The state of the Mets starting rotation

Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom, Gatorade All-Star Workout Day
Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom, Gatorade All-Star Workout Day / Patrick McDermott/GettyImages
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Sean Manaea, Houston Astros v Oakland Athletics / Michael Zagaris/GettyImages

External Targets: Carlos Rodón, Johnny Cueto, Michael Pineda, Sean Manaea, Chris Bassitt

All the questions surrounding everyone beyond the Mets’ two aces paint a clear picture: they need to add at least one more starter. Since the lockout has paused all major league player transactions, there’s still quite a few names available via free agency and several others as likely trade candidates.

Should the Mets choose to shoot high amongst the remaining free agents, Carlos Rodón is the best left. A 2014 first-round pick, Rodón finally broke out in 2021, finishing fifth in the American League Cy Young race with 13 wins and a 2.37 ERA for the AL Central Champion Chicago White Sox. Despite his success, interested teams will likely need to weigh whether Rodón has truly turned a corner – he owned a career 4.14 ERA prior to last season and has a history of injuries that continued to plague him down the stretch last September.

Among veterans that will likely cost less in both years and dollars, Johnny Cueto (36 in February) and Michael Pineda (33 in January) offer the most intrigue. Cueto logged 114 2/3 innings for the 108-win San Francisco Giants last year, posting a 4.08 ERA that was good for league-average. While he isn’t the same pitcher he was years ago, Cueto offer the type of veteran leadership that could benefit the Mets in multiple ways, as he can eat up innings with a low walk rate and has postseason experience (including a 2015 championship we won’t get into here).

Pineda may be most remembered for a rocky tenure with the Yankees early in his career but has since gained his footing in Minnesota, with a 3.80 ERA over 52 starts (53 games) since the beginning of 2019. Per Baseball Savant, most of his advanced statistics from last season aren’t flattering on the surface since he doesn’t overpower with his fastball (91 MPH average), but he did rank in the top 4 percent in both chase rate and walk rate (just 21 walks in 109 1/3 innings last year). With the Mets having made improvements on defense, Pineda could be an interesting short-term fit.

If the Mets go the trade route, the most likely partner would be the Oakland Athletics. Seeking to shed salary, the A’s have a couple of prime starters to offer in Sean Manaea and Chris Bassitt – Manaea, 29, posted a 3.91 ERA across 32 starts last season, while the 32-year-old Bassitt became a first-time All-Star with a career best 12 wins and 3.9 bWAR to go along with a 3.15 ERA. Acquiring either would likely necessitate some combination of low-cost, controllable major league talent (think J.D. Davis, Dom Smith, Jeff McNeil) and prospects.

With moves the Mets have already made, Steve Cohen has made it clear the luxury tax isn’t as much of a deterrent as some perceived it to be. At the same time, the Mets are already bumping against the current threshold, making someone like Rodón a less likely option considering the risk tied to signing him. Trading for one of the A’s top starters would certainly make sense, but the Mets shouldn’t be quick to deal from their pool of position players, especially if the Designated Hitter arrives in the National League next year (as most expect it will).

Bottom Line: The Mets should actively try to a swing a trade with Oakland for Manaea or Bassitt, but only if the price is right; otherwise, adding a veteran like Cueto or Pineda would be a fine Plan B.