Many questions surround the Mets this spring training. Before Opening Day rolls around, the team will have to choose a second baseman, figure out who will be in the bullpen, figure out who will be on the bench and most importantly, figure out who will be starting games this season.
Before the offseason began, Mets management knew that their ace, Johan Santana, would not be expected back until June at the very earliest. However, the larger question that is lingering is once he returns is whether or not he will ever be able to regain the dominant form that made him one of the best pitchers in baseball?
Despite having his hands tied financially and being haunted with the fact the team will not have an ace, Alderson was able to piece together a group of players that could potentially be a solid rotation.
Mets Manager Terry Collins announced that Mike Pelfrey will start on Opening Day this year, which was a no-brainer.“Big Pelf” had a great season last year, minus his horrific midseason slump and showed maturity that he lacked for most of his career. The Mets 2005 first-round draft pick finally seemed to realize his potential and was one of the top pitchers in the National League. The fidgety, nervous and finger-licking Pelfrey seemingly disappeared and a confident and dominant Pelfrey took his place. Pelfrey finished last season with a 15-9 record and a 3.66 ERA and was a powerhouse early in the season. If Pelfrey can replicate his early season dominance the Mets will have a great young hurler who can round out their staff for years to come. While making him an ace might be a little premature, the Mets don’t have any other options and out of the current crop of starters Pelfrey is certainly the best pitcher, meaning he will have a shot to truly cement himself this season. The opportunity is there and Pelfrey needs to take advantage of it.
The No. 2 starter is something the Mets always seem to be in search for. Whether it is someone to compliment Pedro, Tom Glavine or Santana, the Mets have not had that dominant second ace that solidifies their rotation. This year is no different. However, that is not to say that the pitcher expected to be the No. 2 starter, R.A. Dickey, is not good. Dickey was the feel-good story of the baseball season last year and reaped the benefits of his brilliant season when he was awarded a two-year contract this offseason. The 36-year-old knuckleballer was called up from AAA Buffalo last season and amazed the league with his floating knuckler and ability to change speed on his pitches. Dickey finished last season with an 11-9 record but had an outstanding 2.84 ERA.
If Dickey is able to replicate those numbers again this season, the Mets may have one of the best bargains in the league. While it’s hard to root against Dickey, it is also a stretch to think he will be able to duplicate those numbers. However, I do believe Dickey will have a solid season and should have an ERA in the high three’s, which is of course solid.
Coming in as the No.3 starter will be Jon Niese. Niese had a strong season last year but was marred with highs and lows. At points, Niese looked like a young Andy Pettitte with a blistering cutter and bulldog mentality while at other times he showed flashes of an overmatched rookie who needed more seasoning. Niese finished the year with a 9-10 record and a 4.20 ERA. The Mets are hoping that Niese can develop by harnessing the ability that led to him throwing a near no-hitter against the Padres. Niese dominated hitters that night by relying on his curveball and retired the final 21 batters he faced.
The general buzz around Niese is that he has the potential to be a solid starter that can round out a staff, however many are quick to point out that relying on him as a No.3 starter might be asking too much for a second-year starter and he might burn out quickly. Despite this, I do think Niese will have a strong season. He will likely be very similar to last year and will tease fans and management with gem-like games every few starts. If someone else in the rotation can be a rock, having Niese’s ups and downs will be acceptable.
The final two spots in the rotation will be a battle. The early favorites to land the spots are free agent signings Chris Young and Chris Capuano and Mets’ prospect Dillon Gee. Young offers the most potential to be an impact starter for the Mets. If he is able to overcome the injuries he has been plagued with over the last few seasons and regain the form he had in 2006-2007 he could be a great starter who picks up the slack in other areas of the rotation.
The real wildcard of the rotation battle will be Chris Capuano. So far during camp, Capuano has impressed Collins and seems to have regained the form that made him so intriguing as a Brewers starter only a few years ago. Capuano has potential and ability. He won 18 games in 2005 but has been less effective, mostly due to injuries, over the last few years. If healthy, Capuano could be a huge boost as a solid starter in the Mets’ rotation.
Finally, Dillon Gee will get a look as a potential backend starter. Gee came up at the end of last season and was pretty effective for the Mets and won over many fans with his tough demeanor. Gee pitched in five games for the Mets and went 2-2 with a 2.18 ERA. While it would be unrealistic to think that Gee will continue to have such a dominating ERA, seeing Gee as a future No.5 starter is not out of the question. While he likely won’t make the club coming out of camp I fully expect him to be called up multiple times throughout the season as a replacement for an injured or ineffective starter.
Another intriguing option currently working out and waiting for a job offer is Kevin Millwood. While Millwood’s 16 losses and 5.10 ERA are not anything to write home about, his 190 innings pitched could be. Millwood’s numbers last season were almost certainly inflated due to the lack of run support he had pitching for the lowly Orioles, as well as pitching in the hitter friendly AL and pitching half of his games in Camden Yards.
If the Mets were to sign him, Millwood would certainly benefit from pitching in the National League and in the cavernous Citi Field. He could be counted on for 10 or so wins and a four-something ERA while being a solid rock in the rotation. He makes a lot of sense if he can be had for a cheap and short-term contract.
The Mets’ rotation is full of what-ifs and could-be’s. If every starter reaches their maximum potential the Mets will have an incredibly strong rotation. Baseball, however, is usually not that kind. Despite this, there are a lot of things to like about the current group of players and being a middle of the pack rotation is not out of the question.