Mets shouldn’t be so quick to trade Carlos Carrasco

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The Mets are listening to trade offers on Carlos Carrasco.

It will be no surprise if he is moved. But it will not be for a Wilpon-ian reason. It isn’t as if Steve Cohen has reached a projected $345 millionish payroll — which would climb beyond $420 million with the luxury tax added — and suddenly found the financial brake pedal. The Mets owner is not ordering his baseball operations department to go on a monetary diet.

Trading Carrasco would be a baseball decision. The Mets surmise that Tylor Megill or David Peterson have a pretty good chance of outperforming Carrasco in 2023. They believe the rise in free-agent prices, notably for starting pitchers, will make Carrasco an appealing piece at one year and $14 million for all of those shut out of the pricey market. Think teams such as the Twins, Royals and probably at least five or six more.

The ideal return would be a projectable young starter with options and a chance to contribute as soon as this coming season. The Mets worry about what Carrasco can bring in 2023 due to age (36 in March) and injury history.

But there is uncertainty throughout a rotation that currently has four starters 34 or older — Carrasco, Jose Quintana, Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander — plus a pitcher currently trained to start once a week (Kodai Senga). Plus among those older starters, only Quintana (32) started more games than Carrasco’s 29.

The Mets depth is Megill and Peterson, who have yet to author full seasons as starters; and Megill went to the IL twice last year, with a biceps and then shoulder maladies. Joey Lucchesi never made it back to the majors in 2022 after Tommy John surgery. After that trio, the quality falls off dramatically.

Mets
Carlos Carrasco
AP

At full health, I think the Mets would be well served to have Lucchesi begin in the minors along with either Megill or Peterson to stay stretched out as starters, and then have Megill or Peterson as part of the Opening Day bullpen. All three have minor league options and would be at the ready when the inevitable injuries come.

And they will come. Remember that Megill was the Opening Day starter last year because of an injury to Jacob deGrom. Peterson, despite being optioned to the minors five times, made 19 starts for the Mets. The Mets want to avoid lacking quality depth. Twice in 2022 they had to turn to a not ready for prime-time starter in Jose Butto and Thomas Szapucki with horrible results. Two of those in 162 games is not ideal. But what if it were five or 10 or …

Removing Carrasco eliminates a trustworthy starting arm in what is for the Mets as much of a win-now season as any team. Keeping Carrasco would mean having those four starters at age 34 or older. Only seven times in major league history has a club had four starters in that age demographic each make at least 15 starts. The last two each won a division title, but were upset in the League Championship Series, in part because older starters had decayed with the season.

Those were the 2004 Yankees (Kevin Brown, Orlando Hernandez, Jon Lieber, Mike Mussina) and 2006 Mets (Hernandez, Tom Glavine, Pedro Martinez and Steve Trachsel). In the ’04 ALCS, Brown was a disaster and El Duque minimized as the Red Sox rallied from 0-3 down to win the pennant. In the ’06 NLCS, Hernandez and Martinez were not active due to calf injuries and Trachsel was terrible. The only team to win a World Series with four starters that old making at least 15 starts each were the 1953 Yankees of Eddie Lopat, Vic Raschi, Allie Reynolds and Johnny Sain (it helped to have a 24-year-old ace in Whitey Ford).

Mets
David Peterson
USA TODAY Sports

It is another reason for, sure, to have as much depth as possible for a rainy day — and October.

Beyond age, the Mets also will be breaking in Senga. In Japan, Monday is almost always a day with no games scheduled and, thus, Senga was used to pitching once a week, often on Friday. With several off-days early in the 2023 schedule, the Mets could put Senga in the fifth spot and start him on a sixth day in his first two turns and three of his first four (assuming no postponements). But that becomes tougher thereafter. It would be beneficial for the Mets to have a quality swing starter to give Senga (and the older starters) an extra day when needed.

That is why it is worthwhile to have Megill, Peterson and Lucchesi for depth and even add one more with — and especially without — Carrasco. I suspect Michael Lorenzen and Ross Stripling will have clearer paths to be just starters elsewhere and price themselves beyond even the Mets, who are likely through with their heavy financial lifting. Trevor Williams did this job well last year. Would a free agent such as Erick Fedde or Ryan Yarbrough be as good? The Mets also would like to add to their pen and perhaps find an extra outfield bat in the genre of Adam Duvall or A.J. Pollock.

When it comes to starting pitching, though, the best strategy is just to have as much quality and quantity as possible. It should give them a long pause before potentially dealing Carrasco.

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