Mets must find reliable number two and three starters to compete in 2021

Jul 25, 2020; New York City, New York, USA; New York Mets starting pitcher Steven Matz (32) pitches during the first inning against the Atlanta Braves at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 25, 2020; New York City, New York, USA; New York Mets starting pitcher Steven Matz (32) pitches during the first inning against the Atlanta Braves at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports /

If the New York Mets have any chance to compete in 2021, they will need to upgrade their rotation with a legitimate number two and three starter.

Good old uncle Steve has officially taken over the New York Mets, and as the frontiersmen and prospectors used to say when asked why they traveled out west during the 1850’s gold rush era, the possibilities to obtain fortune and success now seem absolutely limitless. The same can be said for the Amazins with this new owner.

But is it really so? Will all that money magically just cure all our ails on the field and make us forget how painful the past 35 years have been?

Despite having a new age analytics team on board and a great brain trust that includes the likes of Omar Minaya, Sandy Alderson, and Terry Collins, there may be one crucial factor that outright determines if the 2021 Mets actually meet the high expectations that all of the tri-state area now bestows upon them.

And that factor is just how consistent and good their starting rotation will be.

If you look back at the Mets glory years of the mid to late 1980’s and the World Series run back in 2015, the one common factor in both those eras was deep quality starting rotation depth. From Dwight Gooden, Rick Aguilera, David Cone to Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom….consistent quality starting pitching has been the one common denominator and foundation on which the Mets built championship contending teams on.

Going into 2021, we know for certain that two time Cy Young award winner and future Mets Hall of Famer Jacob deGrom will continue to be the ace of the staff. We can also reasonably expect that 25 year old southpaw David Peterson will be pitching either as the  4th or 5th starter in his sophomore campaign. I believe he will continue to improve off of his stellar rookie season and hold his own at the bottom of the rotation.

But what about in between?

As of the first week of November 2020, we have four possible options the Mets can consider – Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz, Seth Lugo, and Marcus Stroman. Neither of these four names are “givens” to be consistently effective as starters next season in my opinion.

Last year Seth Lugo pitched to a 6.14 ERA as a starter and had some really bad outings versus NL East rivals Philadelphia and the Nationals. However, he did also have some decent starts against teams like those same Phillies, Toronto, and the Tampa Bay Rays as well. So the jury on how the Louisiana native can do as a starter over a full season is still out.

But what we do know consistently about Seth Lugo is how effective he is out of the bullpen. In last year’s pandemic shortened season, he recorded three saves and pitched to a 2.61 ERA as a reliever in 10 appearances. And in 2018 and 2019, he was easily one of the best set up men in all of baseball. Going forward, I think it would be best to move Lugo back to the bullpen and sign a few other quality relievers to provide him some depth and stability for late inning situations.

Steven Matz made his debut as a local boy growing up and rooting for the Mets. He was raised in nearby Suffolk County Long Island and first toted the rubber for the Mets at the age of 24. In his five and half seasons in the big leagues, he has only amassed a paltry record of 31 wins and 41 losses as a starter though. Considering four of those wins came in his first six Major League starts as a rookie, we can see that his time here in Flushing has not been as effective as we hoped it would be.

There were times when Matz would display pockets of starts where he looked like a competent Major League pitcher. But those moments seemed short-lived and few and far between for the most part. I don’t know if it’s because of his inner anxiety getting the best of him or his propensity to beat himself up too much for the tiniest of mistakes, but either way  he just isn’t living up to the expectations of the New York Mets.

Last year, Matz went 0-5 with a 9.68 ERA in six starts with New York. Clearly his worst year yet. Perhaps with a little more work with the pitching coaches and the ability to add more movement to his very straight fastball pitches, Steven can overcome his struggles. But as of now, counting on him as a solid #2 or #3 starter on a playoff-caliber team seems like a long shot and out of the question.

Noah Syndergaard is probably the most promising of the group but again no one knows how effective he will be coming straight off of Tommy John surgery. Even before his injury, Noah was showing signs that maybe he wasn’t the 1A or the high-end number two starter to compliment Jacob deGrom’s as we once thought he was. Noah often showed a propensity to over pitch and put way too many runners on base than he ought to have during his 2018 and 2019 campaigns. He has also missed nearly two full seasons in his six-year major league career already due to arm and torso injuries.

To me the injuries is the biggest red flag with Noah. We all know the stuff is there and if he can cut down on the nibbling around the plate, there is no reason why a 17 to 20 win season with 240 K’s couldn’t be attainable for the 6’6″ Texan. But to be able to pencil him in as a healthy start every five days for 162 games straight for say three or four years in a row? I think that would be highly unlikely a situation Thor could live up to.

I mean who knows, for all we know, this could be the beginning of a string of shoulder, elbow, lat or forearm injuries that start to plague the burly right-hander for the rest of his career going forward. When you see just how hard Syndergaard throws that baseball coupled with the tension he puts on his breaking pitches, an injury-riddled early ending to a vibrant career isn’t totally out of the question for him.

I don’t know if I can count on that type of player to rely on as a top of the rotation anchor in a seven-game winner take all playoff series. The health and durability risk may be just too high for my liking if I am Steve Cohen.

Marcus Stroman is an interesting case because he is still relatively young and in the prime of his career at age 29. The Mets have just offered him a qualifying offer for one year at $18.9 million as I write this article. Whether he decides to take it or opt for a longer more lucrative contract, the Mets can still sign him if they decide to pony up more money.

The upside to Stroman is he took all of 2020 off and hopefully that benefitted him as it allowed him time to heal up and work on his pitching mechanics a little more. Stroman is not the type of pitcher to blow hard fastballs by you, but he can keep hitters off balance and force them to take bad swings at his breaking pitches. This can be just as effective.

I wasn’t that impressed with what I saw from Stroman in his 2018 year with Toronto nor was I that impressed with what I saw in his 11 starts with the Mets in 2019. I mean he was adequate enough but nothing special. As long as he stays healthy, there is a role for him on a playoff-contending rotation – but I think more as a low-end number three or a high-end number four pitcher.

If you are Steve Cohen and company, outside of Jacob deGrom and maybe David Peterson, I think there is too much risk and uncertainty with the likes of a Seth Lugo or a Noah Syndergaard leading the top of your rotation for 162 games. The goal in 2021 should be to hit the ground running and put a roster together that can get you to a 95 win season with as much certainty as possible. With potential trade candidates like Lance Lynn or free agents like Trevor Bauer or  Corey Kluber out there waiting to be had, I think it would be prudent for the Mets to pursue one or two of those candidates and mitigate their risk a little more.

To add a Lance Lynn along with either Marcus Stroman or Corey Kluber to an already talented rotation should put the Amazins over the top as an early World Series contender. It’s just a matter of how high uncle Stevie is willing to let his payroll go to in order to ensure this stability.

Next. Building a better Mets team through pitching

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Let’s hope the answer ends up truly being “sky’s the limit”.