We looked yesterday at the rotation battle in Phillies’ camp. Now, let’s head across the division and see what’s kicking with the Mets.
Last year’s Mets staff was loaded with talent, but didn’t necessarily produce to its ceiling. Even with Jacob deGrom running out to a second-straight Cy Young award and Zack Wheeler setting the stage for a $110MM contract — one he signed with those rival Phils — the unit managed only a cumulative 4.25 ERA, good for a solid but underwhelming 12th in the game. The staff was still one of the top seven rotations leaguewide by measure of fWAR, but suffice to say the Mets’ best path to a successful season involves a starting group that out-produces virtually all others in baseball.
With Wheeler gone, new Mets skipper Luis Rojas has indicated that only deGrom is assured a rotation spot as camp gets underway. That characterization seems designed to motivate and avoid categorization of existing players. It’s all but impossible to imagine that Noah Syndergaard or Marcus Stroman will be banished to the bullpen. But it’s also a reflection of the fact that the Mets very clearly designed a battle/depth situation at the back of the rotation.
Let’s consider the depth chart …
- deGrom, duh
- Syndergaard, who has a ceiling as high as any pitcher in baseball
- Stroman, acquired last summer with the idea he’d replace the outgoing Wheeler
How does it shape up from there? Let’s look at things by group …
There’s little doubt that the plan is to keep two of these three hurlers in the rotation. If everyone is healthy, the leftover arm will presumably slide into a long relief role. The candidates:
- Rick Porcello: You hate to say that a contract guarantees a particular role, but the Mets assuredly didn’t promise Porcello ten million bucks to slot his durable arm and craft-over-power stuff into the pen. That said, the veteran righty is looking to bounce back from a rough 5.52 ERA effort and isn’t promised anything (beyond that cash) in a must-win season for the Mets.
- Steven Matz: The southpaw is the incumbent here and he owns a sturdy career 4.05 ERA. Trouble is, Matz has been dogged by health issues and some inconsistencies. Rojas spoke of some of the challenges facing Matz, who’ll need to earn his hold on a spot in the 5-man unit. He’ll earn $5MM in his second-to-last season of arbitration eligibility.
- Michael Wacha: It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out for the 28-year-old, whose general career trajectory has been fairly similar to that of Matz. Both have shown the ability to be high-grade starters but also endured stretches of subpar performance and related health issues. He’s only guaranteed $3MM but can earn quite a bit more through incentives, which only adds to the motivation.
Beyond that, things fall off and get quite a bit more speculative. Let’s start with the experienced big leaguers:
- Seth Lugo/Robert Gsellman: Both of these swingmen have functioned as starters and relievers in the majors. The former morphed into a highly effective reliever last year and doesn’t seem likely to shift out of that role. There’s really no indication that Gsellman will be a serious rotation candidate either. Still, these names are worth considering as part of the broader picture.
- Erasmo Ramirez: That’s roughly the same situation for the team’s last remaining pitcher with substantial MLB experience. Ramirez has had some real success in the bigs, though his performance — and opportunities — have dwindled in the past few seasons. Bringing him on was like signing a trust veteran catcher to take up residence at Triple-A: you hope you don’t really need him, but feel comfortable calling upon him if you have to.
Otherwise, no pitcher in camp has completed a full season of MLB service. Several have debuted, though it’s tough to say this smattering of arms is laden with upside:
- Stephen Gonsalves: Once a rather well-regarded prospect, Gonsalves had an ugly 2018 debut and then struggled with arm issues last year. Just what kind of form he’s in remains to be seen … that’s why it’s a camp battle!
- Walker Lockett, Corey Oswalt, Yefry Ramirez, Pedro Payano: These righties are all in the 25-26 age bracket. They’ve each been drubbed in limited big league chances and have never been seen as a high-ceiling hurlers. But they also each showed either an ability to generate solid results (Lockett, Oswalt) or nice strikeout numbers (Ramirez, Payano) in a tough Triple-A environment last year. Lockett and Oswalt have 40-man spots.
- Rob Whalen: Another guy in that age range (he recently turned 26), Whalen has shown a fair bit of promise at times in the minors. He halted his career owing to depression and anxiety, thus missing the 2019 season, so it is not yet clear just where he’ll fit upon his return to the Mets organization.
If all that fails, or some youngster shows a spark, the Mets could look to a few would-be MLB debutantes. The slate of options includes some reasonably interesting names:
- David Peterson: A 2017 first-rounder, Peterson logged a solid Double-A effort last year (116 innings of 4.19 ERA ball with 122:37 K/BB ratio). It’ll be interesting to see how he handles the Triple-A launching pad.
- Franklyn Kilome: The former Phillies prospect is working back from Tommy John surgery and hasn’t yet appeared in a Mets uniform. He’s a former top-100 prospect, so … who knows?
- Thomas Szapucki: The 25-year-old southpaw made his own return from TJS last year and showed he can still get minor-leaguers to swing and miss. He’s a fairly interesting guy to watch but has just one Double-A game under his belt. Importantly, like Kilome, he also presently occupies a 40-man roster spot.