Somewhere in the middle of the Mets’ priority list this offseason is finding a dependable arm for the rotation.
Bronson Arroyo and Phil Hughes are among the names that make the most sense for the club, but the Mets could go lefty if they get outbid on both.
Multiple talent evaluators from outside the organization have mentioned veteran Joe Saunders as a potential fit for the Mets.
The 32-year-old Saunders went 11-16 with a 5.26 ERA for the Mariners in 2013, but has averaged 193 innings over the past four seasons. He would give the Mets a lefty, and a potentially inexpensive presence, to help anchor the rotation until younger arms such as Noah Syndergaard, Rafael Montero and Jacob deGrom are deemed ready.
As it stands, Jon Niese is the only lefty in a rotation that figures to include Zack Wheeler, Dillon Gee and perhaps Jenrry Mejia to begin the season. The team also could look to re-sign Daisuke Matsuzaka or Aaron Harang, both of whom joined the Mets late in the season.
Matt Harvey, who underwent Tommy John surgery last month, is not expected to pitch in 2014.
The Mariners recently declined an $8.3 million option on Saunders for next season. Over a nine-year major league career, he is 89-81 with a 4.30 ERA for four different teams. He is viewed as a potential upgrade over veterans such as Shaun Marcum, Chris Young and Chris Capuano who have pitched for the Mets in recent seasons. All three pitchers were attempting to rebound from various physical ailments when they joined the Mets.
The Mets’ top priority is finding lineup help, and the amount spent in that area will largely determine what level of starting pitcher the team can acquire.
Arroyo, a proven innings eater, is expected to land a multi-year contract that could pay upwards of $10 million per season. Hughes’ asking price could be close behind.
The 36-year-old Arroyo went 14-12 with a 3.79 ERA for the Reds in 2013 and reached 200 innings for the eighth time in nine years.
“There’s going to be some ballclubs maybe like the Mets that have that nice mix of young arms, but need somebody to kind of anchor a rotation with 200 innings, so it’s going to be a very interesting offseason for me,” Arroyo told The Post in September.
Roy Halladay and Josh Johnson are two of the intriguing names on the free-agent market, but both former studs are coming off injuries and would hardly be sure things to provide the Mets with innings.