New York Mets fans were anticipating the arrival of David Stearns to become the new President of Baseball Operations for years. It finally came true. Will he bring along any old friends?
Corbin Burnes of the Milwaukee Brewers is an obvious trade candidate for the Mets with a connection to Stearns. The Brewers threw cold water on their relationship with the 2021 Cy Young winner by taking him to arbitration last winter over a few measly dollars. His impending free agency after the 2024 campaign makes him trade fodder for teams like the Mets who could trade and extend a star player. An injury to teammate Brandon Woodruff may have already frozen those rumors.
However, it's not Burnes who fits into the blueprints best. A division rival of his, Mitch Keller of the Pittsburgh Pirates, should be the one they look to seize.
Why the Mets should make trading for Mitch Keller an offseason goal
To get one thing out of the way, the Mets should discuss Burnes with Milwaukee. This isn't to dismiss what he can offer as much as it is to get ahead of what Keller can give the Mets and for longer.
We already know the Mets and Brewers discussed a Pete Alonso trade in the summer. Their desire for offense could lead them towards other trades. Mark Vientos immediately comes to mind. There is no shortage of young bats the Mets can spare. It’s pitching at the major league level they must add and do so without just throwing the most money at veterans.
Keller's availability remains a question. How long can the Pirates partially develop a pitcher only to trade him away right before he peaks? It happened with Gerrit Cole then again with Joe Musgrove, a player they acquired for Cole.
It’s only now that Keller has begun to find himself. A disastrous rookie year in 2019 and an almost as bad one in 2021 are now behind him. This past season proved, if nothing else, that Keller has the ability to get better. An All-Star for Pittsburgh, he finished the year 13-9 with a 4.21 ERA. More notable were the 194.1 innings logged. He added 210 strikeouts in his age 27 campaign.
The two years of control Keller can offer New York makes him a guy to snatch more quickly. Trading for Burnes now must mean an extension. With Keller, the Mets can ride out his final years of arbitration and figure it out as he actually nears free agency. In Burnes’ case, waiting for free agency isn’t the hardest part.
When it comes to cost, we might be able to call it close to even simply because of the extra year of control. Burnes is far more accomplished than Keller so we’d have to suspect the Brewers can ask for more from the Mets than the Pirates.
In reality, the Mets can only afford to land one of these arms in a trade without sacrificing too much of their farm system. How appealing is the trade for Keller now and the possibility of signing Burnes for 2025-beyond sound?