With spring training games going into their third week in Port St. Lucie, home of the New York Mets’ Tradition Field, Manager Terry Collins and General Manager Sandy Alderson have some decisions to make regarding the starting rotation for the 2014 Mets. After Zack Wheeler dominated in his June 18th call-up in Atlanta last year striking out seven, walking five, and allowing four hits over six scoreless innings, it looked as though he and Matt Harvey could be the base for another Miracle Mets starting rotation. However, this plan went askew after Harvey was shut down in late August with a tear in his right elbow. While the ace has undergone Tommy John surgery since then and is pitching at 60 foot lengths, it looks as though he will be out until 2015 with late 2014 as the best case scenario.
With Harvey out, the Mets acquired Bartolo Colon in a two year deal, introducing a reshaped possible starting rotation for the upcoming season with contenders Jonathon Niese, Zack Wheeler, Dillon Gee, Jenrry Mejia, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and the man himself, Bartolo Colon.
Debuting with the Mets in September of 2008, Jonathon Niese went 1-1 over three games and 14.0 innings only to see 25.2 innings in five games with the same record in 2009. In 2010 they bumped him up to full time, where he went 9-10 in 30 starts posting a 4.20 ERA over 173.2 innings. He kept in line with those numbers going 11-11 in 26 starts with a 4.40 ERA in 2011 and started to grow in 2012 with a 13-9 record and 3.40 ERA across 30 starts, marking his first season without setbacks in September. Last season, Niese dipped down to an 8-8 record after opening off the season on the mound, delivering a 3.71 ERA and 143.0 innings in 24 starts. While he is a favorite for the opening day slot this year, his best season so far has been 2012, where he earned a WAR of 3.4 compared to his 0.5 mark in 2011 and 0.7 in 2013. Now considered a veteran member of the team, Niese is a shoe-in for one of the five starting rotation slots.
Going 7-5 over 17 starts in a short 2013 debut season, Zack Wheeler made a name for himself throughout the entire Mets organization with 38 earned runs and 84 strikeouts while allowing 90 hits in 100.0 innings. So far in Spring Training, he has seen two starts with 3.0 innings in each, where he has gone 1-0, allowing zero runs on five hits while striking out six and walking one. In 2012, his first full year with the Mets organization, Wheeler went 12-8 in 25 starts while playing with their Double-A and then Triple-A affiliates. In those games he pitched 149.0 innings and allowed only 59 runs on 115 hits while striking out 148, almost one punch-out per inning. He accompanied these numbers with a 3.26 ERA. Before his call-up from AAA in June of 2013, Wheeler managed 13 starts where he won four and lost two with a 3.93 ERA. He showed improvement in his numbers getting 73 strikeouts in 68.2 innings, while allowing only 30 earned runs on 61 hits. As mentioned before, Zack helped form what looked to be a promising starting rotation for 2014 and beyond and along with Niese will most definitely have a starting spot at the end of the month.
Dillon Gee has been with the Mets since 2010 when he debuted on September 7th. He ended the season with a 2-2 record and 2.18 ERA after five starts. In 2011 he saw 27 starts and went 13-6, pitching 160.2 innings. He struck out 114, yet allowed 150 hits and 79 earned runs giving him an ERA of 4.43. His 2012 season fell short of expectations when he only managed 17 starts and a 6-7 record, totaling 109.2 innings. While he struck out 97, 50 runs came in on his watch with 108 hits knocking them in, but his ERA did drop to 4.10. Last season, Gee worked his way back up with 32 starts and a 3.62 ERA ending the season at 12-11. He saw 199.0 innings, where 142 were struck out and only 47 walked. 208 hits also went by as he limited opponents to 80 earned runs. This year in spring training, Gee has pitched only 2.1 innings in his one start, where he struck out one and walked zero while allowing just one run on four hits. His spring training record stands at 0-0 with a 3.86 ERA but at this point, who’s counting, especially with his status. While not as much of a veteran as Niese, Terry Collins and Sandy Alderson seem to have no plans to remove Gee from his role in the starting rotation, leaving two open spots for our final three contenders.
Yet to make his regular season debut with the Mets, Bartolo Colon will start on the mound as the Mets face off against the Marlins on March 10th. The true veteran will be entering his 17th season in the majors this year, but only his second in the National League, playing with the Expos for a part of 2002. He has posted solid numbers throughout his career, most recently going 18-6 in 30 starts for the A’s last season with a 2.65 ERA. He also managed to post 190.1 innings with 117 strikeouts and 56 earned runs off of 193 hits during the year. Although he has no standing status with the team, the trade would turn into a waste if Colon doesn’t take a spot in the starting rotation in 2014.
With one spot left, the Mets have two viable options; Daisuke Matsuzaka and Jenrry Mejia. After starting seven games and going 3-3 with a 4.42 ERA in 2013 with the Mets, Daisuke left a strange taste in the mouths of many Mets fans, many of which were questioning his place in the MLB. After his dominant 2007 and 2008 with the Boston Red Sox, Daisuke has become a lesser-known and rather irrelevant figure in the game, winning just 20 games since his 18-3 record in 2008 and losing 28. Although the Mets appear to have acquired him as an innings eater, it hardly makes sense for them to start him in 2014, especially with Mejia as a wide open option.
With one start and a 2.25 ERA in spring training so far, the scouts and coaches are liking what they are seeing out of the young Jenrry Mejia. After losing four games in three starts in 2010, Mejia spent time with New York’s Triple-A affiliate, where he saw similar results. The organization continued to keep him in Triple-A for 2011 where not much improvement was made, but he finally made it to the top again in 2012 only to see three starts in five games. In 2013, the Mets called him up and gave him another shot where he went 1-2 over five starts with a 2.30 ERA. He pitched 27.1 innings and allowed 28 hits with seven earned runs and 27 strikeouts while walking only four. Dipping as far down as Low-A and Rookie ball in 2012 and 2013, Mejia definitely has some kinks to work out, but he is getting time in Spring Training, pitching 2.0 innings in one game where he had zero earned runs and struck out three while allowing one hit. If the Mets do give him the fifth spot in the rotation, they will be forced to watch his innings count and possibly take him out towards the end of the season. This could make room for Daisuke, although everyone is waiting to see when Thor, Noah Syndegaard, will be ready for his call-up.
All in all, if the Mets play their cards right they should have a manageable rotation for 2014 and a rock solid one for 2015, especially with Harvey planning to come back full time, and the chance for Syndegaard to finally make his debut. As March 31st draws closer, all of us here at MLB On Deck will be keeping our eyes out for which pitchers Collins and Alderson name to the starting rotation and will keep everyone updated with our MLB rumors from around the league.