With the All-Star break nearing and the trade deadline looming beyond that, the Mets find themselves in an unusual position: bona fide buyers.
Whereas in seasons past this time of year meant scanning the roster to figure out which free-agents-to-be might get shipped off, the Mets this time are able to add instead. And they have at least one area of need: the rotation.
Beyond Jacob deGrom, Taijuan Walker and Marcus Stroman, who have been excellent even with a series of injury scares, the Mets have little certainty and about as much depth. David Peterson (5.31 ERA) occupies the No. 4 spot. Nobody in particular is the No. 5 starter after the Mets lost Joey Lucchesi, who was scheduled for Tommy John surgery on Thursday.
That leaves the Mets potentially in the market for a starting pitcher. With the July 30 trade deadline still five weeks away, teams aren’t eager to make major deals just yet. But here is a quick look at how the Mets could fill the hole(s), now or later.
"It all depends on acquisition costs," acting general manager Zack Scott said this week.
The cheapest players at the trade deadline are the ones set to be free agents at the end of the season.
Danny Duffy, Royals: He returned from the injured list (left forearm flexor strain) Wednesday with two scoreless innings against the Yankees, a purposely brief outing because he didn’t go on a rehabilitation assignment. He has a 1.85 ERA.
Jon Gray, Rockies: The No. 3 overall pick in 2013, Gray has a 4.29 ERA in a dozen starts. He is on a rehab assignment after dealing with a right forearm flexor strain.
Michael Pineda, Twins: He, too, is working his way back from a tight forearm/elbow inflammation. But he was pitching well prior to that, posting a 3.70 ERA in 11 games. The former Yankee is worth a look if he proves he is healthy in the coming weeks.
Consider this the "shooting higher" category.
Players under contract or under team control beyond 2021 could be attractive to the Mets, who might lose Stroman and/or Noah Syndergaard to free agency this offseason and won’t have Lucchesi for at least most of 2022. But they also require greater prospect cost, which the Mets are wary of.
"Trying to compete now while also maintaining and building on our farm system are two things that can sometimes not be aligned," Scott said. "But it’s something that’s important to us, so we have to be smart about how we handle trades."
Kyle Gibson, Rangers (under contract through 2022): He has been rolling — 2.17 ERA, 1.06 WHIP — and is one of the top trade pieces for a rebuilding Texas team.
Jose Berrios, Twins (2022): The two-time All-Star and friend of Francisco Lindor is having perhaps the best year of his career, with a 3.56 ERA and 1.09 WHIP.
Luis Castillo, Reds (2023): Cincinnati won’t necessarily be a seller. But if it is, it might go all-in on a rebuild, which would mean Castillo could be had. He might be an especially good deal if the Reds sell low considering his 5.61 ERA, by far the worst mark of his career.
Michael Fulmer, Tigers (2022): It would be downright poetic if Fulmer returned to the Mets in a deadline deal as they chased the postseason. He was the big prospect they sent to Detroit in the 2015 trade for Yoenis Cespedes. He has been mostly a reliever this year (3.55 ERA) but from 2016 to 2018, he was an effective starter. The Tigers’ Matthew Boyd (2022) would work, too, if he overcomes his left arm tendinitis.
This is the least sexy answer but, at least in the short term, the most likely.
Eickhoff (four innings, no runs) and Megill (4 1/3 innings, two runs) were solid in their first starts. Eickhoff is penciled in for another Sunday, with Megill a possibility when the Mets need a spot starter Monday or Tuesday. Stock was claimed off waivers from the Cubs and sent to Triple-A Syracuse this week.
For another month or so, the Mets can let everything — their schedule, the trade market, the performance of the names above — play out before making big decisions.
"We kind of assume that what your needs are today," Scott said, "are not always your needs tomorrow."
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