They say you can never have too much starting pitching. Guess what? The Mets have too much starting pitching. It may not seem like it with the 5-slot in the 2014 rotation still up in the air, but as New York moves ahead, the team will find itself with too many capable starters and too few rotation slots to accommodate all of them.
The Mets’ projected rotation on Opening Day consists of Bartolo Colon, Zack Wheeler, Jonathon Niese, Dillon Gee, and a yet-to-be-determined fifth man. The fifth man, though, is expected to be a placeholder for top-rated prospect Noah Syndergaard, who will make his big-league debut this summer. The elder Colon is primarily a substitute for Matt Harvey, who will take one slot, maybe Colon’s, when he returns in September or 2015. That’ll give New York five young, quality starters for the rest of the 2010s.
But what of Rafael Montero, who some see as an even better prospect than Syndergaard and is currently closer to the big leagues? What of fellow farmhands Jacob deGrom, Cory Mazzoni, and Logan Verrett, who will be at Spring Training and could each have significant careers to come? What of Jeremy Hefner, who returns from Tommy John surgery next year like Harvey? And what of former top-rate prospect Jenrry Mejia, who at the ripe, old age of 24 still has the potential to blossom?
Excluding Colon, that makes 11 young Mets starters for five rotation slots, with 27-year-old Niese as the dean of the staff. Assuming his job is safe, along with those of Harvey, Wheeler, and Syndergaard, that leaves one slot for seven candidates. The dilemma is obvious for Sandy Alderson, but what to do?
One path Alderson can take is to play it safe and lock in the rotation once Syndergaard ascends this summer. The Mets would go forward with a lineup of Harvey-Wheeler-Niese-Gee-Syndergaard, shipping off Montero, deGrom, Hefner, or all of them, leaving the rest of the prospects in reserve.
On one hand, this assures New York of a proven starting rotation with one bona-fide ace (Harvey), two more potential aces (Wheeler, Syndergaard), and two solid middle men (Niese, Gee). On the other hand, if Montero or deGrom turn out to be aces in their own rights, the Mets will look awfully foolish for giving away great pitchers.
Another path Alderson can take is to start a full-on youth movement, trading away Niese, Gee, and Hefner while installing Syndergaard, Montero, and likely either Meija or deGrom.
While it may take longer for the younger starters to reach the levels of Harvey and Wheeler, the upside of potentially having four or five aces is tremendous. On the other hand, if the prospects don’t pan out, as prospects tend to do, New York will be stuck with a subpar rotation, having given away already-proven mid-level starters.
These two options are both extreme, and Alderson would be wise to take the middle road, mixing youth with (relative) age and opening up the trading block. If Montero is as can’t-miss a starter as Syndergaard, he should be fit into the rotation. Perhaps he will even emerge as the fifth starter come Opening Day. In that case, he would not step aside come Syndergaard’s ascension, and one of the Mets’ older starters would be out of a job. Wheeler is a budding ace, Niese the lefty adds variation, and Colon has too much money on him to be relegated. That makes Dillon Gee the odd man out and a potential trade target, along with deGrom and the rest.
Ultimately, Sandy Alderson should take this approach when dealing with New York’s starter surplus. The Mets should move forward with a rotation of Harvey-Wheeler-Niese-Syndergaard-Montero.
Dillon Gee will make a fine trade chip, as he has proven himself to be a consistent major-league starter. Jacob deGrom and Jenrry Mejia can be moved to replenish the Mets’ farm system in the field; if one is packaged with Gee, it could bring in another big bat. It’s too early to know what Mazzoni and Verrett will be, but they still have plenty of time to develop in the minors. Jeremy Hefner, meanwhile, can resume his role as spot-starter/long reliever next year.
New York has been blessed with ample starting pitching and the flexibility to parlay that surplus into a stronger everyday lineup. As of now, the Mets have a problem, but it’s a great problem to have.