David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
The Mets say it's a hard decision. We say it's easy.
Noah Syndergaard stays in the rotation after Friday's start, and Dillon Gee goes to the bullpen, where he was supposed to begin the season, anyway.
Nothing against Gee, who had the unfortunate timing of suffering a groin injury right after two outings (142/3 IP, 1.84 ERA) that should have secured his place in the rotation. But history is full of similar bad breaks, and Syndergaard is clearly an idea whose time has come.
There's also no penalty here. Gee slides into a relief role, Jack Leathersich returns to Triple-A Las Vegas, and the Mets' blueprint for Generation K, version 2.0, moves into its next phase. For those clamoring to have Jon Niese demoted to the bullpen after Tuesday night's stinker in the 10-2 loss to the Cardinals, think again.
Niese, who has a 9.53 ERA in his past two outings, is not only the second-highest paid starter ($7.05 million) behind Bartolo Colon ($11M) but due another $9 million next season. Terry Collins also nixed the Niese-to-bullpen question after Tuesday's loss. As for Gee, he's earning $5.3 million on his current one-year deal, and the Mets already have shown a willingness to stow him in the pen.
Sandy Alderson wasn't ready Tuesday night to make any commitment to Syndergaard because he doesn't have to. The Mets will get another look at him Friday in Pittsburgh and then can make their final evaluation -- assuming both he and Gee, who is making a rehab start Thursday for Class A St. Lucie, emerge healthy.
Asked point-blank if Syndergaard's immediate future is riding on that night against the Pirates, the GM hedged.
"Every new data point is useful," Alderson said. "We'll see how Dillon throws. We'll see how Noah throws. This isn't a competition, but it's new information. So rather than speculating on what will happen, we'll let things unfold and make decisions accordingly."
Understood. But telling you what should happen is our job, and the Mets already have let us know Syndergaard has nothing left to prove in Vegas. Now that Syndergaard's head is on straight, he's better off up here, getting as much big-league experience as possible.
Alderson said Monday that he noticed a maturation bump between Syndergaard's first two starts, so allow him to keep climbing that learning curve. The other part of this debate that popped up Tuesday night had to do with possibly moving Syndergaard to the bullpen. The Cardinals routinely do that with their top pitching prospects, and a hard-thrower like Syndergaard would be another shutdown arm to pair with Jeurys Familia, though it's apparently not on the radar.
"Not yet," Alderson said. "It's always something you could consider doing, but we don't anticipate that at this point."
The priority, of course, is supposed to be winning games. The development phase, at the major-league level, should be in the rearview mirror by now. If you can't contribute to that, you don't belong in a Mets uniform, as Kirk Nieuwenhuis discovered when he was designated for assignment.
"We've got to decide what makes us the best team," Collins said. "We've got to decide in the big picture what our best options are. So when you start laying those things on the table, there's always little obstacles that pop up."
Syndergaard is just the one in front of them now. Next up is Steven Matz, who is pushing for a promotion of his own.
These situations often have a way of working themselves out. Zack Wheeler's T.J. surgery in March allowed Gee back in the rotation, and Gee's groin strain opened the door for Syndergaard. Now the Mets should keep him right where he is.