Feb 17, 2014; Port St Lucie, FL, USA; New York Mets relief pitcher Bartolo Colon (40) works out during todays first official day of spring training at Tradition Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports

Colon or Gee: Who Gets Weeded Out When Budding Aces Bloom?

As it stands now, the Mets will go into Opening Day 2014 with a starting rotation of Jonathon Niese, Bartolo Colon, Zack Wheeler, Dillon Gee, and an unnamed fifth starter, perhaps John Lannan. Meanwhile, the team’s two new aces-in-waiting, Rafael Montero and Noah Syndergaard, are heating up Port St. Lucie. Montero was impressive in his first Spring Training start, while Syndergaard picked up rave reviews from Detroit Tigers veterans after his latest outing.

Feb 20, 2014; Port St Lucie, FL, USA; New York Mets relief pitcher Bartolo Colon (40) in spring training action at Tradition Field]. Mandatory Credit: Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports

While it’s likely both will begin the season in Triple-A Las Vegas, it is inevitable that the two starters will ascend to the major leagues at some point this season. Syndergaard has been pegged for a late June debut, and Montero will be ready much sooner. It’s feasible that Montero could break camp and end up on the Opening Day roster, and nothing is impossible with Syndergaard.

New York is sky-high on Montero, and that’s even with Syndergaard overshadowing him. Even if the team takes things slower with each, which the run-ups to Matt Harvey’s and Wheeler’s debuts suggest, the Mets will still have a log jam in the order by the All-Star Break. Lannan will likely be the first to be shown the door when Montero arrives in Queens. But who follows him out once Syndergaard rolls in?

Zack Wheeler is the only starter whose job is definitively ironclad. Jonathon Niese’s situation is less certain, but as the dean of the staff and its only lefty, he’s probably safe as well. That leaves Bartolo Colon and Dillon Gee to fight it out for the final slot. But which one is weeded out once the Mets’ final ace blooms, and which one keeps his roots down?

Let’s take a look at Bartolo Colon. On one hand, Colon is a former Cy Young winner. He is still somehow in the prime of his career, coming off a year where he posted 18 games, a 2.65 ERA, and led the American League in shutouts. He could be great and help the team win this year. The Mets signed him for $20 million over two years, so there’s also the matter of making sure the money is on the field; no one wants a repeat of Jason Bay and Johan Santana last year. While his fastball doesn’t have the stuff it used to, the slower pitch may help the Mets break up the predictability that flamethrowers Wheeler, Montero, and Syndergaard could create.

On the other hand, Colon is 40 years old and turns 41 in May. What’s left of his stuff could be here today, gone tomorrow. Plus, he was suspended for PEDs in 2012; who’s to say he won’t get caught for something again in 2014, when his body may need it even more? In addition, in many ways Colon is only a placeholder for Matt Harvey while he rehabs his elbow. Even if he doesn’t get to fulfill his most recent tweeted promise, Harvey will be back in 2015 and Colon will be out of a job anyway. Why not trade him at Syndergaard’s arrival and get someone who will actually be on the team next year?

Sep 10, 2013; New York, NY, USA; New York Mets starting pitcher Dillon Gee (35) pitches against the Washington Nationals during the third inning at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Then there’s Dillon Gee. On one hand, Gee came into his own last season, recovering from his blood clot and rebounding from a rocky start to finish with 12 wins and a 3.62 ERA. He’s a proven commodity at a time when the Mets need consistency from their starters. Gee would be a third starter in any other rotation, so having him at the back end proves the strength of New York’s starting pitching. Plus, if his early Spring Training starts are any indication, he’s going to get even better in 2014.

On the other hand, Gee is 27 years old and turns 28 a month into the season. He’s almost reached his peak, and the Mets know that what they’ll get from him is good but not great. With the chance to send four front-end starters out to the mound every five days starting in 2015, New York may not have room for another middle-of-the-order man. While Gee and Jonathon Niese may have similar stats, Gee’s right-handedness plays to his disadvantage: Harvey, Wheeler, Montero, and Syndergaard are all righties, and the Mets would probably go with Niese over Gee just to break up the predictability.

So, when Montero and Syndergaard both make it to the bigs, who gets the short end of the stick: the aging Bartolo Colon or the surplus righty Dillon Gee?

Trick question. Both of them should go.

Forget about 2014 for a second. By 2015, the Mets will have a starting rotation of Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, Noah Syndergaard, Rafael Montero, and Jonathon Niese. This has the potential to be one of the all-time great rotations. Even if one of the aces gets traded, that’s still one of the top rotations in baseball today. But New York has made it clear they will not trade Montero or Syndergaard, and that means after 2014 there’s simply no room for Colon or Gee. What’s the point in delaying the inevitable?

Here’s how the Mets should go about unloading their surplus starters. First, Dillon Gee should be traded immediately for a shortstop, perhaps Nick Franklin from Seattle. If Montero breaks camp, he’ll get Gee’s spot in the rotation; if not, Jenrry Mejia can fill in for the few weeks it takes for Montero to get promoted. Then, when Syndergaard makes his debut in late June, New York should unload Colon, and his contract, to a contender that needs a starter. How Colon’s season has gone will determine the level of prospects the Mets will get in return, but Sandy Alderson has the chops to bring in a decent load no matter what.

The second part of the plan will be much more difficult to execute if the Mets are still in contention by the All-Star Break. Trading Colon for prospects will look like the team is throwing in the towel even in the midst of success. However, the Mets have more than enough pitching to fill the hole that Colon’s departure will bring. John Lannan is a capable fifth starter. Jenrry Mejia has shown flashes of greatness, if not consistency. Jacob deGrom, the third big prospect of the year, could be ready for the big leagues around the same time as Syndergaard; New York could use the rest of 2014 to showcase him to other teams. And then there’s the potential September return of Matt Harvey in the back of everyone’s mind. In short, New York has enough tools that the team won’t miss Colon, even at the height of a pennant race.

Dillon Gee has served the Mets well in his first three years with the club. Bartolo Colon is expected to serve them well this year. Many teams would be lucky to have these two starters in the rotation, the Mets included. But with New York’s Four Aces about to be drawn, there simply isn’t room in the hand for a couple of jacks.

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