Eight starters vying for five spots. It’s a great problem to have, but a problem nonetheless.
Over the past few weeks I’ve been thinking a lot about what Sandy Alderson’s plan will be in terms of rounding out the big league rotation to not only start the season, but to finish it. With the return of Matt Harvey looming, Sandy and his cronies have big decisions to make as far as his maintenance goes, being that this will be his first season back from the dreaded Tommy John surgery.
Recently, Alderson has stated that they will monitor Harvey’s in-season innings so that if the team is in contention in late September and October, Harvey will be able to pitch, unlike the Nationals’ Stephen Strasburg a few seasons ago.
With this in mind, I think it’s safe to say we know at least three of the starters going into the season: the aforementioned Harvey, Zack Wheeler and Jacob deGrom. From there things get interesting. Will Sandy look to trade a guy like Jon Niese, who is on not only under a very affordable contract (four years for $37 million), but is the only lefty in the rotation? Though he may have solid value on the trade market (and may have given Terry the finger a few months ago), I doubt Sandy would make such a deal and would have to think he will be the third or fourth starter in the rotation.
Now, I don’t think Dillon Gee will be a Met on Opening Day. Why? Well, there’s a few reasons. First, Bartolo Colon is set to make $11 million dollars. And as we know with the Mets, you can never underestimate the financial side of it. Secondly, Gee would net a better player in return than Colon would. Do I think he will bring back the shortstop we are all looking for? No, but that doesn’t mean Sandy won’t find a good deal for someone else (think an extra outfielder). Lastly, I can’t see Sandy paying a combined $16 million for a fifth and sixth starter combo in Colon and Gee. So, that leaves Gee as the odd man out.
From there, going off of what Sandy said about Harvey’s in-season inning limit, I’d guess Rafael Montero, a guy who underperformed last season yet still finished with a 4.02 ERA in the big leagues, would start the year in Triple-A and be the spot starter for whenever Harvey needs to be skipped. Sandy could easily do this by having Harvey and Montero pitch on the same days and thus, call Montero up on normal rest when they decide Harvey is to sit. Not only is Montero a much cheaper option than Gee, if he does pitch up to his minor league standards, he may just be a major piece in a deal that nets a young shortstop (think Montero and Kevin Plawecki for Arizona’s Chris Owings, a deal our own Danny Abriano made in the Fansided Faux Winter Meetings).
And now for the most exciting question mark: Noah Syndergaard. Yes, statistically speaking, he had a down season last year. There’s no denying that. But what struck me the most about his Triple-A campaign was how just about each prominent minor league baseball analyst seemed to think he got even better. Take ESPN.com’s Keith Law for instance, who stated after the season that:
"Thor is back, healthy, and throwing well, even though Vegas is no picnic for pitchers… Syndegaard won’t turn 22 until late August and has improved every year since he’s entered pro ball, so I wouldn’t bet against him reaching an even higher plane of performance after he reaches the big leagues."
When Syndergaard gets the call this coming season, which he will barring a blockbuster deal or an injury, Sandy will once again have a dilemma on his hands: there will be seven pitchers fighting for five spots, and if you’re trying to make a playoff push, would you trade the likes of Colon in a Marlon Byrd type deal, or would you hold onto him, make your playoff push, and have Noah be the spot starter and come out of the bullpen? I’d guess he’d go with the latter, being that Colon will give the Mets the best chance to make the playoffs, and using Syndergaard’s cannon out of the pen will both ease him into the big leagues and save some of his innings.
For those at home keeping score, here is the rotation I would expect Sandy to run out both on Opening Day and after the deadline, keeping in mind that Montero will start at Triple-A, be the spot starter until the deadline, eventually be dealt for a shortstop, after which Syndergaard will take his spot:
- Matt Harvey
- Zack Wheeler
- Jon Niese
- Jacob deGrom
- Bartolo Colon
Whether Sandy follows my plan or not, the depth of pitching he has built over the past four seasons will give him a plethora of options going forward, and I expect him to cash in on some of them, which in turn will make this team a contender once again. Yes, a real contender.