The Mets have a much better rotation than any 35-50 team deserves. Or needs, for that matter. And it’s about to get another serious upgrade with the imminent return of Noah Syndergaard, who will get his first rehab stint Sunday in Brooklyn.
So to stand pat with this group, in a market nearly devoid of reliable starters, would make the Mets guilty of criminal negligence in their efforts to put this debacle of a season behind them.
Jacob deGrom is building a Cy Young Award case and we’ll give the benefit of the doubt to Syndergaard even though he hasn’t pitched since May 25.
But it’s the resurgence of Zack Wheeler and Steven Matz that rapidly is changing the landscape in the countdown to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. These two finally look fixed. Even if they aren’t, they’re close enough to convince other teams they are.
Wheeler, whose fastball has been sitting at a career-best 97 mph, has a 3.20 ERA in his last seven starts and is averaging more than six innings, with teams hitting .213 against him. The Mets are 1-6 in those outings.
As for Matz, he gutted his way into the seventh inning Saturday, stubbornly sticking around after throwing 45 pitches in the first two. He allowed one run, trimmed his ERA to 3.31 and has a 2.55 ERA in his last nine starts (the Mets are 4-5 in those games).
Of course, that didn’t prevent Matz (4-6) from taking the loss Saturday as the Rays beat the Mets, 3-0, yet another casualty of the team’s non-existent offense and porous bullpen.
See a theme here? There’s no point for the Mets to be holding on to this pile of pitching, not when there is so much else that needs to be done with an eye toward 2019.
We might think a bit differently if the Mets weren’t 15 games under .500 and hopelessly out of the division and wild-card races by identical 13[/DROPCAP] 1⁄2-game deficits, buried by far too many teams. They’ve played too badly for too long, and these signs don’t appear reversible under rookie manager Mickey Callaway, even if Yoenis Cespedes and Jay Bruce were more than figments of the front office’s imagination at this point.
But what the Mets have managed to do, what Callaway and pitching coach Dave Eiland deserve credit for, is unlocking the potential inside Wheeler and Matz just in time to capitalize in the trade market. For once, both appear to be healthy and taking the mound with “conviction,” as Callaway likes to say.
“They’ve made significant adjustments,” he said. “I think Wheeler and Matz are pitching with better stuff, and all that has to do with confidence from pitching well. I think that’s what we’re probably seeing from both of them.”
Whatever it is — lucky pancakes for breakfast, a four-leaf clover under their cap — we won’t doubt the veracity of Cal laway’s statement. Nor should prospective suitors. But this is bigger than just Wheeler and Matz. Sure, they become more attractive to teams such as the Yankees and Brewers, to name a couple. But if things finally have clicked for these two, it also should give the Mets the added depth to consider moving either deGrom or Syndergaard.
When I asked two rival talent evaluators what the Mets should do with this stacked hand, they didn’t hesitate to say the top two have to be traded to restock the team’s woeful talent pool. If the Mets dealt one, they’d still have the other as the ace, backed by Matz, Wheeler, Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman.
John Ricco, the most public voice of the Mets’ three-headed front office, said Friday that he believes a quick rebuild is possible however they choose to proceed. That was predictable. Despite their dire situation, no way are they giving their restless fan base any whiff of punting in the coming years. But they need to drum up talent from somewhere, and the best trade chips they have currently reside in their rotation.
The likes of Wilmer Flores, Jeurys Familia and Asdrubal Cabrera won’t bring back any game-changers. Look what happened last season, when the Mets got nothing but salary relief from dealing Bruce, Curtis Granderson, Neil Walker and Lucas Duda. These starting pitchers are a different story, especially after other prized arms — J.A. Happ and Cole Hamels — waved a few red flags Saturday in their auditions.
The Mets can’t do much right this season, but they do have the ability to control the pitching market and improve their future. In what was just another meaningless loss, Matz should have reminded them of that Saturday.