The Mets' Plan B, once again, is no Plan B at all
Entering spring training, it was pretty clear the Mets were crossing their fingers when it came to their starting rotation.
It's actually a solid group, in the abstract: Johan Santana, Matt Harvey, Jonathon Niese, Dillon Gee and Shaun Marcum. If all five stay healthy and produce at close to career norms, the Mets' starting pitching could be a significant source of strength.
But of course few groups of starting rotations ever stay intact for the full season. In 2012, 18 of 30 teams used ten starting pitchers or more, and only one team used as few as six.
The Mets arguably have more risk in their rotation than most teams. Santana pitched just 117 innings last season, and missed all of 2011 following shoulder surgery. Marcum made just 21 starts due to injury last year. And both pitchers have already had setbacks this spring while preparing for the season; Santana is expected by the Mets to begin the season on the disabled list.
Add in Dillon Gee's half-season missed with a blood clot, and the ten starts Matt Harvey has logged in the major leagues, excellent as they were, and there's a fair amount of uncertainty. Sure, many teams have uncertainty in their starting rotations, and pitchers inherently are risky creatures. But that's the point. That uncertainty, almost without fail, leads to injuries, performance drops, and the need to employ many more than five starters.
So who do the Mets have for when that happens?
The three backup plans cited by the team, and they really only have three, are Jenrry Mejia, who struggled at both Triple-A and with the Mets last season. There's Jeremy Hefner, whose 5.09 E.R.A. was partially the result of a low strikeout rate putting balls in play, and partially from a Mets defense that made such balls more dangerous than normal. That defense hasn't been fixed, by the way. And there's Collin McHugh, who got knocked around in eight appearances, four starts in 2012, posting a 7.17 E.R.A.
That list of three may be reduced to two, with Jenrry Mejia getting sent back to New York for further tests Tuesday, the result of some irregularities from his initial physical concerning his thyroid, according to Adam Rubin. And one of the two will need to serve as long man.
The Mets do have top prospect Zack Wheeler, but teams add inventory for starting rotation depth precisely so assets like Wheeler aren't rushed, and can be deployed as ready instead.
It doesn't matter, though: the Mets reportedly aren't in the market for another starting pitcher.
It all comes back to the owners' financial limitations. Sure, the Mets are rebuilding, looking to the future. But in the meantime, they can't really be said to be trying in good faith to field a competitive team. They'll go into 2013 with completely unproven outfield, a bullpen made up almost exclusively of reclamation projects, and a starting rotation and infield that are each one injury away from disaster.
It's a familiar script by now. It's what the Mets did last year at backup catcher, choosing, according to general manager Sandy Alderson, between employing an extra bullpen arm and a second catcher at major league level. The result, when starting catcher Josh Thole regressed, was a catching position that provided a .567 O.P.S. in a league where catchers overall posted a .725 O.P.S. The same thing happened in the starting rotation; when injuries struck, the Mets threw Hefner in as a starter, along with other fringe major leaguers like Chris Schwinden.
Rich Sandomir has part of the explanation for the team's inaction: revenue is down again. As I've reported, Standard and Poor's expects that to continue. And the Mets have massive debts to service this year, along with the debts which themselves are due in 2014 and 2015.
Ownership is perhaps understandably, if not forgiveably from the fans' perspective, unable to focus on improving the team when their very position as owners is so unstable.
The result is that the Mets are falling apart before the season starts, and the team's front office doesn't plan to do much about it at all.