BOSTON — As the Red Sox turned Fenway Park into a driving range Wednesday, the newest low point in Taijuan Walker’s extreme disparities between his early-season and late-season performance, the forward-looking question became relevant again: What should the Mets expect from him next season?
And, more generally, how is the Mets’ 2022 rotation looking?
They have plenty of bodies, with ace Jacob deGrom leading the way, veterans Walker and Carlos Carrasco also under contract and relative newbies Tylor Megill and David Peterson available. And that is, of course, before inevitable offseason additions.
But the range of outcomes is vast, in part because all of those names come with some amount of uncertainty.
"You don’t add anyone to that group, and there’s a way," pitching coach Jeremy Hefner said. "That’s a solid group to go into next year with. I would be pleased if we didn’t add anyone."
Among the question marks: DeGrom, for all his excellence, will be going into his age-34 season, having most recently endured a season pockmarked by injuries, including right arm problems that have sidelined him since early July. Walker, who had a 2.50 ERA before the All-Star break and has a 7.59 ERA since, is a total wild card. Carrasco, after entering spring training with the best track record of any Mets starter but deGrom, was injured most of the year and ineffective once healthy.
Megill (4.57 ERA in 16 games) and Peterson (4.64 ERA in 25 career games) have impressed at times but have limited track records.
"I don’t think it’s any different than every year," Hefner said. "There’s always some sort of question mark."
These Mets are an example. Before this season, the club didn’t know what to expect from Walker (minimal pitching previous three seasons because of injuries) or Marcus Stroman (opted out of 2020, citing pandemic concerns). Walker was an All-Star, and Stroman has been their most reliable starter (9-13, 3.00 ERA in 174 innings this season).
So Hefner isn’t too worried about deGrom & Co.
"The expectation is Jake will be Jake," he said. "You could expect some fall in velocity for everyone that’s 34 years old. I don’t think the alarms will sound if he comes out and he’s only throwing 97 [mph] instead of 101. Whatever we need to do to support him, to make sure he’s out there and available.
"The expectation would be for [Walker] to have another full season and be really good again for 30-plus starts."
And then there are the free-agents-to-be. Noah Syndergaard (a candidate for the qualifying offer) and Stroman (ineligible for the qualifying offer after accepting it last year) are about to hit the open market. Midseason acquisition Rich Hill is interested in re-signing with the Mets, he told Newsday recently, and the Mets have enjoyed having him.
"Backfilling Stro’s energy and Stro’s innings and what he’s brought to the team this year, that would be a big hole to fill," said Hefner, who in two years on the Mets’ staff has never seen Syndergaard pitch in a real game. "Obviously, I’d love to have [Syndergaard] back and see what he does up close and personal. But those are hard decisions later on.
"So if you start adding them — or players like them — to the mix that we mentioned before, then you’re doing something really good. And putting a top rotation out there."
Rounding out the rotation picture are the depth options, such as Trevor Williams, Jordan Yamamoto, maybe Joey Lucchesi (Tommy John surgery) toward the end of 2022 and others.
Two other names on that list: righthander Adam Oller and lefthander Josh Walker, who have exceeded the Mets’ expectations in the upper-level minors. As Megill did this year, they could force their way into the major-league conversation.
"You need those types of guys, always pushing the envelope and pushing the major-league team to be better and you start creating that really deep farm system," Hefner said. "That’s where it starts. If you can get some guys in the upper minor leagues, then the guys behind them aren’t as rushed and they can really mature and they can develop properly and not have to always feel like we’re shooting people through the system."
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