Mike Pelfrey hurts his elbow, putting the Mets rotation and his future in doubt

Mike Pelfrey. (mlb.com)
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When the Mets drafted Mike Pelfrey with the ninth overall pick in the 2005 draft, they hoped that they had acquired a top-of-the-rotation mainstay.

By this past winter, any dreams of Pelfrey turning into an ace had disappeared. But the Mets brought Pelfrey back, struggles and all, because he was still capable of pitching competently for lots of innings, providing lots of value for a team without ready pitching prospects or the financial wherewithal to bring in additional help.

But yesterday's news, that Pelfrey has a partial tear of his ulnar collateral ligament, with Tommy John surgery and a year's recovery likely to follow, makes it distinctly possible that Pelfrey has thrown his last pitch for the New York Mets.

The timing is a problem for both the Mets and Pelfrey.

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For the Mets, the Pelfrey injury leaves them without a viable starting rotation option every fifth day. The recently summoned Jeremy Hefner doesn't fool enough Triple-A hitters to excel, let alone enough big-league ones. Most scouts believe Chris Schwinden, who will start Friday for Pelfrey in Colorado, lacks the stuff to succeed at the major league level, that his 79 E.R.A.+ in 21 innings for the Mets last year is about what to expect going forward. And prospects like Matt Harvey and Jeurys Familia simply aren't ready yet.

For Pelfrey, still short of free agency, the injury almost certainly means the Mets won't offer him arbitration this winter, setting him free into a market as he still works to recover from this injury. Instead of posting a strong 2012, potentially putting him in line for a significant raise in 2013 and possible long-term deal in 2014, Pelfrey will probably have to settle for a make-good contract. And while other pitchers recovering from the surgery have gotten plenty of incentives because they had a high ceiling, Pelfrey will offer teams real risk and not much of a ceiling. His big paydays are over unless he puts several more 200 inning seasons on his resume.

For their draft pick, the Mets received 876 2/3 innings of 92 E.R.A.+ pitching. Hindsight being what it is, the Mets would have been far better off drafting Jay Bruce, Jacoby Ellsbury or Matt Garza, all of whom went after Pelfrey that year. But the Tampa Bay Rays, the pick before Pelfrey, chose Wade Townsend, who still hasn't pitched in the major leagues. It truly is hard to predict how players will excel from the time they are drafted.

That hot July day back in 2006 when Mike Pelfrey made his debut as part of a Mets doubleheader sweep of the Marlins, earning his first major league victory, may have been the high point of Pelfrey's career with the Mets, and for a Mets era as well.