During this pandemic-induced baseball hiatus, we examine the Mets position by position. We already covered first base, second base, shortstop, third base, catcher, centerfield, leftfield and rightfield. Now, the rotation.
The starters: For the past five years — from about the time Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz debuted mid-2015 amid the Mets’ surprise run to that season's World Series — a rotation full of hugely talented, hard-throwing, mostly homegrown studs has been the club’s signature.
That isn’t so true anymore. Syndergaard is hurt, out for the year after Tommy John surgery in March. Zack Wheeler is gone. Matt Harvey is long gone. And a solid, young position-player core has developed.
The 2020 rotation, composed of five pitchers who have a high ceiling or have been top-tier pitchers in the past or both, still can be very, very good. But there are more question marks.
Jacob deGrom is not one of those question marks. The two-time defending National League Cy Young Award winner is maybe the best pitcher in the world right now, posting a 2.05 ERA and 0.94 WHIP the past two seasons. He is as steadily dominant as it gets.
Then the backfilling to replace Syndergaard begins. Marcus Stroman, acquired via trade with the Blue Jays last July, heads into 2020 with extra incentive to perform well: He will be a free agent in the offseason. Last year, when he became an All-Star for the first time, was arguably Stroman’s best. He had a 3.22 ERA (3.77 in 11 starts with the Mets).
Matz seemed to find another gear late last season, and if he can sustain that level of performance — 3.52 ERA in the second half, two or fewer earned runs in 11 of 14 second-half starts — it would help solidify the front half of the rotation.
Rick Porcello (5.52 ERA in 2019) and Michael Wacha (4.76 ERA in 2019) round out the starting five. When comparing this rotation to the one that helped the Mets revive their season last summer, it’s worth noting that Porcello and Wacha replace Wheeler and Syndergaard. Can the new two match their production?
The durable Porcello, who has never been an All-Star, won the American League Cy Young Award in 2016 but has a 4.79 ERA since. Wacha has dealt with injuries in recent years, but early in his career — his All-Star 2015, bursting onto the scene in 2013 — looked like a burgeoning star for the Cardinals.
The other options: With Syndergaard, either Matz or Wacha might have been bullpen-bound, waiting for if and when the Mets needed a sixth starter.
Without Syndergaard, the Mets’ top backup is . . . a total toss-up.
Among the depth starter options: Corey Oswalt, Walker Lockett, Erasmo Ramirez, Franklyn Kilome and David Peterson.
Of those who have made it to the majors: Oswalt and Lockett have made cameos to little success (and almost never a regular role/schedule) in recent years. Ramirez is a journeyman who had been having a strong spring training as a non-roster invitee when the pandemic hit.
Of those who have not debuted yet: Kilome, who missed last year because of Tommy John surgery, was the Mets’ return for Asdrubal Cabrera in 2018. Peterson was the Mets’ first-round draft pick in 2017 and finished strong with Double-A Binghamton last year.
The future: The Mets have two starters who are 1) under contract for 2021 and 2) currently healthy: deGrom and Matz. Wacha and Porcello, plus Stroman, are scheduled to be free agents in the offseason. Syndergaard and Matz are due to hit the open market after 2021.
That leaves the front office with a lot of upcoming rotation renovating to do — and probably not much money to do it with, if early indications about post-pandemic spending are any indication.
One low-cost option: Giving Seth Lugo another shot at being a starter. He has always wanted to be in the rotation but has been so good as a reliever the past two seasons — 2.68 ERA in 115 games (five starts) — that the Mets can’t bring themselves to take him out of that role. Next year’s openings could be his big chance.
On the prospects front, Kilome and Peterson are interesting options if they continue to develop. Thomas Szapucki had a 2.63 ERA across three levels last season, his first since Tommy John surgery. Kevin Smith got to Binghamton toward the end of 2019, his first full pro season.
Two of the Mets’ most exciting pitching prospects joined the organization in last year’s draft and are far from the majors: Matthew Allan (third round) and Josh Wolf (second round).