Back in 2010 when Jacob deGrom was drafted out of Stetson University as a shortstop, you would be hard pressed to find anyone in the Mets organization that truly believed deGrom would not only be a future Rookie of the Year, but also one of the top pitchers in baseball. In fact, deGrom wasn’t even seen as such when he was first called-up to the Mets in 2014.
At that point in time, the Mets were in a year of transition, and they were at the point of trying to figure out who could be a part of the team in 2015 when the Mets were really intent on becoming contenders. One of the players called-up was obviously deGrom who was was 4-0 with a 2.58 ERA and a 1.278 WHIP in seven starts in AAA. This was a marked improvement from the pitcher who was 4-2 with a 4.52 ERA and a 1.467 WHIP in 14 starts in AAA the previous year. During said 2013 season, deGrom had made 10 starts in AA going 2-5 with a 4.80 ERA and a 1.483 WHIP. Sure, there were reasons to expect he could eventually pitch in the majors. He was a four pitch pitcher that had a mid 90s fastball and a good slider.
When Dillon Gee went down with an injury, the 26 year old deGrom was called up to the majors to make a start in his stead. There was no timetable on how long deGrom was going to either stay in the majors or in the rotation. However, if push came to shove, the Mets were more inclined to move deGrom into the bullpen and let Rafael Montero stay in the rotation. At that point, Montero was seen as a much better and more polished prospect who had good command and was a groundball pitcher. What transpired was deGrom proved that his 2014 AAA season was no fluke. He went on to make 22 starts that season going 9-6 with a 2.69 ERA and a 1.140 WHIP en route to becoming the National League Rookie of the Year.
He had surpassed Montero who had not pitched as well in his opportunity and who dealt with some injuries thereby opening the door for deGrom to forever solidify not only his place in the rotation, but also the Mets plans.
Right now, the Mets have a pitcher in Matt Harvey who is injured, and that is going to open the door for a pitcher to get a chance to show that they are capable of being part of this Mets rotation. Much like in 2014, the prospects that are battling it out is a 26 year old in Seth Lugo who was never expected to be in this position and a 23 year old pitcher in Gabriel Ynoa who relies upon his control and groundballs to get outs. Much like in 2014, the Mets have deemed the younger pitcher to be the better prospect. In many ways, this could be the case of history repeating itself.
So far, Lugo has made one major league appearance. In that one relief appearance, he showed that he has the stuff to get hitters out at this level. Like deGrom, he has seemingly taken his game to the next level once he got called-up to the majors. Right now, the only thing that really separates him and deGrom is the fact that deGrom got his chance to establish himself in the major league rotation. Of course, it was easier for the Mets to give deGrom his shot in 2014 when the team was going nowhere. It’s a lot harder to justify such a decision when the team is in the thick of both the NL East and Wild Card races. And yet, with that in mind, the Mets should want to put the guys in the rotation that have the best chance to get batters out.
Arguably, that pitcher is Seth Lugo. He just needs to get the chance deGrom did to prove it.
The news that Matt Harvey may miss a significant amount of time due to the possibility that he may have thoracic outlet syndrom is devastating to not only Harvey himself, but also to the Mets rotation. While Harvey was struggling all year with a 4.86 ERA, he is also a pitcher who can rise up in big games. We have seen it time and time again with him whether it was him almost pitching a perfect game against the White Sox, being named the starter for the 2013 All Star Game, or his Game 5 of the World Series performance. He was an important part of the Mets, and if he has an extended absence, he is going to leave behind some pretty big shoes to fill.
As of right now, the Mets have not announced who will take Harvey’s spot in the rotation for Harvey’s next scheduled start. Fortunately, the Mets organization is fairly deep in major league capable starting pitching talent. Here is a list of the potential candidates:
Last year when the Mets were trying to manage Harvey’s innings, it was Verrett who temporarily took his place in the rotation. In Verrett’s four spot starts last year, he was a very respectable 1-1 with a 3.63 ERA. This included a brilliant performance Verrett had in Colorado limiting the Rockies to four hits and one earned run in eight innings. Unfortunately, Verrett has not had the same success as a spot starter this year. In his five spot starts, he is 1-3 with a 5.32 ERA. Part of those struggles may be attributed to the fact that Verrett has not been fully stretched out like he was when he took the ball for the Mets last year. Accordingly, if Verrett was stretched out and able to pitch every fifth day, it would be reasonable to assume he could pitch as well as he did as a spot starter last year – perhaps even better.
Verrett was picked over Gilmartin for the last spot in the Opening Day bullpen, and as a result, the Mets sent down Gilmartin to be a member of their AAA starting rotation. Last year, we saw that Gilmartin knows how to get major league hitters out. In 50 appearances, he was 3-2 with a 2.67 ERA, 1.186 WHIP, a 2.75 FIP, and a 143 ERA+. When he made multiple inning relief appearances last year, he was 3-1 with a 1.38 ERA and a 1.41 WHIP. The only caution with Gilmartin is he has not been as successful this year as he was last year. In his 13 AAA starts, he is 9-3 with a 4.72 ERA and a 1.336 WHIP. In his five major league relief appearances, Gilmartin has a 7.00 ERA and a 1.556 WHIP. However, it should be noted Gilmartin’s struggles started when he was being jerked back and forth between Las Vegas and the Mets, between relieving and starting. Before his first call-up, Gilmartin was 4-1 with a 2.58 ERA in the very hitter friendly Pacific Coast League. Overall, Gilmartin has shown he can get major league hitters out and pitch well as a starter.
When Harvey was put on the disabled list, the Mets called-up Lugo who dazzled in his two inning relief appearance. In that outing, Lugo used all five out his pitches to get a potent Cubs lineup out. He featured a 94 MPH fastball and a wicked curveball. He curveball was working so well he was able to get Anthony Rizzo to swing at a pitch that moved so much it would hit him on his back foot. He certainly has the tools to be an effective starter even if he hasn’t had the results in AAA this year. Given his repetoire and the ability to work with pitching coach Dan Warthen, the Mets just might have a pitcher who could blossom on the major league level similar to how Jacob deGrom did when he was called-up to the Mets in 2014.
If the Mets are going to turn to their prospects for a solution, Ynoa deserves some consideration as well. By any measure, the 23 year old Ynoa has been the Las Vegas 51s’ best starting pitcher. In a hitter friendly league, the Pacific Coast League All Star is 9-3 with a 3.92 ERA and a 1.353 WHIP in 17 starts. The only questions with Ynoa is if the Mets believe he is ready to make the leap to the majors and whether his ability to enduce groundballs is a good fit for a Mets infield whose players have limited range.
If the Mets are inclined to take a risk with a Lugo or a Ynoa, they may be inclined to give Montero one last shot. However, as we have seen with Montero, it gets harder and harder to justify giving him another opportunity. When he was with the Mets this past year, he had an 11.57 ERA and a 2.571 WHIP in his two appearances thereby more than justifying Terry Collins‘ almost outright refusal to put him into a game. Down in AAA, Montero is 4-6 with a 7.88 ERA and a 1.888 WHIP in 16 starts. This isn’t the same guy the Mets once thought had a bright future. Keep in mind, the Mets thought he had a future as far back as last year when he made the Opening Day roster as a member of the bullpen. Maybe just maybe giving this guy one last shot could wake him up, and it could bring out the best in him. It’s possible working closely with Dan Warthen may allow him to fulfill the promise he had when the Mets valued him as a prospect.
Overall, the Mets have many directions they could go. Each of the aforementioned starters could step-up and hold the fort until either Matt Harvey or Zack Wheeler is able to return from the disabled list to help lead the Mets back to the World Series. Ultimately, this is going to be an opportunity for one or more of these pitchers. It’s up to them to step up and stake a claim to a spot in the rotation. It’s up to them to make it hard for the Mets to remove them from the rotation much like deGrom did in 2014 when he won the Rookie of the Year Award. If one of these pitchers has a run like that, it would give the Mets six or seven terrific starters. That would be an amazing problem to have.
Editor’s Note: this was also published on metsmerizedonline.com
Steven Matz has bone spurs in his pitching elbow, and the Mets talked him out if having inseason surgery to remove them. Noah Syndergaard also has bone spurs in his pitching elbow, but it appears like it’s nowhere near as serious as Matz’s. Zack Wheeler has had a number of setbacks in his Tommy John rehab, and the best case scenario has him returning to the Mets mid to late August. Now, worst of all, Matt Harvey may have thoracic outlet syndrome.
Anyone one of these pitchers may miss an extended period of time, and the Mets replacements are less than inspiring.
First up as always is spot starter Logan Verrett who has a 5.32 ERA in his five starts this year. Sean Gilmartin has a 7.00 ERA in his limited appearances with the Mets this year. Seth Lugo had an electrifying one inning appearance before bring sent back down to AAA where he has a 6.55 ERA. Rafael Montero hasn’t been much better with his 6.31 AAA ERA and his 11.57 major league ERA. Finally, there’s 23 year old Gabriel Ynoa who may not be ready for the majors.
For a team that is built on pitching, these are not viable options. These pitchers are not carrying these Mets back to the World Series like the pitching did in 2015.
No, the Mets need a pitcher like Michael Fulmer. Fulmer has made 13 starts this year going 9-2 with a 2.11 ERA and a 1.096 WHIP. He’s throwing a 96 MPH fastball and an 89 MPH Warthen slider. If he was in the Mets rotation right now, he would arguably be the best pitcher in their rotation. At the very least, he’s top three. There’s one problem.
Fulmer’s a Tiger. Fulmer was one of 12 pitchers the Mets have traded away since the 2015 offseason. Make no mistake. Fulmer was the best of the lot.
Many have justified his departure as he was traded away to acquire Yoenis Cespedes. Cespedes would go off in August and September with an offensive display Mets fans haven’t seen since Mike Piazza was leading the Mets to back-to-back postseason appearances. The Mets would fall just short of the ultimate goal as they lost the World Series in five games.
Arguably, the Mets needed Cespedes to reach that point. However, in acquiring him, the Mets gave up Fulmer’s entire career. They gave up the very player they may need this year just to get back to the World Series. The Mets may have sacrificed their chances in 2016 and beyond for the run they made last year.
The reason is because pitching is fragile. No matter how good you think you have it there’s a bone spur, a torn collateral ligament, or a shoulder condition that can take an ace pitcher away. It’s why an organization needs as much high end pitching depth as it can get their hands on. Yesterday’s surplus becomes today’s necessity.
Fulmer was seen as surplus last year, and he was moved for Cespedes. With Harvey’s, Wheeler’s, and Matz’s medical issues, he’s now a necessity that is pitching for the Detroit Tigers.
Over the course of a full 162 schedule, it is extremely rare that a team is able to get through a season with just five starting pitchers. With that in mind, a team will need more than just five major league caliber starting pitchers in order to get through the season. We were all reminded of that again with the news that Steven Matz and Noah Syndergaard are both dealing with bone spurs in their pitching elbows. Apparently, the situation is worse for Matz who is debating if he should have surgery.
If Matz, Syndergaard, or really any Mets pitcher cannot make a start, the Mets have options. There is Logan Verrett who has already made four spot starts this season and will start in place of Matz today. There is Sean Gilmartin who began the year in Las Vegas, in part, so the Mets could allow him to further develop as a starting pitcher. The Mets also have well regarded prospect Gabriel Ynoa who becomes more and more major league ready with each and every start. Whenever the Mets need an arm, these are the three names that are usually in the discussion for a start. You know who’s name doesn’t get brought up anymore? Rafael Montero.
This is a precipitous fall from grace for Montero. As soon as 2014, the Mets had considered Montero a major league caliber starting pitcher. He ranked ahead of Jacob deGrom on the organizational depth chart. The Mets were proven wrong when deGrom got a chance to go out there and perform while Montero was injured. As a result, when the 2015 season began, the Mets had deGrom in the rotation and Montero in the bullpen. Still, Montero would get his shot to start as the Mets wanted to implement a six man rotation to limit the innings for deGrom and Matt Harvey. Montero would make one start, and he would be sent down to AAA. However, that demotion would be rescinded as Montero was found to have rotator cuff inflammation.
Eventually, the Mets would question his willingness to pitch. Subsequent tests would show there was no significant injuries. The team would suggest that while there was inflammation, Montero should’ve been able to pitch through it. During a late season road trip to Florida, Terry Collins traveled to Port St. Lucie to meet with Montero to try to get him going. Eventually, Montero would pitch in a few minor league games at the end of the year, but it was too little too late in terms of making the postseason roster.
As the team reported to Spring Training this season, Collins pulled him aside and tried to motivate him. He told Montero the Mets had to re-sign Bartolo Colon because Montero hasn’t fulfilled his promise. If he had, he would have been slated at the Mets’ fifth starter. Montero responded to the pep talk by getting shellacked by the Nationals. When the Mets had to trim down their roster, Montero was one of the first people selected to go to Minor League Spring Training. It seemed like it was his last chance. He would get one more.
After Matz’s first start of the season exhausted the Mets bullpen and Jacob deGrom’s baby being sick, the Mets needed an extra arm. The team would call-up Montero. Collins seemingly went out of his way to not use him going so far as to pitch Jim Henderson in a game he had no business pitching. When Montero finally got into a game, he didn’t perform. In his two appearances, Montero had an 11.57 ERA and a 2.571 WHIP. The Mets had no problem sending him down.
In the minors, Montero has continued to be underwhelming. In 14 starts this year, he is 4-4 with a 6.62 ERA and a 1.736 WHIP. To be blunt, Montero is doing nothing more right now than occupying a spot on the 40 man roster. We saw the effect of that when the Mets had subjected and lost Dario Alvarez on waivers when the Mets needed to make room for Ty Kelly on the 40 man roster. With the Braves, Alvarez has gone 1-1 with a 2.08 ERA and a 0.923 WHIP. So far, Alvarez has accomplished more than Montero has and perhaps ever will.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way for Montero. He was supposed to be the guy in the top half of the rotation. It hasn’t panned out that way. He’s not even a consideration anymore for when the Mets need a pitcher. Now, he’s a player taking up a spot on the 40 man roster that could be going to players with more promise. This has been a sad fall from grace for Rafael Montero.
Editor’s Note: this was also published on metsmerizedonline.com
In 2012, Major League Baseball enacted the 26th Man Rule to help teams deal with their pitching issues created by doubleheaders. The rule states that if a team has a doubleheader they can call-up a player from their 40 man roster to be available to play in both ends of the doubleheader if the doubleheader was scheduled at least 48 hours in advance. In the event that the doubleheader was not scheduled at least 48 hours in advance, a team can call-up a player from the minor leagues, but that player would only be available in the second game of the doubleheader.
Now, since this is the Mets only trip to Pittsburgh, there were only two possible dates to schedule the doubleheader. The first was today, June 7th, and the second was Wednesday, June 8th. Considering the fact that the first game of a doubleheader is going to start at 4:05 P.M. today, it was practically impossible for the teams to schedule this doubleheader 48 hours in advance. Basically, both the Mets and the Pirates were prevented from having a 26th man on their roster for both ends of the doubleheader because the schedule only has the Mets going to Pittsburgh one time this season. In essence, Major League Baseball has created a rule that is not in conformity with its schedule.
Accordingly, the Mets are going to have to pitch Steven Matz and Jacob deGrom today and try to figure out what they are going to do over the weekend. It’s likely that they are going to have to start Logan Verrett this weekend because they are not going to want to start Matz or deGrom on three days rest. The Mets could avoid this situation by having Verrett start today. It’s feasible, especially considering that Verrett last pitched on June 1st. He’s well rested, and if he’s going to have to make a start, why not make it now? The reason is that because this is a doubleheader, the Mets are going to need each and every single one of their bullpen pieces.
Alternatively, the Mets could call-up a starter from AAA to make the spot start in the second game. However, this situation isn’t feasible for a number of reasons. First, the likely starter, Sean Gilmartin, last pitched on June 3rd meaning he would have to make a start on short rest and after a cross-country flight. The Mets could go with Gabriel Ynoa in the second game since it is his turn in the rotation. However, the Mets may not want Ynoa to make his major league debut after a cross country flight, and they may not want to complicate their AAA rotation thereby pushing a young pitcher past the point they realistically should pitch. Finally, the Mets might not feel Ynoa is ready to pitch in the big leagues yet.
Realistically, the Mets don’t have a viable pitching option. Accordingly, the Mets are going to go the position player route. It’s not a bad decision either. You don’t want Yoenis Cespedes playing both games on a sore hip. Juan Lagares isn’t available to hit today with a torn ligament in his thumb. As much as the Mets may need another pitcher, they also need another position player. Accordingly, Eric Campbell is going to be that guy. Campbell will be available to play first, second, third, left, right, or pinch hit. Knowing Terry Collins, he just might have Campbell do all of the above in the second game since there is going to be a lefty starting in the second game of the doubleheader.
However, he’s not going to be able to do any of that in the first game as he’s unavailable to be used. Apparently, Major League Baseball believes you only need a 26th man on the roster when you have time to plan out how you are going to use your roster and not when you are pressed into making quick decisions. The 26th Man limitations are without merit, and they need to be removed immediately.
There was a point in time that Rafael Montero was a well regarded prospect. He was once going to force Jacob deGrom into a bullpen role. Now, the only thing we know is the Mets can’t rely upon him right now.
In many ways, 2016 is going to be a make or break year for Montero. Somewhat unfairly the organization turned sour on him last year. He went on the DL in April with shoulder tightness. He was found to have rotator cuff inflammation, which effectively ended his year. In August, he tried to rehab the injury and make some minor league starts, but he again had to be shut down.
This year, Terry Collins wants to challenge Montero as the Mets believe there was really nothing wrong with Montero. Symbolically, the Mets let Montero make the first start in Spring Training on the road against the Nationals.
It didn’t go well. Montero threw 39 pitches in only one inning. He walked four, gave up two hits, and allowed two runs. Not the best of starts. It’s not how he wanted the Spring with the Mets challenging him to be better this year.
At the end of the day, one start shouldn’t mean much. He can go out the rest of Spring Training and pitch very well. He could begin the year in AAA and pitch very well. He could become an injury replacement or spot starter in the rotatio. He could join the bullpen during the year.
There will be opportunities for someone. However, that someone is increasingly becoming someone other than Montero. Last year, Montero was surpassed by Sean Gilmartin and Logan Verrett. They’re likely going to get the first call for spot starts or bullpen work assuming they don’t make come north with the club.
Putting that aside, what was more troubling for Montero was the work of Gabriel Ynoa. He came into the game right after Montero flopped. He threw three scoreless innings and impressed Terry Collins:
Terry Collins says he was very impressed with Gabriel Ynoa today. pic.twitter.com/mSTNgVOFTo
— New York Mets (@Mets) March 3, 2016
Ynoa is a well regarded prospect. He’s ticketed for AAA this year. If yesterday is any indication, it appears that Ynoa is inching past Montero if he hasn’t done so already. While we shouldn’t put too much stock into one Spring Training game, the results today were important. The Mets wanted to challenge Montero to rise to the occasion. Instead, the Mets walked away being impressed with Ynoa.
The problem wasn’t that Montero had a rough outing. The problem is that yet again another Mets pitcher took advantage of an opportunity given to them that was preceded by a Montero failure.
As of today, the Mets 40 man roster is full with Erik Goeddel and David Wright on the 60 day DL. Since players on the 60 day DL do not count towards the 40 man roster, two players will have to be removed from the 40 man before Goeddel and Wright can be added.
The first decision could potentially come on August 11th, when Goeddel is first eligible to come off the DL. The Mets can send down Hansel Robles, who has options, but that only solves the 25 man roster issue. As of today, here are the people who are on the 40 man roster, who are also not on the 25 man roster:
- Dario Alvarez
- Vic Black
- Jack Leathersich
- Steven Matz
- Akeel Morris
- Logan Verrett
- Gabriel Ynoa
- Johnny Monell
- Anthony Recker
- Dilson Herrera
- Danny Muno
- Wilfredo Tovar
- Darrell Ceciliani
- Michael Cuddyer
- Kirk Nieuwenhuis
In deciding who to remove, there are a couple of important factors to take into account:
- This player will be exposed on waivers allowing any team to claim that player, and
- A player must be on the 40 man roster as of August 31st to be eligible for the postseason roster (there are loopholes however).
Immediately, you can rule out the pitchers. They’re young, under control, and will be snatched up by another team . . . even Vic Black. That leaves eight players for two spots.
Next, we can eliminate Michael Cuddyer and Kirk Nieuwenhuis from consideration. Cuddyer is set to come off the DL soon. Nieuwenhuis is a possibility, albeit remote right now for the postseason roster. We’re done to six players.
I would next eliminate Dilson Herrera, who is seen as the second baseman of the future. This is especially important with Daniel Murphy, Kelly Johnson, and Juan Uribe set to be free agents. We’re down to five players: Monell, Recker, Muno, Tovar, and Ceciliani. Here’s where things get tricky. You can make cases for all of these players to stay or go.
I’ll start with the catchers, who have been awful this year . . . absolutely terrible. I’m expecting the Mets to move on from both of these players in the offseason. However, we need to remember Travis d’Arnaud has been injury prone. You don’t want to him to go down and have no playoff replacement. At a a minimum, one catcher must stay on the roster. Possibly both.
Up next are the young middle infielders. Admittedly, they have both been pretty bad in very limited major league experience. Accordingly, you can’t use that experience as the sole reason to outright that player. It should be noted neither player is a top prospect in the Mets organization. I think both are candidates, specifically Tovar, who is behind Matt Reynolds, Gavin Cecchini, and Amed Rosario on the organization’s SS depth chart.
Finally, we have Ceciliani, who played decently with the Mets this year (even if he was a little exposed). It should be noted he was passed over in the last two Rule Five Drafts. I don’t imagine his limited playing time changed the minds of the other 29 teams. Furthermore, with Nieuwenhuis being on the bubble for the postseason roster, there’s no chance he would even see the field. In my opinion, this makes him the most vulnerable.
Now, I have no connections whatsoever, but I would believe Ceciliani and Monell are the two players who will be moved to make room for Goeddel and Wright. You could easily interchange that for Recker and Ceciliani or one of the middle infielders. However, I think Ceciliani and Monell are the two least regarded players on this list.
Further complicating matters is Rafael Montero, who is also on the 60 day DL. Terry Collins recently went to talk to Montero to encourage him to ramp up his rehab so he can help the team. If Montero is coming back, the Mets are going to have to make yet another roster move. I believe at this time, the middle infielders would definitively be in danger of being removed from the 40 man roster. My guess would be Tovar, but then again, I could be wrong.
The only way to avoid removing anyone, and risking losing a player, is to make a trade with another team. The problem there is if these players had value to other teams, they would have been moved already. Specifically to Ceciliani, we’ve seen teams pass on him a number of times. There is also the possibility that the player to be named later in the Eric O’Flaherty deal is one of the aforementioned 15 players making part of this post moot. However, I think that is unlikely.
Overall, the Mets have a lot of important decisions to make with an eye towards who they want on the postseason roster. It’s fun to be a Mets fan again.