By Joe Pantorno
With the Mets’ need for starting-pitching depth near the top of its most dire needs this offseason, rumors are beginning to swirl that an option for the lower end of the staff could come from the other side of the city.
Dan Martin of the New York Post reported on Saturday night that some “outside the organization” believe that long-time Yankees starter Masahiro Tanaka could be a fit in Queens.
Tanaka recently completed a seven-year, $155 million deal with the Yankees, becoming a mainstay in the rotation over the years, but not exactly developing into an overwhelming ace that many expected him to be when he came over from Japan. He went 78-46 with a 3.74 ERA, 1.130 WHIP, and a 4.76 strikeouts-to-walk ratio in regular-season play.
He did fit that ace-like moniker in the postseason — at least until the 2020 season — allowing nine earned runs in 46 playoff innings from 2015-2019. The 32-year-old had a wretched showing in October this year, allowing 11 earned runs in eight innings of work between the ALWC against the Cleveland Indians and the ALDS against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Any potential interest from the Mets would come with the expectation that Tanaka would not be a top-end starter — a No. 3 man, at the highest — to usurp the likes of Marcus Stroman or the rehabbing Noah Syndergaard behind Jacob deGrom, at least for now.
The Mets, fueled by the arrival of new owner Steve Cohen, have much larger starting-pitching targets to pursue this offseason. The most notable being 2020 NL Cy Young Award winner, Trevor Bauer, who would give the Mets one of the finest 1-2 punches in all of baseball alongside deGrom.
Meanwhile, Stroman would be able to perform under that No. 3 role until the return of Syndergaard, who recently began throwing off a mound in his rehab following Tommy John surgery earlier this year.
Even in a scenario that sees Bauer head to Citi Field, the Mets still would need more help to round out the rotation. David Peterson showed promise in his debut campaign, but Michael Wacha and Rick Porcello were clearly not the answer in 2020. It also remains to be seen how many more chances Steven Matz will have to prove he is worthy of a spot in the rotation after another horrendous season in Queens.
Tanaka would be a proven option as a No. 4 starter but there are underlying concerns. A partially torn UCL suffered in 2014 has long been viewed as a ticking timebomb that would sideline the right-hander for the long-term — a gamble many would see as an unneeded one to take considering the organization’s luck with injuries to prominent starting pitchers.
There are also numerous other starters available on the starting-pitching market that could provide similar numbers while also being had for less money. Options include Charlie Morton, Jake Odorizzi, and Jose Quintana.