After the Mets picked up Carlos Carrasco's $14 million option for the 2023 season last November, the team soon filled the rotation around him with Justin Verlander, Kodai Senga, and Jose Quintana, adding them to the returning Max Scherzer and Carrasco.
And while a rotation of Verlander, Scherzer, Senga, Quintana, and Carrasco should be very formidable, the Mets were open -- at least earlier this offseason -- to trading Carrasco.
To be clear, the Mets would not be dealing Carrasco because they want to clear his salary off the books. With New York having roughly $370 million committed to the payroll and Carrasco's money off the books after this season, his money is a relative speck.
If Carrasco is traded, the Mets would likely be doing it for these two reasons:
One, the Mets would be getting something of value in return. And a legitimate No. 4 starter who is under control for one season and is relatively inexpensive should have plenty of value to pitching-hungry teams if he's dangled.
Second, the Mets would have to be confident that if they traded Carrasco, they would get similar value in the rotation from either David Peterson or Tylor Megill.
And the ZiPS projections for 2023 see similar seasons from Carrasco, Peterson, and Megill:
Carrasco: 4.35 ERA, 8.7 K/9, 2.7 BB/9, 90 ERA+
Peterson: 4.08 ERA, 9.8 K/9, 3.8 BB/9, 95 ERA+
Megill: 3.97 ERA, 9.7 K/9, 2.8 BB.9, 98 ERA+
It's of course important to note that this is just one projection system, and the Mets could have their own internal projections telling them something else.
Additionally, it has to be pointed out that Peterson has never thrown more than 105.2 innings in a big league season, and Megill (who had shoulder issues last year), has never thrown more than 89.2.
So while it's an interesting exercise to look at projections and wonder if Peterson and/or Megill could provide similar value or outperform Carrasco in 2023, it would be a gamble to rely on one of them to toss 170 or so innings -- and that gamble could be especially dangerous with Senga getting acclimated to the majors and the older Verlander and Scherzer atop the rotation.
Trading Carrasco would mean the Mets immediately dipping into their starting pitching depth. And the options beyond Carrasco and Megill -- including Elieser Hernandez, Jose Butto, and Joey Lucchesi, are not ideal.
At the same time, it's fair to wonder if Carrasco -- who was limited to just 53.2 innings in 2021 due to injury and sagged toward the end of last season as he logged 152 innings -- can handle a huge workload as he enters his age-36 season.
While Carrasco was a key cog in the rotation in 2022 and performed well overall, his struggles from Aug. 15 on were alarming.
Over his last seven starts of the season, Carrasco's numbers were quite poor (4.88 ERA and an opposing triple slash of .296/.354/.504), but the main concern was his inability to provide length.
That seven-start stretch included starts of 2.0, 2.2, and 3.0 innings pitched, and two starts of 4.0 innings pitched. That first 2.0-inning stint came on Aug. 15 in a blowout loss to the Braves in Atlanta, when Carrasco left early with left side tightness after allowing three runs on four hits. That injury kept him out until Sept. 4.
Carrasco struggled so badly late in the year (including a terrible performance against the offensively-challenged Marlins in Miami during a damaging Mets loss on Sept. 27) that there was a question of whether he would even make his final start if the Mets were still in serious contention for the NL East title. They were not, and he did.
A look at Carrasco's advanced stats from last season are a mixed bag.
He was among the best in baseball in chase rate (94th percentile), had a walk rate that was well above average, and was also above average in whiff percentage and barrel percentage. But his hard hit rate was in the 32nd percentile after being in the 51st percentile in 2021, and he was well below average when it came to xBA and xSLG.
Hitters also teed off on Carrasco's four-seam and two-seam fastballs, slugging .549 against the four-seamer and .609 against the two-seamer.
So, what should the Mets do?
In a world where a team interested in Carrasco offers a valuable prospect or a big league piece the Mets think will seriously help them in exchange for Carrasco, it would be tempting for New York to bite. But I think the risk outweighs the reward here.
If I'm the Mets, I enter the season with my full cache of starting pitchers and take it from there.
That scenario could mean Peterson being in the bullpen as the second lefty/long man/spot starter, and Megill staying stretched out at Triple-A Syracuse.
If Carrasco is performing well, the Mets can ride the wave. If not, they can adjust in-season. And they'll have their full stable of depth options to choose from.