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Mets still eyeing free-agent pitching market

Alderson 'not convinced' additional starter is needed
MLB.com @AnthonyDiComo

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- As Noah Syndergaard, Zack Wheeler and Steven Matz threw bullpen sessions near a stand of palm trees Wednesday, highlighting the Mets' first official morning of pitcher and catcher workouts, manager Mickey Callaway leaned against a fencepost to watch. Flanked by most of his highest-ranking front-office members, general manager Sandy Alderson stared from a different vantage through wraparound sunglasses.

The Mets' decision-makers had reason for curiosity, knowing their 2018 success rides largely on starting pitching. They also know they must determine if it's still worth adding to that mix.

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- As Noah Syndergaard, Zack Wheeler and Steven Matz threw bullpen sessions near a stand of palm trees Wednesday, highlighting the Mets' first official morning of pitcher and catcher workouts, manager Mickey Callaway leaned against a fencepost to watch. Flanked by most of his highest-ranking front-office members, general manager Sandy Alderson stared from a different vantage through wraparound sunglasses.

The Mets' decision-makers had reason for curiosity, knowing their 2018 success rides largely on starting pitching. They also know they must determine if it's still worth adding to that mix.

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A source said this week that while the Mets continue to monitor the market for free-agent starters, a deal isn't likely to happen anytime soon. And one may not happen at all -- something Alderson reiterated after watching his pitchers throw.

"Notwithstanding many opinions to the contrary," the GM said, "I'm not convinced we need more pitching."

Video: Mets VP Ricco examines why Harvey can improve in '18

In the early days of Spring Training, when possibilities seem limitless, it is easy to understand that line of thinking. Pitching coach Dave Eiland said Wednesday that none of the Mets' pitchers entered camp with any "red flags" or limitations on what they can do.

The reality appears less rosy. Syndergaard missed nearly five months last season due to injury. Matt Harvey has submitted one full, healthy campaign since 2012. Wheeler, whom the Mets did not even include in a recent tweet touting their rotation strength, has started 17 games in three years. Matz has made four trips to the disabled list and undergone two surgeries since his '15 big league debut. Only Jacob deGrom has proven durable, setting career highs last summer in starts and innings.

The team's rotation depth consists of Seth Lugo, who is pitching through a partial tear of his right ulnar collateral ligament; Robert Gsellman, who posted a 5.19 ERA as a rookie (and drew the front office's ire by saying he didn't "really care" about Alderson challenging him to pitch better); Rafael Montero, who owns the National League's second-worst ERA among pitchers with at least 135 innings since 2016; Chris Flexen, who posted a 7.88 ERA as a rookie; and Corey Oswalt, a promising prospect who has never thrown a pitch above Double-A.

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It is before that backdrop that assistant GM John Ricco said Wednesday on MLB Network Radio: "I think it's no secret we're still interested in bringing in possibly another arm or two, so even in the next two weeks, we're going to be continuing to see how that develops."

If the Mets do import new blood, however, it isn't likely to transform the landscape. Before departing for Florida, Alderson noted that help could come via a swingman type, rather than an established Major League starter. Jake Arrieta, the top free agent available, is seeking a contract well outside the comfort zone of a team hoping to keep its Opening Day payroll below last year's $155 million tally. (The Mets are currently about $10 million shy of that number.) The front office is likewise wary of forfeiting its second-highest Draft pick, as well as $500,000 of international bonus pool space, to sign Lance Lynn or Alex Cobb.

Lesser options include Jason Vargas, Jaime Garcia and Andrew Cashner; the Mets have a strong relationship with CAA, the agency that represents Vargas, and they sent a scout to evaluate Cashner in person at the end of last season. But in a historically unprofitable market for free agents, they don't have a firm grasp of how much those pitchers will cost.

Video: Mets pitching coach Eiland talks about his new role

"We have the luxury, because there's still a lot of pitchers out there, to pivot either way depending on what we see here and how early spring develops," Ricco said. "Obviously, people look at it and say you would love to get an innings-eating-type starter. But if things go in a different direction, let's say we have an injury or two in a certain area, we can still address that through free agency -- which is crazy to say here in late February."

In the meantime, the Mets will monitor their own crew of pitchers, which Callaway and Eiland both called the most talented they have ever coached. The new manager took that notion even further during his introductory news conference, saying: "If we do not do things, it's going to be on me. The front office has gotten us the players."

The question is whether the Mets also bought enough insurance.

"I actually think with where we are right now, we're in pretty good shape," Alderson said. "At the same time, we continue to monitor what's out there and how we can continue to improve the team."

Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo, Instagram and Facebook.

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