Mets Need Starting Pitching Depth

We looked at the projected Mets lineup, now let’s look at the projected starting rotation. In no particular order:

1. R.A. Dickey
2. Jonathon Niese
3. Mike Pelfrey
4. Dillon Gee
5. ?

There are two problems to address. First, who is the #5 starter? Who is competing for that role?

Some might even argue that Gee isn’t a #4, and so he projects as the #5, but until someone else is brought in we can’t see things that way — we have to work with the cards we’re dealt at the moment.

Second, beyond the first five, who do the Mets have in reserve, as a backup plan? Most MLB teams have at least two additional arms of AAA / AAAA level for depth.

I’m guessing that Chris Schwinden will get some consideration. Josh Stinson seems to project as more of a reliever, but he did start 15 games in the minors last year. Perhaps Jeurys Familia and/or Matt Harvey will be given a quick look — though, I would imagine that both of those youngsters will be kept in the minors for more seasoning.

Before you say “hey, you forgot Johan Santana!” — no, I didn’t; I’m just not counting on him being healthy enough to pitch MLB games come April. It’s irresponsible to pencil in Santana when he barely made it through a five innings of A-ball and a few bullpen sessions in September. If Santana does prove to be healthy by April, he will be a pleasant surprise, but in the meantime, the Mets have to plan as though he’ll be unavailable. If you can provide a logical reason to disagree with that strategy please express it in the comments.

So if we agree that the Mets have only four legit MLB starters and two question marks (Schwinden and Santana) as of now, we likely also agree that the Mets need to acquire at least one if not two or three starting pitchers before February. Here is a list of selected available free agents:

Miguel Batista
He was a feel-good story in September, but do we really want to go there?

Andrew Brackman
Intriguing, but the big righthander has yet to figure out AAA, much less make it to MLB. At 26 years old, he’s quickly running out of time but not too old to be worth giving a flyer and sticking in Buffalo to see what happens.

Bartolo Colon
That drink he took from the Fountain of Youth worked until July, and then it was all downhill. Was it because he wasn’t ready for a full MLB season? Was it because the bionics were temporary? Or was his pact with the devil a short-term lease? Regardless, I don’t see the Mets taking the chance of offering him anything more than a minor-league deal and invite to spring training.

Aaron Cook
I like the idea of Cook, who pitches to contact but whose heavy sinker leads to quick innings. In the old dimensions of Citi Field, Cook might have gone an entire season without allowing a homerun at home. He had a terrible 2011, so he should come cheap. I don’t see penciling him as the #5, but I like him as part of the backup plan.

Jeff Francis
Francis came back in 2011 to prove he is still a soft-tossing, mediocre starting pitcher who can fill out the back-end of the rotation for a last-place team. In other words, he should be cheap. Think of him as a poor man’s Chris Capuano and let me know whether you think that’s what the Mets need.

Jon Garland
Garland would have been a good fit four years ago, as well as three years ago and two years ago. Garland is also a good fit on a blue spruce or douglas fir this time of year. As for the Mets in 2012, well, I’d take him if he’s willing to accept a minor-league deal and ST invite.

Livan Hernandez
He’ll give you innings, if nothing else. Also, on days he pitches, he can be slotted into the #7 or #8 spot of the lineup.

Edwin Jackson
The Mets can’t afford him. Secondly, he might not be worth what he’ll get — unless the Mets fire Dan Warthen and make a trade for Dave Duncan.

Paul Maholm
From the low-budget perspective of the Mets, Maholm is a no-brainer. However, I fear that there are other clubs willing to give Maholm more than what the Mets are willing to offer in terms of dollars and years. But, I was stunned that the Mets ponied up the dough necessary to sign Frankie Francisco, so maybe I’m wrong.

Jason Marquis
Will this finally be the year that the Staten Island native joins his second-favorite hometown team? Perhaps not unless Jeff Francoeur returns. Added benefit: like Livan, you can bat him 7th or 8th, and use him as a pinch-hitter for whomever is playing CF, SS, or backup catcher.

Micah Owings
Like Livan and Marquis, Owings can hit. He had a somewhat promising rookie year as a starter in 2007, but went downhill from there and has been a reliever the last two years. I’m not sure if he’s good enough to start again but I do like his bat.

Roy Oswalt
I’m not seeing it, though I’d love to. My feeling is that Oswalt will sign with a pennant contender for much more than the Mets are willing to spend.

Vicente Padilla
Padilla missed most of 2011 due to neck surgery. Before that, he was a very handsome back-end starter. I don’t know – worth a shot?

Brad Penny
Penny enjoyed the second-worst MLB season of his career, riding on the coattails of the Detroit Tigers. It could be argued, though, that his 5.30 ERA and 1.56 WHIP would drop with a return to the NL, and he did average nearly six innings per start. Meh, I’d rather take my chances elsewhere.

Joel Pineiro
This was the guy the Mets should have signed to a three-year contract instead of Oliver Perez that fateful winter. However, signing Pineiro now doesn’t make up for that. But, he’s worth offering a minor-league deal / ST invite if no one else does.

Jo-Jo Reyes
Maybe if the Mets sign this Joe Reyes, the fans won’t notice the one lost. Seriously though, I — like most — cannot figure this guy out. He has a 94-96 MPH fastball, nasty secondary stuff, but his strikeout rate is alarmingly low considering his skill set and he gets hit all over the park. He just turned 27 years old, and quickly running out of time.

Joe Saunders
This would be the 2012 version of Chris Capuano, but, like Maholm, can the Mets afford him? Despite the fact he eats innings and wins, Saunders doesn’t hold too much value with the sabermetric set because other peripherals suggest he’s mediocre. Still, I get the feeling there’s enough demand for Saunders that he’ll get a multi-year deal that will be too rich for the Mets and be from a club with a more optimistic 2012 in their sights.

Andy Sonnanstine
Sonnanstine peaked in 2008 when he went 13-9; he hasn’t been very good since and he’s been primarily a reliever for the last two seasons. A move to the NL and out of the AL Beast could be just the ticket for him.

Javier Vazquez
Didn’t he retire?

You may have noticed that Rich Harden, Erik Bedard, Ben Sheets, Chris Young, Brandon Webb, Kelvim Escobar, Mark Prior, Don Gullett, Wayne Garland, David Clyde, and several other injury-riddled pitchers were left off the list. That was intentional, because the Mets will already have a high-risk injured pitcher in camp named Santana, and I don’t see it making sense to throw good money at high risk candidates considering their extremely limited budget.

Looking at the list of free agents, it’s pretty slim pickings. Besides the perpetually injured, I also didn’t bother wasting space on the likes of Rodrigo Lopez and a few others. But, maybe I missed someone; let me know in the comments.

As for who could realistically be in a Mets uniform in 2012, and would be welcome … well, it’s tough. Maholm would seem to have the most upside among those who appear to be within reach — though you might also put Reyes into that “high ceiling” category. Saunders would be a nice, reliable #4, but can the Mets afford him? The quality drops off pretty drastically after that. I wouldn’t mind Cook and/or Garland on a minor-league deal, and it wouldn’t hurt to see Brackman in Buffalo.

What do you think? Who should the Mets go after on the open market? Who might they be able to obtain via trade? Did I miss anyone?

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. NormE December 14, 2011 at 9:16 am
    Good article! Unlike a few of your commenters, I don’t believe that Alderson is incompetent. I think he recognizes the limitations of his starters. That’s why there have been rumors of trades, probably involving Niese. If he can’t get some arms that way, then he’ll have to revisit your list and hope for the best.
    It ‘s unfortunate that there is no market for Pelfrey, but maybe Dickey along with Duda/Murphy/???? might bring back some inexpensive arms.
    I realize that trading for anyone worthwhile is a stretch given the financial mess and the lack of talent on the Mets’ side.
  2. Izzy December 14, 2011 at 10:06 am
    There was a market for Pelfrey….a year ago.,… but the guy you state is not incpompetant needed a year to study the team….. now the guy is worthless. How come other GMs without Ivy League degrees and a staff filled with former GMs don’t need a year to make moves? Are they incompetant? PS: A year ago Angel Pagan was worth much more than an aged AAAA centerfielder and a middle releiver but again the guy you call not incompetant couldn’t do anything while he sat and studied. I didn’t know Ivy League semesters lasted so long.
  3. Joe December 14, 2011 at 10:27 am
    You cite various options and among them, I don’t have any favorite particularly, one or two probably will be found at some point. As to “mediocre” pitching, well Pelfrey is that, but he “eats innings.”
  4. DaveSchneck December 14, 2011 at 11:19 am
    Joe, Money aside, or lack of money aside, Maholm or Sonnanstine look like the best bets for a decent season. Young could be extra insurance if he takes a minor league deal while he rehabs. I would also tab either Hernandez, Marquis, or Owings as the 5th outfielder to upgrade the offense. Sandy did say he wanted flexibility.
    • Joe Janish December 14, 2011 at 11:08 pm
      You may be joking or half-joking, but I sincerely believe it makes good sense to at least consider a very good hitting pitcher like Marquis or Owings — who can provide double duty as both a pitcher and a pinch-hitter. It’s a significant advantage to have someone who can do both, particularly when you consider the Phillies just signed Jim Thome to be almost exclusively a pinch-hitter, and have had others fill the same role in the past (i.e., Matt Stairs). I may even turn this idea into a post!

      As for Chris Young I’d steer clear, especially considering that the Mets can’t afford to take any risks due to their financial situation. Young is unlikely to return, and if he does, he won’t be back for more than a half-dozen starts. His shoulder is destroyed and his mechanics are horrendous, and because of both, it can take no more.

      • DaveSchneck December 15, 2011 at 3:46 pm
        Joe, serious about a pitcher that can hit. Good points on Young, but they may need a starter for the last two months when they have a fire sale and no one is ready at AAA. Maybe Bautista and his AARP card are a better bet.
  5. Steven December 14, 2011 at 12:23 pm
    Not sure why everyone so easily dismisses Miguel Batista. he seems to have both bullpen and starter versatility
    • Joe Janish December 14, 2011 at 11:09 pm
      Maybe because he has an AARP card and hasn’t been a regular starter since 2008.
  6. Walnutz15 December 14, 2011 at 12:39 pm
    Hell, I’d trust Marquis at SS – when he’s not on the hill.

    Definitely 2B…probably more realistic from a range standpoint, considering he’s coming off an injury.


  7. Kranepool December 14, 2011 at 12:54 pm
    Yep, rotation looks like the biggest hole in the roster. Medicre and VERY fragile. I like Niese’s stuff and maturity, but he has yet to show he can make it thorugh a MLB season without injury or just running out of gas. Gee, after his smoke and mirros start, looked like a long reliver/swingman, not a starter. Pelfrey looks like he’ll never step up, and may be more likely to drift towards Ollieville. Santana: who knows when or what? No 5th starter, and not even a Pat Misch at AAA.

    On the brighter side, this just in from John Harper of the NY Daily News:

    “On the day after word was leaked of the Mets taking out yet another loan, here is what you heard Tuesday from Major League Baseball officials: The walls are closing in on the Wilpons.

    Nobody was saying that Bud Selig is ready to give the Mets owners the Frank McCourt treatment, and start chasing them toward the door. But neither was there any mistaking the growing concern from inside the MLB offices about the state of the franchise.

    “They have a lot of things coming due,” was the way one MLB official put it. “They need some things to happen fairly soon.”

    The official went on to explain that the banks, more so than MLB, are likely to start squeezing the Wilpons.

    “They’re sort of at the end here with the banks and everything else,” the official said.

    Suffice to say there is now a level of pessimism among MLB people about whether the Wilpons are going to survive their financial problems, which have become more of a topic of conversation than ever since Sandy Alderson told the world last week the Mets recently lost $70 million unrelated to the ongoing Bernie Madoff matter.”

  8. Dan B December 14, 2011 at 2:12 pm
    The saddest thing I read all winter about the Mets is Joe pondering whether we should consider Jeff Francis because he could be “a poor man’s Chris Capuano”. It is like suggesting that even though you want to live in a mansion, you should consider a trailer park because it is a poor’s man fixer-upper. Ugh.
  9. argonbunnies December 14, 2011 at 4:46 pm
    Great list, Joe. I could easily rate those guys from best to worst, but I think that’s also double as most expensive to least expensive. There’s not a single guy there who make me think, “Underrated, could be a steal!”

    Cook will be as good as our infield defense, with a ceiling of “good” if our infield D is spectacular. So I’m guessing he can find a better offer than what he’s worth to us.

    Livan and Penny might cost what they’re worth and can certainly prevent us from having to use AAA guys. But, I dunno, we’re rebuilding; why not use AAA guys?

    I’m inclined to think long-term here, screw safety, and audition any arm that might, somehow, at least conceivably, turn into an above-average pitcher in 2013+. So I guess that means… uh, the guys on your injured list. Though I guess Brackman, Sonnanstine and Jo-Jo aren’t totally hopeless.

    Let’s sign Harden, Sheets, Webb, Young AND Escobar, and hope one of them pans out! It’ll be like doing an amateur draft — no guarantees, slim odds, but tantalizing potential!

    Looking at these options, maybe trading for enigmatic underperformers in hopes of fixing them would be better. Gorzelanny? Andrew Miller? Manny Parra? Robinson Tejeda? Seth McClung? I’m having trouble coming up with names…

  10. SiddFinch December 14, 2011 at 6:45 pm
    That Clyde kid is a good option. Rangers rushed him to “the show” too soon but he’s had time to mature. Teams can always use a lefty arm out of the pen. If they sign Pudge, when he pitches the battery would be almost 100 yrs, it’s rare to find that kind of experience. Worth a ST invite. Speaking of well-seasoned, arm-troubled lefties I wonder what Teddy Higuera is up to these days.
    • Joe Janish December 14, 2011 at 11:11 pm
      Agreed. And where is Mike Morgan? I’m sure he can roll out of bed and give the Mets at least 150 innings.