New York Mets prospects

Rafael Montero Dominates in Las Vegas Opener; Who Gets the Hook when He Arrives?

By Will DeBoer

While the big club struggles out of the gate, Rafael Montero shot out to a start worthy of morning-line favor in Las Vegas. The soon-to-be New York ace tossed six innings of four-hit, no-walk, shutout ball in the 51s’ win over Fresno in Thursday night’s Pacific Coast League opener. Noah Syndergaard may be the Mets’ latest summer blockbuster, but Montero’s arrival in Flushing will further strengthen the one strong point New York currently has.

Feb 28, 2014; Port St. Lucie, FL, USA; New York Mets starting pitcher Rafael Montero (50) throws against the Washington Nationals in spring training action at Tradition Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports

The exact date when Montero ascends is far from set, but when he does, the Mets will have a problem: too many good starters, too few rotation slots. It’s a good problem to have, and it’s one that isn’t as imminent as some fans would like. But New York will have to decide fairly soon who stays and who goes when Rafael Montero makes his Mets debut (and don’t get me started on when Syndergaard comes up).

As it stands, Zack Wheeler is likely the only Met starter whose job is ironclad. Last month, I argued the cases for both Bartolo Colon’s and Dillon Gee’s ousters; Gee’s top-notch spring may give him the edge over Colon at this point. Jenrry Mejia shows flashes of greatness, but his spot depends on his health. The same applies to Jonathon Niese; he may be safer because of his left-handedness, but his inability to stay healthy may raise a few more eyebrows.

So, with four potential trade chips, who gets the boot on Montero’s arrival? Much depends on how each man does before then, but as of now the money is on old Bartolo Colon, who was a placeholder for Matt Harvey in the first place.

Aug 17, 2013; San Diego, CA, USA; New York Mets starting pitcher Jenrry Mejia (58) throws during the first inning against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

With New York’s bullpen already in shambles, some would argue that whoever loses out to Montero, or even Montero himself, should be made a reliever. While it’s a tempting notion to replace iffy relievers with established major-league pitchers, the Mets should not try to convert any starter midseason. The team has gone down that path before (Mejia 2010, anyone?); it doesn’t work. Tough as it may be to see effective starters sent away, the Mets should put the sixth starter on the market and bring in actual relief pitchers. Shortstop upgrades are also an option if Ruben Tejada struggles.

Sandy Alderson still has some time to decide what to do when Rafael Montero becomes a big-leaguer, but that time is running out fast. And lest we forget, there’s another young starter who will restart the debate soon after Montero.

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