The Mets have brought back Bartolo Colon, who has won 29 games the last two seasons and provided 194 innings and a successful run in the bullpen during the playoffs this past season. As important as Colon is on the field, he is just as important in the clubhouse, as he’s been a positive influence on the young pitchers. With the inevitable return of Zack Wheeler from Tommy John Surgery, could he work out of the bullpen in 2016 with Colon remaining in the rotation?
Wheeler is expected to return to the Mets in June or July, leaving some important months for Colon to take hold of the fifth spot in the rotation. Similar to Matt Harvey’s comeback season, Wheeler’s season will certainly come with restrictions. Wheeler will have fewer months to pitch once he returns, but will still been handled with care. For that very reason, the Mets felt it was necessary to bring back Colon on a $7.5 million deal.
Prior to his injury, Wheeler posted an 18-16 record with a 3.50 ERA in two seasons. Unlike Harvey and Syndergaard, Wheeler has taken some time to develop. Last July 29, Wheeler was rumored to be part of a package with Wilmer Flores traded to the Milwaukee Brewers for Carlos Gomez. While many remember this more for the Flores crying incident, it was significant that the deal was not completed. Since that day, Wheeler has expressed his strong desire to remain with the club.
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There are a few reasons why Wheeler will not be rushed back into action…
Besides being cautious with health, the Mets are extremely deep in the rotation. Colon is a quality fifth starter, and Wheeler may produce just what Colon can produce, but with an innings limit. Colon’s 4.16 ERA is expected from the typical fifth starter. FanGraphs projects Colon to drop his ERA to 3.79 in 2016, but win seven games in 128 innings. It would be a tall task for Wheeler to come back from injury and produce much better statistics. And that’s where Wheeler to the pen comes in.
While the Mets have taken care of the position players this offseason, the bullpen still remains a question mark. It would be a good option for both player and club to have Wheeler pitch out of the bullpen in 2016. Wheeler would be able to spot-start, but maintain his innings limit in the bullpen. With success, Wheeler could emerge as the eighth-inning man out of the pen to get the game to closer Jeurys Familia.
Wheeler would have a leg up on other relievers, possessing more than two plus pitches. His fastball would work well out of the bullpen and may tick up in velocity, perhaps making his secondary stuff that much tougher. This would give him a chance to work on those secondary pitches with pitching coach Dan Warthen. In the short-term, Wheeler can master his out-pitches while continuing to strengthen his fastball.
The Mets will have a chance to strengthen a weakness from within if they shift Wheeler to the bullpen in 2016, while protecting an asset.