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Trevor Bauer is the splashiest name among starting pitchers available in the free-agent market, but Mets president Sandy Alderson might have dropped a subtle hint recently that his focus is elsewhere.
On a Zoom call to introduce James McCann as the team’s new catcher, Alderson was asked about the possibility of upgrading third base. Alderson answered, “Is it as glaring a need as a third or fourth starter? I don’t think so.”
If the Mets are looking toward the middle of the rotation, Bauer — who last season won the NL Cy Young award with the Reds — isn’t their guy. But Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton, Jake Odorizzi and Corey Kluber are four names that fit the profile. The Post asked two major league talent evaluators for help in evaluating each.
Pros: The right-hander has been durable, averaging 30 starts in the past four non-pandemic seasons. In 10 starts for the Yankees last season, he pitched to a 3.56 ERA and 1.167 WHIP, with a commitment to not issuing walks.
“I think he’s a perfect No. 3 guy,” said a talent evaluator from a NL team. “He’s proven that he’s not affected by the bright lights of pitching in a big market.”
A second talent evaluator placed Tanaka as the clear best option in the pool that also includes Paxton, Kluber and Odorizzi.
“[Tanaka] has pitched in New York and he’s pitched well in the playoffs,” the second talent evaluator said.
Now 32 years old, Tanaka’s average fastball velocity increased a tick from 91.1 mph in 2019 to 92.1 last season.
Cons: Tanaka, similar to Seth Lugo, has been pitching with a torn ligament in his right elbow that could pop at any time and necessitate Tommy John surgery.
“But one would think if it was going to blow it would have blown by now,” the talent evaluator from the NL team said.
Pros: He would bring balance to the Mets’ rotation as a second left-hander, joining David Peterson. The 32-year-old Paxton is regarded by many as the top remaining lefty starter on the free-agent market.
“I have always liked Paxton, even when he was in Seattle, I thought this guy was going to win a few Cy Youngs,” the second talent evaluator said.
Paxton also has the benefit of two seasons in New York, with the Yankees. In 2019, he pitched to a 3.82 ERA and 1.281 WHIP in 29 starts.
Cons: Paxton’s durability has been a significant issue during a career in which he never has thrown more than 160 ¹/₃ innings in a season. After undergoing back surgery last offseason and dealing with a strained flexor tendon in his elbow in 2020, the lefty pitched to a 6.64 ERA in five starts.
“I was real concerned about [Paxton] last year, the velocity was way down, and sure enough he was injured,” the talent evaluator from the NL team said. “It was down pretty significantly and the Yankees weren’t saying much about it.All you had to do was watch him and you knew something wasn’t right.”
Pros: The right-hander was an All-Star with the Twins in 2019 and would be reunited with pitching coach Jeremy Hefner, who was previously an assistant with Minnesota. Odorizzi doesn’t have a huge fastball, but compensates by receiving very good horizontal movement with the pitch.
“Odorizzi’s talent doesn’t match the other three, but he knows how to pitch,” the second evaluator said.
Cons: Odorizzi barely pitched last season after taking a batted ball to the chest and dealing with a blister problem after accepting the Twins’ qualifying offer worth $17.8 million.
“If you have money to spend and you can give [Odorizzi] a two-year deal for $16 million and take a chance,” the second talent evaluator said. “If it doesn’t work you can just sweep it under the rug. I think that is OK and the Mets are in position to do that now with a new owner.”
Pros: The former Indians ace has won two Cy Young awards and might have the highest upside of all the available starting pitchers not named Trevor Bauer. In his last full season, Kluber went 20-7 with a 2.89 ERA and 0.991 WHIP for the Indians in 2018.
Cons: Kluber turns 35 in April and has dealt with shoulder injuries the last two seasons that have limited his availability. The right-hander pitched only once last season for the Rangers, after appearing in seven games for the Indians the previous year.
“[Kluber] has got a ton of mileage on him, he’s pitched in a lot of high leverage situations,” the talent evaluator from the NL team said. “You just don’t know.”
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