Shortly after the conclusion of the World Series, pending free agents will no longer be pending. They’ll be available to sign with any club. There are dozens of available starting pitchers, and the Mets have made it known that one of their off-season objectives is bringing another arm into the fold.
Sep 28, 2013; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Cleveland Indians pitcher Scott Kazmir (26) delivers a pitch in the third inning against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
With Matt Harvey likely to miss most, if not all of the 2014 campaign, the Mets are left with three slots in the rotation (barring trades) that should be filled going into the season. Taking up those slots should be Jonathon Niese, Zack Wheeler, and Dillon Gee.
Aside from those three, the Mets have internal options such as Jenrry Mejia, Rafael Montero, Jacob deGrom, and Noah Syndergaard who will likely compete with a low cost signing (think an Aaron Harang type) for one of the other spots. That leaves one rotation spot up for grabs.
As is noted above, the Mets have pitching on the way from the minors. Even if the club deals one of its young starters, there will still be others who are left to compete for a spot in the rotation. With the pitching on the way from the minors and Matt Harvey expected back either late in 2014 or for the start of 2015 (to go along with Wheeler, Niese, and Gee), there’s no need or reason for the Mets to hand out a free agent deal to a starting pitcher that’s longer than two years. The Mets should also be looking for starters with upside. Here’s who they should target:
Hudson would really be an ideal fit for the Mets. If the Braves want him back, that would likely eliminate the other 29 teams from being able to land his services. If the Braves are ready to let him walk, it’ll open the door for the rest of the league.
Before suffering his brutal ankle injury in August, Hudson was having another solid year. He finished 2013 with a 3.97 ERA and 1.19 WHIP. In 131.1 innings pitched, Hudson allowed 120 hits, walked 36, and struck out 95. Hudson is known as a ground ball machine, but his strikeout rate in 2013 (6.51 per 9) was the 3rd best it’s been since 2002.
Hudson will turn 39 in July, but he’s been incredibly durable. Before his freak injury last season, Hudson tossed 228.2 innings in 2010, 215 innings in 2011, and 196.2 innings in 2012.
It’s likely that Hudson will be looking for a one or two year deal. He just completed a three year deal that was worth a bit over $9 million annually. If the Braves let him go, the Mets should pounce.
Kazmir will jump out to Mets fans because he was the one that got away in 2004. Putting that aside, Kazmir would actually be a solid get. After struggling mightily in 2011 and missing all of 2012, Kazmir found most of his lost velocity in 2013 and put together a pretty good campaign for the Indians.
Kazmir is still only 29 years old, and his rate of 9.23 strikeouts per 9 in 2013 was the best it’s been since he burst onto the scene with the Devil Rays in the mid-2000’s. Overall, Kazmir posted an ERA of 4.04 (his FIP was 3.51) and a 1.32 WHIP in 2013. In 158 innings pitched for Cleveland, Kazmir allowed 162 hits, walked 47, and struck out 162.
His fastball averaged 92.5 MPH (the best it’s been since he averaged 92.6 MPH in 2005), and his slider averaged 83.4 MPH – right where it used to be when he was at his best in Tampa Bay between 2004 and 2007.
There’s some extra risk attached to Kazmir, but it would be a worthy one if he could be had at a reasonable price for one or two guaranteed years.
Johnson, who turns 30 in January, is the riskiest proposition of the bunch, but is also the pitcher who offers the highest reward. After establishing himself as one of the best pitchers in baseball with the Marlins between 2008 and 2012, Johnson had a lost season for Toronto in 2013.
He was held back due to injuries and managed to toss just 81.1 innings in the majors. In those innings, Johnson posted an ERA of 6.20 to go along with an obscene 1.66 WHIP. He allowed 105 hits, walked 30, and struck out 83.
The good news? While posting mostly awful numbers in 2013, Johnson struck out 9.18 batters per 9 – the best rate of his career. Additionally, his FIP (fielding independent pitching) was 4.62, over a run and a half lower than his ERA – indicating that he was the victim of bad luck.
There are injury concerns with Johnson – he was limited last year due to various health issues, and missed significant time in both 2008 and 2011. However, the stuff is still there. Johnson’s fastball averaged a tick under 93 MPH last year (a shade lower than it was during his prime), and his slider averaged 86.4 MPH, right in line with his career norms.
Johnson should be looking to sign a one year deal in order to reestablish his value. If that’s the case, the Mets should take a long look at him. If Johnson stays healthy, he could have a huge impact on the rotation. If he doesn’t, the team can turn to one of their young starters waiting in the wings.