcus Stroman accepting the Mets' one-year qualifying offer, New York's starting rotation for the 2021 season came a bit more into focus.

The Mets, with Jacob deGrom, David Peterson, and Stroman, now have three pitchers they should be able too count on in next season's rotation. They can also now more easily envision the return of Noah Syndergaard at some point during the season.

More help is needed, though, and that help will almost certainly come from the free agent market, with new team president Sandy Alderson understandably reluctant to part with his most valued prospects unless a trade is too good to pass up.

The best pitcher on the free agent market, and someone who is head and shoulders above the next tier of options, is Trevor Bauer. And Bauer is a legitimate option for the Mets.

But even if the Mets land Bauer, more rotation help will be needed.

Here are five second-tier options the Mets could pursue, and an opinion on how serious those potential pursuits should be...

5. Corey Kluber

The 34-year-old Kluber, who was one of the best pitchers in baseball from 2014 to 2018, has the best credentials of anyone available -- including Bauer. But the last two seasons have been a disaster for him.

He was limited to just 35.2 IP and had a 5.80 ERA (4.06 FIP) and 1.65 WHIP for the Cleveland Indians in 2019. With the Texas Rangers in 2020, Kluber tossed just 1.0 inning due to a tear in his right shoulder. 

If Kluber gets healthy, he could be a steal for someone. But the Mets can't afford to take that gamble right now.

Verdict: Avoid

4. James Paxton

The 32-year-old Paxton has nasty stuff and was quite effective as recently as 2019, but his 2020 was a mix of injury and ineffectiveness as he had a 6.64 ERA (4.37 FIP) in just 20.1 IP for the Yankees.

Paxton's injury in 2020 was a strained flexor tendon -- something that is often a precursor to Tommy John surgery. But an MRI revealed that he did not need surgery to repair the injury.

This would be a high-risk, high-reward signing. 

Verdict: Proceed with caution

3. Masahiro Tanaka

Tanaka doesn't have the upside of Kluber or Paxton, but he has been consistent and remarkably healthy during his seven-year career with the Yankees, showing no ill-effects while pitching with a partially torn UCL.

While he has the ability to toss the occasional gem, Tanaka at this point is more of a mid-rotation innings eater. His success in the New York market is a plus here.

Verdict: Tentatively pursue

2. Jake Odorizzi

Odorizzi, 30, had a breakout year in 2019 with the Minnesota Twins, when he had a 3.51 ERA and 1.20 WHIP while striking out 178 batters in 159 IP.

Odorizzi has been up and down during his seven-year career, including 2015 and 2016 and mediocre seasons in 2017 and 2018. His 2020 season was a wash due to injury, mainly of the freak variety

There could be a reliable mid-rotation starter here, and he's still on the younger side. Plus, his breakout 2019 came with help from Jeremy Hefner, who is now the Mets' pitching coach.

Verdict: Tentatively pursue

1. Charlie Morton

Morton should be the Mets' top target of the second-tier starting pitchers, and it's not particularly close.

The 37-year-old was an All-Star in both 2018 and 2019, with swing-and-miss stuff that made him one of the better pitchers in the American League.

Morton struggled a bit in 2020, but was dominant in 15.2 innings in the ALDS and ALCS to help the Tampa Bay Rays reach the World Series before struggling in his lone World Series start.

A bonus here is that Morton could likely be had on a one-year deal.

Verdict: Aggressively pursue