This Week in Mets Spring Training: The Bryce Harper Reaction

It has happened. Bryce Harper is back in the NL East, but now his home is in Philadelphia with the Phillies. On Thursday of last week, Harper officially signed a massive 13-year, $330 million contract with the Phillies that includes no opt-outs and a full no-trade clause.

Harper going to Philadelphia seemed inevitable once Manny Machado signed with the San Diego Padres, but there were reports that he didn’t want to be in Philadelphia, which opened the door for the Dodgers and Giants to take their shot at the former MVP.

In the end, Philadelphia got their guy.

Although the Mets have somewhat held Harper in check throughout his career, not allowing him to become the next Chipper Jones, he is an impact player that will help an already strong Phillies unit make a run at the National League East title.

Before the Phillies signed Harper I thought that, on paper, the division was neck and neck with the Nationals as the slight favorites, the Mets and Phillies right behind them, and the Braves slightly behind the group, but all within arms reach of each other.

Harper changes the whole dynamic of the division.

In my opinion, this signing puts the Phillies as the division favorites, the Nationals move down to the second spot, and the Mets and Braves fall in at third and fourth. No team is perfect and this division is still up for grabs, there’s no doubt about that but throwing Harper in the bandbox stadium that the Phillies play in 81 times a year gives the team a huge boost offensively.

Before the Phillies signed Harper their offense was definitely their strength, it is what led to them competing for the majority of 2018 and they added some key pieces in Jean Segura, Andrew McCutchen, and J.T. Realmuto throughout the offseason to make it even more potent. They have questions in the backend of their rotation and in their bullpen, but Harper makes their lineup a force to be reckoned with.

To improve their chances of winning the division, the Mets should do the same thing the Phillies did, add to a strength.

In this slow-moving free agency, some top-level talents are still sitting out there waiting for a team to give them a fair offer. One player, in particular, that would make sense for the Mets at this point in time would be Dallas Keuchel.

Keuchel is a former Cy Young award winner that was a part of the 2017 World Series Champion Astros. He is going into his age 31 season and is coming off of a down year for him in which he pitched to a 3.74 ERA in 34 starts across 204 2/3 innings. Those are solid numbers but it seems as if he is past his prime and is no longer a frontline starter.

However, there is no doubt that he would be an improvement over Vargas and would make the Mets already top-tier rotation the best in baseball 1-5. The Mets spent the offseason trying to change the culture and bring in winners. So, what would be better than bringing in a World Series champion that was part of the Astros when they were still among the worst teams in baseball and saw them become a juggernaut in the American League, first hand?

Add on the fact that he is a lefty that could definitely help the careers of everyone in the Mets rotation, especially lefty Steven Matz who had a solid 2018 and his hoping to take a step forward with the help of Wilson Ramos this year, add Keuchel to that combo and he could become as elite as his potential will allow him to.

Let’s also mention the fact that Keuchel would be moving from the AL to the NL which could give him an opportunity to dominate players that have never seen him pitch before.

Not only would the addition of Keuchel strengthen the rotation, but he would obviously improve the teams pitching depth as Jason Vargas would move into a long relief role and become the next man up, should any of the starters get hurt. Hector Santiago, Corey Oswalt, and the other pitchers competing for that role would then start the year in Triple-A and become true depth pieces, improving the team as a whole.

Now, the reasons for Dallas Keuchel are clear. However, there is a reason the former Cy Young award winner is still without a team as we are in March. His price tag is high, and rightfully so. While he no longer seems like an ace he still is good enough to be a number three starter in a rotation trying to compete for a playoff spot. That role should be a pretty good paying job.

It wouldn’t make sense to lock him up for more than one season unless the Mets could get a team option with a small buyout. There have been little to no reports about the current state of the market for Keuchel, so it is hard to tell exactly what it would take to get a deal done with the veteran, but I’m willing to guess it won’t be necessarily cheap.

In 2018 he made just over $13 million according to spotrac.com. His agent is also Scott Boras, whose attention will surely be switched fully over to Keuchel now that he got Harper his record-setting contract. Since Keuchel had a down year in 2018 and dealt with injuries in 2017 it is clear that a pay cut is coming for him.

I think that a one year deal with a base of $9 million with $2 million worth of incentives, a team option for 2020 worth $11 million and a $1 million buyout would get the deal done and both sides would be happy. This would guarantee Keuchel $10 million and give him an opportunity to earn over $20 million in two seasons while the Mets would be able to cut him loose if he doesn’t pan out.

If the Mets were planning on making a reactionary signing to the Bryce Harper deal it probably would’ve happened already, but I do think that Brodie Van Wagenen and company should at least be evaluating the pros and cons of this proposal and thinking about striking quickly.

Opening Day is less than a month away at this point and time is running out to prepare a starting pitcher for the season. Luckily, the Mets could conceivably start the season with a four-man rotation, due to a few days off built into the schedule, and everyone would be able to start on four days rest until April 17th.

In that situation, the Mets could place Keuchel on the injured list with an “ailment” until he has the durability to go at least six innings, however, that is a bit unethical. So, the Mets could try to talk him into a minor league deal in which they would send him down to the minors to start the season until he is able to make a full-length start.

At this point, it is hard to get ready for a season properly. We saw how harmful rushing to prepare for the season can be with Alex Cobb and Lance Lynn. Both pitchers did not sign with a team until mid-to-late April and they both had terrible seasons, likely due to an inability to properly prepare.

Whoever signs Keuchel, whether it be the Mets or another team, needs to make sure he has the time to prepare.

The Mets still can win the division and adding Dallas Keuchel would help them take a step toward making that a reality. It’s time to put up or shut up. They missed out on taking a shot at Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, so they should see Keuchel as an opportunity to realistically say, come get us.

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