Zack Wheeler
ESNY Graphic, AP Photo

Heading into this offseason, the New York Mets will have an open starting rotation spot; but how will their front office fill that vacant position?

Once New York Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen decides on who’ll be managing his team next season, he’ll need to begin planning to address the final spot in the pitching rotation.

Currently, the Mets have a few options to decide on to determine who’ll become the fifth pitcher in the starting rotation to begin the 2020 season.

Previously, that spot had been occupied by RHP Zack Wheeler, who’s set to become a free agent once free agency officially begins exactly one day after the conclusion of the World Series. Both sides had reportedly discussed a potential contract extension during the regular season, but neither side could come to an agreement.

It has also been speculated that Wheeler will be seeking a multi-year deal worth approximately $15-$20 million per season. At that rate, a reunion with the 29-year-old may become difficult for Van Wagenen and the Mets. Following arbitration hearings and contract tenders, the Mets are only expected to have around $15-$20 million in payroll flexibility this winter.

Barring any kind of Yoenis Cespedes trade this offseason, that number isn’t going to fluctuate very much for the Mets. So, that means unless Wheeler is willing to take a hometown discount, the Mets will have to look elsewhere in free agency to find their next starting pitcher.

Ideally, the Mets would likely prefer to pay no more than $10 million per season to fill that vacant position. Based on the free-agent class for this winter, there are only a handful of pitchers that would be perfect fits for the Mets at that certain price. Tanner Roark and Jake Odorizzi are both intriguing options for the Mets to consider this offseason.

Based on their numbers from this season, both of the pitchers named above could likely sign with the Mets for $10 million or less per season on a multi-year contract through free agency. Compared to Wheeler, neither of these pitchers deserves to be paid close to what he’s going to receive from a team this winter. Although, that doesn’t mean none of them can’t help the Mets make the playoffs next season.

This past season with the Reds and Athletics, Roark threw in 165.1 innings and recorded a 4.35 ERA, 4.67 FIP, 8.60 K/9, 2.78 BB/9 and a 2.0 fWAR. The only concern with signing Roark is the amount of hard-hit balls the 33-year-old surrendered this season. In his time with the Reds and Athletics, Roark gave up a hard-hit rate of 37.1%, which was an increase of 8.4% in comparison to 2018.

The increased amount of hard-hit balls also resulted in a 3.8% rise in Roark’s HR/FB rate this season as well. However, pitching the majority of his starts in the big confines of Citi Field compared to the Great American Ball Park would likely help Roark lower those home run totals. Roark is also coming off a one-year deal that paid him a total of $10 million. So based on his numbers from this season, the Mets could probably convince him to take a lower amount per season, in return for a two-year contract with a possible team option for a third season.

For whatever reason, the Twins will very likely decide against resigning Odorizzi following his extremely impressive 2019 performance. Through his 30 starts, Odorizzi generated a 3.51 ERA, 3.36 FIP, 10.08 SO/9, 3.0 BB/9 and an outstanding 4.3 fWAR. What’s even more impressive about Odorizzi is his ability to prevent home runs in an era where long balls are nearly impossible to contain. With his 8.8% rate, the 29-year-old led the entire league for the lowest HR/FB rate this season.

Based on those impressive numbers above, it may become a little difficult to get Odorizzi to agree to a contract with an AAV of just $10 million. So, that means the Mets would have to offer Odorizzi a longer contract than any other team to win him over. If the Mets’ front office were to offer a four or five-year deal with an AAV of $10 million, the length of the contract could very well convince Odorizzi to agree to come to Queens.

While that length of contract may concern some, it would provide the Mets with not only the best starting rotation in the league, but also with a little clarity on their rotation over the next three seasons or more.

If the Mets decide to allocate the majority of their spending towards the bullpen, then they could choose to sign a pair of cheap pitchers to battle for the final spot in the rotation. Pitchers Clay Buchholz and Gio Gonzalez could both be signed by the Mets for a measly price of just $5 million in total. Meaning that Van Wagenen and the Mets could focus on improving their bullpen this winter instead of attempting to replace the whole left by Wheeler.

While Buchholz and Gonzalez aren’t the most attractive names on the market, there’s a chance that either one of them could surprise people with their performances in 2020. This season with the Brewers, Gonzalez earned a 3.50 ERA, 4.04 FIP, 8.04 SO/9 and a 1.4 fWAR through his 19 appearances. Disregarding his 6.56 ERA and 5.62 FIP, Buchholz would be able to provide length for the Mets, as he went five innings or more in seven of his 12 starts this season.

Along with Buchholz and Gonzalez, the Mets would also have Walker Lockett as a candidate to fill out the rest of their rotation. Despite his 8.34 ERA and -0.1 fWAR through nine appearances in the majors this season, Lockett produced an impressive 3.66 ERA along with a 55.1% GB rate and an 8.9% HR/FB through his ten starts at triple-A in 2019.

The Mets will have many routes to take in what will likely be replacing Wheeler this offseason. Their final decision will ultimately come down to how much money their front office wants to spend on Wheeler’s replacement.

Van Wagenen and his staff certainly have their work cut out for them this offseason. With the Mets finishing just three games out of the playoffs this season, their work this winter will be crucial in helping this team surge back to the playoffs for the first time since the 2015 season.

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