Chris Bassitt was acquired to provide quality innings and he has been more than that. He has been Max Scherzer.
Through five starts, Bassitt has the same number of innings (31) as Scherzer and the same ERA (2.61) while demonstrating a gamer, unflappable nature. Scherzer was signed to the largest per-annum contract in major league history. Yet the Mets recognized they still needed more starting pitching — short and long term.
Bassitt has helped plug what could have been a far more dire 2022 rotation issue with Jacob deGrom missing at least the first few months this season. And the Mets should work to make Bassitt part of a longer solution as well.
“Yeah,” Bassitt said when asked if he would be open to extension talks. “From my standpoint, I am very surprised at how much I like it here, to be honest.”
In listing what he has appreciated about his Mets experience to date, Bassitt cited general manager Billy Eppler, manager Buck Showalter, the tenor of the clubhouse and being pushed physically, mentally and competitively by Scherzer.
Bassitt said he would “keep private” whether an extension has been broached. In response to a text on the subject, Eppler replied, “It’s a fair article to write. Regarding if we tried or not, I wouldn’t say.” A source said nothing has been explored yet.
The two sides haven’t even yet agreed to a 2022 salary — Bassitt was among the arbitration-eligible players who did not reach a contract accord by the late March deadline. So he and the Mets have an arbitration hearing scheduled for May 23; Bassitt seeking $9 million, the Mets countering at $8.3 million.
Or perhaps in the next few weeks this could be avoided with an extension. There is a good comp to use as guidance. Lance Lynn was traded from the Rangers to the White Sox after the 2020 season. In July of the 2021 campaign, the sides reached a two-year, $38 million pact with an option that could make it worth three years at $55 million. Lynn was in the midst of his age-34 campaign when he reached the agreement.
Bassit, traded by the A’s to the Mets on March 12, is in his age-33 season. He, like Lynn, has a reputation as a bulldog who can pitch toward the top of a rotation. Perhaps that he is a year younger than Lynn and/or this is New York, Bassitt would have to get that third year guaranteed rather than an option. But this is the likely ballpark and it is a ballpark in which the Mets should be trying to play.
Bassitt, deGrom, Carlos Carrasco and Taijuan Walker could all be free agents after the season. Walker has a $6 million player option. DeGrom can opt out of his contract and has vowed to do so regardless of his health. DeGrom has said he would like to stay a Met, but he is no sure thing to stay, nor is Walker.
The Mets are in better position this year and next because of how well David Peterson and particularly Tylor Megill have pitched. Peterson returned from the minors Tuesday to start the opener of a doubleheader and gave up four runs in five innings. But 1) he still earned the win in the Mets’ 5-4 victory over Atlanta and 2) was an upgrade from last year when the Braves clobbered him for nine runs on 13 hits in 7 ²/₃ innings over two starts.
Still, the Mets are going to need more arms to join Scherzer moving forward. The Met farm system is not yet ready to provide rotation solutions. So the Mets have to buy time. The injury history of Walker and Carrasco make them more worrisome long-term gambles; though Carrasco has been healthy in 2022 and never better for the Mets than in the nightcap against the Braves when he delivered eight shutout innings in a 3-0 sweep-assuring victory. Bassit underwent Tommy John surgery in May 2016 and missed the 2017 season, but has not been on the injured list for an arm injury since.
Also, despite his age, Bassitt does not have a lot of mileage on his arm. He was a college reliever and threw just 28 innings at Akron. He was born in the same year (1989) as Madison Bumgarner (2,057 regular season innings) and Chris Sale (1,672 ¹/₃), but has only 586 ²/₃ innings — heck, another 1989 baby, Matt Harvey has 966 ¹/₃ innings.
“I definitely understand the fear of giving an older guy multi-years because you just don’t know how they’re going to age, but the one thing that kind of saves me is that usually a guy who is 33, 34 had a lot of innings on their arms, right?” Bassitt said. “I barely have any innings on my arm, so to speak. So yeah, I understand my age, but I also know how good I feel, how great I felt last year, how good I feel this year, so I’m not too concerned about aging, so to speak.”
The Mets showed a willingness to spend into the future on a starter, making strong, multiyear free-agent bids on Kevin Gausman and Steven Matz. The failure to land either led to Bassitt. That, so far, has been a good result. The Mets should be seriously considering an even longer-term arrangement.