Collin McHugh, leading indicator of the 2013 Mets
As it stands now, the 2013 Mets are likely to rise and fall on the strength of their young pitching. And Collin McHugh has provided a useful example of what that's likely to mean over his brief major league career.
In his debut late last month against the Colorado Rockies, McHugh was brilliant, pitching seven shutout innings and striking out nine. Monday was a very different story, with McHugh lasting just four innings, allowing four runs and lasting just four innings.
Such is the problem with young, inexperienced pitchers, who are often still figuring out exactly how to succeed, and consistently, at the major league level. The ramifications for the 2013 Mets are significant.
Consider that the team is unlikely to add salary this offseason, which means returning most of the same players from 2012. Nor are there many position players available in the high minor leagues that can help the team in 2013. And those two realities are likely to limit the team's ability to add talent via trade, since expensive players are out of the question, and other teams are reluctant to trade young, cost-controlled players for little or no return.
That leaves the new infusion of talent and hope in the hands of the team's starting pitching. As it stands now, R.A. Dickey will return following an elite 2012 season. Jonathon Niese has pitched well all season, and looks like a capable rotation member. Both Johan Santana and Dillon Gee are significant question marks following season-ending injuries.
That leaves a young group highlighted by Matt Harvey, who has been superb in most of his eight starts, McHugh, the recently called-up Jeurys Familia and Jenrry Mejia, and top prospect Zack Wheeler to hold down between 1-3 starting rotation spots and fortify a bullpen in dire need of quality arms.
That is a potential problem for 2013, since depending on five pitchers with what will be approximately twenty starts between them to immediately thrive in the major leagues is asking a lot.
But given the amount of attrition with young pitchers, both in terms of failing to fulfill promise or getting hurt, and the amount of work the Mets need from them, the group doesn't truly offer surplus that would allow the Mets to complete trades without sacrificing 2013, let alone years that follow.
To be sure, having a collection of young pitching talent beats not having one. The real shame is that, properly built around, the Mets could put themselves in position to contend as soon as 2014, if enough of the young pitching bears out.
So much of that future depends on decisions made by R.A. Dickey and David Wright, whose extension could eat up much of the team's 2014 budget if they are signed to contract extensions, or leave the team in need of replacing their best pitcher and position player just as the team figures out which of its young pitchers it can build around. A massive loan of more than $300 million against the team is due in 2014 as well; rest assured that ownership will be more consumed with how to deal with that than it will be with adding complementary pieces to payroll, if they make it that far.
But that is more than a year away; a great deal can happen in the meantime, both on and off the field. What is likely to happen in 2013 is similar to what has happened over the latter part of 2012, only more so: young pitchers will provide fantasies of what could be some nights, and grim reminders of what currently is on other nights.