PITTSBUGH — Jason Vargas will pitch for the Mets on Friday, his first start in five and a half weeks because of a strained calf, and Jacob deGrom will follow on Saturday. But beyond that, the Mets’ pitcher picture is fuzzy — from immediate-term rotation order to day-to-day bullpen preference to big-picture staff construction.
Such is the nature of the Mets’ state of flux, with a micro focus on Tuesday afternoon’s non-waiver trade deadline and a macro focus on 2019 and whether this team can really contend.
Zack Wheeler is scheduled to start Sunday in the Mets’ finale with the Pirates, but he is also the subject of increasingly loud trade chatter, including multiple reports Thursday that linked him to the Brewers. One source indicated the Mets don’t have much urgency to deal Wheeler, though there has been plenty of interest. It’s a matter of whether another team will offer a package great enough for the Mets to give up a solid starter who is under team control for 2019.
Manager Mickey Callaway said he would like to see the rotation, of which Wheeler has become a highly productive part, stay intact. But he knows the Mets’ front office needs to make moves that make sense for the organization.
“I feel good with our [rotation] depth going into 2019,” Callaway said. “I feel like we have options that can fill in if a trade like that happens. We have a really good starting rotation that I would love to see stay together. But if it improves who we are as an organization and a team in the future, I totally understand having to get rid of one of those guys.”
At the other end of the game, the Mets have several inexperienced relievers who are in effect auditioning for spots in the 2019 bullpen. A non-exhaustive list: Tim Peterson, Tyler Bashlor, Drew Smith, Jacob Rhame, not to mention swingmen Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman, more established pitchers whose long-term roles aren’t solidified. Callaway mentioned Gsellman, a reliever all year, as someone who could start games this season.
With closer Jeurys Familia gone, Callaway said he will proactively get the younger arms into high-leverage spots as the Mets attempt to figure out what they have.
“It’s very important,” Callaway said. “I’ve spent the last week or so really thinking hard about how we want to use those guys — and they have to pitch more than they have been. That’s just the bottom line. We have to see what they can do.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if you see the Bashlors of the world, the Rhames, the Smiths pitching in more impactful innings, getting out there a little bit more.”
All of those questions — Trade Wheeler or don’t? Start Lugo and Gsellman or don’t? Load up a bullpen with in-house arms or supplement significantly in the offseason? — are connected to the biggest one: Do the Mets plan to contend in 2019? Their public stance in recent weeks has been yes, they plan to try to make a run. But front-office representatives haven’t said whether Yoenis Cespedes’ surgeries (and absence into next year) alter that.
“We’re going to spend a majority of the second half really evaluating where we’re at as an organization, not just player-wise but every facet of our organization,” Callaway said.