The biggest news of all on Monday was the only saving grace for the Mets, as Jacob deGrom emerged unscathed from his five shutout innings, raising hopes around Citi Field that his recent injury scares are behind him.
All around deGrom, however, the injuries keep coming, with pitchers suddenly going down as rapidly as position players were in April and May. Only the Mets don’t have nearly as much depth on the pitching side, which could put significant pressure on their front office to find some answers outside the organization.
And that won’t be easy, either, considering their own lack of prospect talent they’d be willing to use as trade chips, as well as the limited number of attractive pitchers who will be available even as the July 30 trade deadline draws closer.
Put it this way: With so many teams still at least on the fringe of postseason contention, the Texas Rangers’ Kyle Gibson, a 33-year-old journeyman having the best season of his career, could be the top starter available and thus potentially the object of a bidding war for the many teams who will be looking to add starting pitching.
In truth, the Mets probably won’t be shopping at that level anyway. As long as deGrom is healthy, they have a Big Three that includes Marcus Stroman and Taijuan Walker, and potentially a strong foursome now that David Peterson has rebounded with a couple of solid starts.
But they’ll need some level of help just to fill all the innings now that No. 5 starter Joey Lucchesi has a torn elbow ligament and needs Tommy John surgery.
High-leverage reliever Jeurys Familia has been put on the IL with a right hip impingement, and innings-eating reliever Robert Gsellman is out long-term with a torn lat.
With 20 games in the next 20 days before the All-Star break, including a third doubleheader in the space of a week, the need for fresh arms could become critical.
So let’s start with the idea of replacing Lucchesi…
The internal options aren’t great. The Mets would love to think they could get four shutout innings on most nights from 30-year-old Jerad Eickhoff, as they did in Game 2 on Monday, but considering his 5.32 ERA at Triple-A Syracuse, which includes 11 home runs allowed in 44 innings, that’s probably wishful thinking.
Otherwise, 26-year-old lefty Thomas Szapucki is the team’s highest-ranked prospect who is close to the majors and isn’t injured, but he’s struggling in Triple-A largely because of control problems — he’s allowed 19 walks in 29 2/3 innings.
The hot name, meanwhile, is right-hander Tylor Megill, who has come from off the prospect radar to be the Mets’ best minor league starter at their higher levels, pitching to a 3.06 ERA through seven starts at Double-A and Triple-A, racking up 53 strikeouts in 35 1/3 innings.
An eighth-round draft choice in 2018 out of the University of Arizona, the 6-foot-7 Megill had injuries that limited him to 99 2/3 minor league innings coming into this season, not including whatever unofficial innings he threw at the alternate site during the 2020 season.
One scout who has seen Megill described him as “an unfinished product” and said his success is mostly the result of a 94-96 mph fastball that he commands well down in the strike zone, while warning that he needs to develop his secondary stuff more fully to get big league hitters out with any consistency.
“They’d be rushing him if they brought him up right now,” said the scout.
Even so, the Mets may have to give Megill a shot at some point. Otherwise, they’ll be shopping for a back-end starter while hoping that Carlos Carracso finally returns at some point from his season-long hamstring injury and Noah Syndergaard recovers from his setback in his return from Tommy John surgery.
The market for starters is likely to be limited, especially with teams like the Cincinnati Reds and Washington Nationals getting hot lately, perhaps keeping them from being sellers at the trade deadline (the Nats aren’t trading Max Scherzer inside the division even if they do decide to move him).
Along with Gibson, who is 5-0 with a 2.17 ERA for the lowly Rangers, the Twins’ Jose Berrios and the Rockies’ German Marquez could be highly sought starters who will cost significant prospects. But unless the Mets are now willing to trade infield prospect Ronny Mauricio because they signed Francisco Lindor long-term, it’s hard to see how they’d be in the market for Berrios or Marquez.
More likely for the Mets could be the Twins’ Michael Pineda (though currently on the IL due to forearm inflammation) or Pittsburgh Pirates lefty Tyler Anderson.
A REUNION WITH AN OLD FRIEND?
One other intriguing possibility is Michael Fulmer, the same guy the Mets once traded for Yoenis Cespedes, with Fulmer then going on to earn Rookie of the Year honors for the Detroit Tigers.
Fulmer missed all of 2019 and most of 2020 because of Tommy John surgery, and he’s been converted to a reliever by the Tigers over the last couple of months. But he’s pitched well enough out of the bullpen, earning six saves since May 5, to get some attention as a trade candidate, since he’ll be a free agent after the 2022 season for the rebuilding Tigers.
And because he was stretched out as a starter early in the season, making three starts in April, Fulmer could be someone the Mets could acquire at some prospect cost with the idea of using him as needed in the ‘pen or starting rotation.
Otherwise, the most attractive low-cost relievers available may be the Rangers’ Ian Kennedy or the Rockies Mychal Givens, who are both free agents after the season. And then there is Richard Rodriguez, a 31-year-old right-hander for the Pirates with a 1.91 ERA and eight saves, who is under contractual control for two more seasons, raising his trade value.
Chances are the Mets were going to be active at the trade deadline anyway. Only a couple of days ago, owner Steve Cohen said publicly he’d consider going over the payroll luxury tax threshold if the right deal was out there to be made.
Now there is just a little more urgency for Zack Scott and the Mets’ front office to make something happen. The quicker the better.