Van Wagenen hints at 3 pitching plans for Mets

November 15th, 2019

NEW YORK -- It’s all about pitching. A Mets team that has historically relied on its arms in good times and bad will continue to do so in 2020. But which pitchers? How much of the same? While remaining characteristically coy, general manager Brodie Van Wagenen dropped some hints this week at the General Managers Meetings. Including ...

1. Mets could fill their rotation hole from within
Zack Wheeler is gone, having rejected the Mets’ $17.8 million qualifying offer. It seems relatively unlikely that he will return, for two reasons. One, rival teams are going to be lining up for the services of a starting pitcher who has logged 377 2/3 innings, 374 strikeouts and a 3.65 ERA the past two seasons. To bring back Wheeler, the Mets are going to have to outbid half the league.

Two, the Mets are a little less than $20 million shy of Major League Baseball’s 2020 payroll luxury-tax threshold. There’s no guarantee they’ll stay under it given the relatively light penalty for a one-year splurge, but history suggests the team will do everything possible to keep its payroll -- a number that includes the salaries of David Wright and Yoenis Céspedes, large portions of which the Mets are recouping via insurance -- under the luxury-tax limit of $208 million. That means signing Wheeler would eat up most or all of their remaining funds, with nothing left to address the bullpen, the outfield or other areas of need.

There’s certainly a chance that Wheeler could still return. But a more likely scenario has the Mets shopping in cheaper starting pitching aisles. Van Wagenen said at the GM Meetings that the Mets would even be comfortable not adding a single starter, bumping either or -- or both -- to the rotation.

2. Thor isn’t going anywhere
Van Wagenen said it at the outset of the offseason, declaring -- unprompted -- that will be a Met in 2020. He said it again on Thursday, noting he’s rebuffed teams that have come calling about the right-hander.

“We have made it very clear that we’re not going to engage on Noah,” Van Wagenen said. “We have received inquiries, but we have been proactive in letting people know that what I said publicly back earlier this summer, and again in October, that he’s going to be with us going forward.”

The Mets’ rotation will consist of , Syndergaard, and . The only question is who slots in fifth.

3. Díaz is critical at back end of 'pen
This becomes even more pronounced if Lugo shifts to the rotation. Reading the tea leaves of Van Wagenen’s GM Meetings statements, the Mets are going to make adds to the bullpen, but not necessarily ones of enough prominence to supplant from the closer’s role. Lugo could do that, but not if he’s a starter. could steal some saves, but not in everyday situations.

For the bullpen as a whole to improve, it is imperative for Díaz to post something much better than the 5.59 ERA he did in 2019. He has a plan in place to do so, involving extra bullpen sessions and slider work this winter in Puerto Rico. New manager Carlos Beltrán, a fellow Puerto Rican, considers mentoring Díaz one of his top priorities.

As for adding to the bullpen, Will Smith -- one of the top relievers on the market -- is already off the board, having gone to the Braves on a three-year deal. Plenty of enticing options remain, including Chris Martin, Drew Pomeranz and Will Harris. But as in the starting pitching market, competition will be fierce, and the bullpen market isn’t nearly as strong as it was a year ago. The Mets’ surest path to bullpen improvement starts with Díaz and Jeurys Familia.