Fresh off back to back trips to the playoffs, the New York Mets entered last season confident they’d be playing into October for the third straight year, something the franchise had never accomplished.
Built on a foundation of quality starting pitching, New York felt their veteran everyday line-up could score enough runs to let their pitchers do the rest, a self-assessment that fell apart seemingly from the get-go in 2017.
Big 2017 Expectations
Entering spring training a year ago the Mets firmly believed that in Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Steven Matz, Zack Wheeler, Robert Gsellman, and Seth Lugo, they had seven legitimate starters for only five spots, a problem truly every team in the big leagues would sign up for in a heartbeat. Things, however, did not go to plan. Before spring training ended, Matz, the team’s only left-hander, was already on the disabled list with elbow inflammation, and Lugo, after pitching an inordinate amount of innings in March, thanks to Puerto Rico’s WBC team, had been diagnosed with a partially torn UCL and had no immediate timetable for his return. The Mets’ pitching misfortune was only just beginning.
Syndergaard was a Cy Young candidate in 2016, and after a dominant start to his ’17 campaign, a torn lat muscle essentially ended both his, and the Mets’ respective seasons in late April. Harvey and Wheeler had their own problems, as the former struggled in his attempted return from Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, pitching to a 6.70 ERA in 92.2 innings while missing significant time himself due to a stress injury in his shoulder.
After missing two consecutive campaigns recovering from a complicated Tommy John procedure, the 27-year-old Wheeler showed flashes during his return, but ultimately finished with an ugly stat line and never threw a pitch for New York after July 22nd due to a variety of new ailments. While Gsellman himself did not spend any time on the disabled list, his 5.19 ERA in 22 starts ultimately led him to being optioned to AAA Las Vegas. Gsellman was a huge piece of the Mets playoff push in September of 2016, so bigger things were expected from him.
The lone bright spot on New York’s pitching staff last year was deGrom, who was one of the best starters in all of baseball, making all 31 starts in his rotation turn, winning 15 games for team that collectively won only 70, and was firmly in the discussion for the National League’s Cy Young award.
2018’s Rotation Outlook
As the Mets gear up for what they hope will be a return to contender status in 2018, as has been the case in years’ past, their chances are directly tied to a pitching staff that as recently as two seasons ago was the envy of the entire sport, but last year due to injury and poor performance finished with the 3rd worst staff ERA in baseball. As spring training opens this week, New York did nothing to address their rotation, instead, they’re content trusting their current group to rebound, a sentiment met with expected criticism.
While the Mets have the same seven starters for the same five spots they had last February, it is essentially five pitchers for three spots, as the club is entirely confident deGrom and Syndergaard will be arguably the best 1-2 punch in the NL. Those last three spots though are cause for concern, as Harvey hasn’t been good since 2015, Matz has never stayed healthy for a full year, Wheeler has made only 17 for the most part ineffective Major League appearances since 2014, Gsellman is entirely unproven, and Lugo’s elbow is a ticking time bomb ready to blow up in Tommy John Surgery at any time.
Optimistic Free Agent Options
All of those reasons are why you’ve probably heard the Mets connected to free-agents Lance Lynn and Alex Cobb in recent weeks, two legitimate middle-of-the-rotation starters who inexplicably are still on the open market on Valentine’s Day. Both right-handers are coming off seasons with double-digit win totals and close to 3.50 ERA’s, and both would figure to be locks for 180 innings or more. Either one would bring stability to a Mets’ rotation that is frankly just hoping for the best for 60% of their starting five, and at least on paper New York would present themselves as a much greater threat in the National League.
The issue with the Mets, as always, would appear to be payroll flexibility. While the crazy offseason has presented opportunities that could be not have been foreseen months ago (two legit middle-of-the-rotation arms available in mid-February), New York has never shown themselves willing to vastly exceed their projected payroll, something that has infuriated fans for years. The longer Lynn and Cobb sit on the open market you’d have to believe the Mets’ front office will get antsy to take advantage of a unique situation, but whether ownership will sign off on a pursuit is a big question mark.
Realistic Free Agent Options
The most likely situation is one that sees the Mets ink someone like Jeremy Hellickson or Ubaldo Jimenez to a minor league deal to try to improve the club’s depth, something that would fail to excite almost anyone. This could also come back to bite the team if injuries and struggles claim the rotation yet again. New York is confident new manager Mickey Callaway, a former pitching coach, can get the best out of this group and return the Mets’ pitching staff to elite status. However, this is far from a sure thing.
You be the judge yourself. As currently constructed, do you believe the New York Mets have enough pitching to compete in the National League? Only time will tell, but let us know in the comments.