Johan Santana’s setback this week reminded the Mets that nothing is guaranteed after shoulder surgery, and with his return this season in doubt, Sandy Alderson expressed some uncertainty Friday about the two-time Cy Young winner in looking ahead to next year.
The plan is for Santana to reclaim his title as the Mets’ ace, but who will fill out the rest of the rotation? And can that group hang with the Phillies and Braves, the pitching-rich bullies of the National League East?
On paper, it’s not much of a contest. The Phillies have a staff with four aces – not counting the impressive rookie Vance Worley -- and the Braves aren’t too far behind, with the benefit of a shutdown relief corps.
As for the Mets, their rotation is not expected to look much different than it does today, with the notable exception of Santana, who would be 20 months removed from a serious capsule repair of his left shoulder.
“I think what we’ve got right now is like four No. 3 starters,” R.A. Dickey said. “We need a stopper. On any given day it can be one of us, but I think Johan has really helped with that in the past, to stabilize the staff, so he can arrest the momentum when it’s going negatively.
“But for the most part, we’ve taken the ball every fifth day to a man, and that’s half the battle right there. Just having guys that are durable and reliable. That’s a big deal. I feel like we’ve been able to hold our own and we’ll be able to continue to hold our own.”
Alderson likes what he has seen from the Mets’ rotation, which entered Saturday’s game ranked sixth in batting average (.256), seventh in WHIP (1.30), eighth in innings (677) and 10th in ERA (3.95). Of course, the Phillies were No. 1 in three of those categories (second in the other) and the Braves had a second place, two thirds and a seventh.
“You know those guys are going to be there,” Alderson said, “and we want to match up as well as we possibly can. But it’s about all of the elements of the team, not just the starting rotation."
That’s why Alderson isn’t targeting that area for a major upgrade this offseason, with the plan of investing those resources elsewhere. The GM will need to devote most of his offseason budget for the fund to re-sign Jose Reyes. Whatever might be left over will have to be spent on bullpen help.
“Right now, except for some concern about the depth of our rotation, it’s a fairly solid part of the team,” Alderson said. “The bullpen is probably our bigger concern. With the rotation, we don’t have guys that have been dominant per se. But they’ve pitched well, they’ve pitched consistently, and for the most part, kept us in ballgames.”
Chris Capuano is the only pending free agent, and Mike Pelfrey, who is arbitration-eligible, is likely to earn somewhere in the $5 to $6 million range for 2012. With that relatively modest raise, the Mets intend to keep Pelfrey, despite his struggles. The rotation has sort of followed his lead – durable yet inconsistent, with occasional flashes of brilliance.
Only one starting pitcher has spent any time on the disabled list, and that is Chris Young, who came to the Mets with a long history of shoulder problems and predictably had season-ending surgery in May.
Otherwise, the Mets have four members of the rotation on pace to make close to 30 starts, with Dillon Gee – the replacement for Young – trailing slightly. There’s value in that as well. Just ask the Braves, who had to scratch Jair Jurrjens (12-4, 2.63 ERA) from Sunday’s start and put him on the DL with a right knee strain.
“We’re pretty stable; you can rely on us,” Dickey said. “And I think as a front office, that’s what you want out of your guys – reliability. That way you know that there’s no question marks going into the offseason. So you can go out and take a chance at spending that money elsewhere on places that you do think will put the puzzle together.”