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How do the Mets take big steps forward this winter to become a contender in the National League? 

Tab Bamford

We’re closing in on the offseason in Major League Baseball, and it appears the New York Mets‘ 2021 campaign will end after 162 regular season contests.

So how do we fix the Mets and make them a better roster next year?

Earlier, we discussed their options to hire the right person to lead their baseball operations. We then dove into some lineup adjustments they could make in free agency.

However, if we’re honest, pitching is the biggest area of needed change for the Mets (on the field).

So how do we make the Mets better on the mound in 2022?

Jacob deGrom New York Mets
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Healthy deGrom

The Mets’ season went south in a hurry when Jacob deGrom went on the shelf for the rest of the season in early July. He was off to a strong start; at the time he went down, he was the front-runner to win his third Cy Young Award and was averaging the highest K/9 rate of his career (14.3).

Having deGrom on the mound 28-30 times next season is the most important change the Mets can make to improve from 2021.

Indeed, if deGrom had been able to pitch the entire season and put up numbers comparable with the last four years, he may have won the Cy Young Award again this year — and the Mets might be leading the NL East today.

So let’s get the ace healthy for next year. That’s the priority and a huge first step.

Returning Arms

Who’s signed beyond the 2021 season?

Rotation

  • Jacob deGrom – $36 million
  • Carlos Carrasco – $12 million
  • Taijuan Walker – $7 million
  • Trevor Williams – arb
  • Joey Lucchesi – arb
  • David Peterson – pre-arb

Based on those six names, I think we can all agree the Mets need to fill the No. 2 starter spot in the rotation. They could also use a strong No. 3 in front of Walker, who was an all-star in 2021 but fell off after the break, and Carrasco.

Bullpen

  • Edwin Diaz – arb
  • Trevor May – $7.75 million
  • Seth Lugo – arb
  • Miguel Castro – arb
  • Robert Gsellman – arb
  • Drew Smith – arb

The Mets also have pre-arb control of Sean Reid-Foley, Corey Oswalt and Robert Stock.

The bad news is the Mets don’t appear to have many arms inside the organization who are going to be ready to jump into the mix next season to help the situation. And there are a lot of unknown variables with the number of pitchers headed to arbitration.

The most expensive will undoubtedly be Diaz, their closer who is entering his final arbitration season.

There are plenty of holes to fill on the pitching staff before next season, which is why we didn’t go crazy spending money to fix the lineup. Money is going to be needed to improve the guys throwing next season.

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Internal Free Agents

There are two huge names the Mets will need to make decisions on this winter: Marcus Stroman and Noah Syndergaard.

Stroman has been a great fit in every way. The 30-year-old is coming off a deal that paid him $18.9 million and will be looking to make more money in a soft free agent market this winter. So he’ll be a big financial decision.

The decision on Syndergaard isn’t as easy — or expensive. He was lost last year to Tommy John surgery and has struggled to get himself back on the mound consistently this entire year. Do the Mets want to take a shot on him finding the potentially-dominant stuff he showed before the injury? Or is it time to move on to a more consistent arm in the rotation?

Rich Hill and Tylor Megill are also free agents after 2021.

There are some free agents in the bullpen to think about as well. Brad Hand, Jeurys Familia, Dellin Betances, Aaron Loup and Heath Hembree are all looking for new deals next year.

Robbie Ray
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Free Agent Options — Starters

If we assume the Mets re-sign one of Stroman/Syndergaard, that leaves a need in the rotation that doesn’t appear to be filled by an internal option. Our hope is the Mets commit to Stroman; health concerns have plagued the franchise for too long to bet on Syndergaard and not have him again.

Looking outside the organization for help in the rotation brings a few interesting names into focus.

There will be some huge, older names on the market this winter who have resumes that will make fans salivate. Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander (coming off injury) and Jon Lester have all won championships. Scherzer is older but has shown he is still dominant since arriving in Los Angeles.

Robbie Ray, 30, is having the best season of his career in Toronto and is going to get paid. He would bring big-time swing-and-miss stuff to the rotation, which is sexy. But he’ll also command a big contract this winter. How much do the Mets want to spend?

Carlos Rodon, 29, bet on himself and re-signed with the White Sox before this season. He’s been absolutely marvelous for the Sox, and might want to stay there after earning a nice raise this season. If the White Sox don’t bring him back, he would be a great, left-handed target.

Jon Gray, 30, would be a bit of a lottery ticket coming off an up-and-down career in Colorado. The stuff has intrigued and he would be a younger option that Scherzer, Verlander or Lester.

Zach Davies, 29, isn’t going to blow anyone away and has been disappointing for the Cubs since they traded Yu Darvish to San Diego.

Danny Duffy, 33, would be a low-end, short-term rental possibility who could improve the staff. But he would be comparable to what they acquired in Carrasco from an impact perspective.

One more lottery ticket the Mets might be interested in buying low is Vince Velasquez, who never quite lived up to expectations in Philadelphia. He would be a project, but an affordable one.

The problem: Davies, Duffy and Velasquez don’t figure to be strong candidates for a No. 2 starter role on a team with division championship aspirations. Even Gray and Rodon are likely better suited as No. 3 arms, which makes re-signing Stroman even more critical.

The trade market is always open for business, but the Mets would likely need to part ways with at least Ronny Mauricio from their top tier of prospects to get an arm that makes the level of impact they need. After already trading away Pete Crow-Armstrong, do the Mets move another top prospect in a trade?

Our guess is Scherzer either re-signs with the Dodgers or goes home to St. Louis. Verlander would be a huge bet on an older arm coming off TJ, so we’ll pass. And Lester may retire. So we’re going to cross them off the list.

We’re also going to assume Rodon stays with the White Sox. Because they don’t do enough to make the rotation as good as it needs to be, we’re going to pass on Duffy and Davies.

Our top target for the rotation is Ray.

The Mets should do everything they can to bring in Ray and bring back Stroman to fill out their rotation. We also wouldn’t be against Velasquez as a flyer for the back end of the rotation or as a depth arm.

Signing Ray would be an indication that Steve Cohen is, indeed, ready, willing and able to spend what it takes to bring a championship to the Mets. He’ll be expensive, but he would be precisely that the Mets need.

If the Mets can pull that off, their Opening Day rotation for 2022 would be (Bold italics are free agent additions; italics are re-signed):

  • Jacob deGrom (throws: R)
  • Robbie Ray (L)
  • Marcus Stroman (R)
  • Taijuan Walker (R)
  • Carlos Carrasco (R)

All right-handers isn’t ideal, but that’s a good mix. Which means the Mets would desperately need to compliment their rotation with lefties in the bullpen.

Edwin Diaz New York Mets
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Free Agent Options — Bullpen

Diaz and May will be back, which should be a good foundation at the back end. And the arb-eligible guys will likely be back.

But here’s the problem: Diaz, May, Lugo, Castro and Trevor Williams (arb with starter potential) are all right-handed. We’ve already noted how right-hand dominant the rotation is, so having an overwhelmingly right-handed bullpen is a problem.

Which left-handers on the market should the Mets specifically target?

Lucchesi coming back and adding his arm to the bullpen would help. And Josh Walker, who is in Triple-A currently, may be an internal left-handed option.

Bringing back Hand could be a buy-low option after he failed miserably this season in a couple stops. He has closing experience and could take a one-year deal to prove himself next year.

Another good option would be Andrew Chafin, who was terrific for the Cubs before being moved to Oakland before the deadline. He’s 32 and would be a solid play for the bullpen as well.

Tony Watson is 37 but has been really good since heading back to San Francisco this season. At his age, a long-term deal is out of the question. If he can perform as he has for the Giants, he would be a nice add. If he performs as he did for the Angels earlier this year, fans could be disappointed. So there’s risk here.

We would target Chafin and bring back Hand to fill out the bullpen.

So what would the bullpen look like? (Bold italics are free agent additions; italics are re-signed players.)

  • CL: Edwin Diaz (throws: R)
  • LHP: Andrew Chafin, Brad Hand, Joey Lucchesi
  • RHP: Trevor May, Seth Lugo, Miguel Castro, Trevor Williams

That’s 13 pitchers (eight bullpen, five starters). Obviously one more left-handed arm in the pen or rotation would be ideal, but that may require a trade.

How does this pitching staff make you feel? Does it improve the Mets’ chances of winning the National League East in 2022?