New York Mets pitchers and catchers will report to Port St. Lucie on Feb. 15 with the first workout the following day. Manager Terry Collins knows his first four starters, but the fifth is up in the air. However, regardless of how the rotation shakes out, there’s not a pitcher among them without a significant question attached to his name:
Jonathon Niese: The speculated Opening Day starter is coming off a shoulder injury and 8-8 record in 2013.
Signed through 2017 primarily because he’s left-handed, young at 27 and throws hard. Those types are always in demand, but with a lifetime 43-40 record and 3.99 ERA, he’s not exactly a budding Andy Pettitte.
Niese has never won more than 13 games or made more than 30 starts in a season, bringing into question his durability.
The significant question: Will he ever have a breakout season?
Bartolo Colon: Once nabbed for PEDs, Colon is coming off a strong 18-6 season with a 2.65 ERA last year with Oakland and signed a two-year, $20-million contract with the Mets on the last day of the Winter Meetings.
He was brought in to fill the void caused by Matt Harvey’s elbow injury and provide veteran support.
Colon, 40, has won a career 189 games with a 1.314 WHIP. The Mets will be his eighth team.
The significant question: How much does he have left?
Zack Wheeler: Some scouts say he has more potential than Harvey. We shall see.
The Mets took their time in bringing up Wheeler, 23, and he flashed promise expected. The Mets tinkered with his mechanics after reports he tipped his pitches, then told him to throw more breaking balls, but Wheeler didn’t show anything until they told him to just work off his fastball.
Wheeler was 7-5 with a 3.42 ERA in 17 starts before he was shut down in September after complaining of stiffness in his shoulder.
The significant question: How much will he progress in his second year?
Dillon Gee: A 12-strikeout, 7.1-inning outing at Yankee Stadium, May 30, kept Gee in the rotation and he went on to go 12-11, but more importantly work 199 innings.
Gee doesn’t have overpowering stuff, but when his command is on he usually gives the Mets five or more innings as a reliable back-end starter.
Gee’s reliability and reasonable contract could make him attractive to other teams in July. Should Noah Syndergaard or Rafael Montero be promoted in June, it could give the Mets a valuable trade chip.
The significant question: Will Gee have another 199-inning season?
Jenrry Mejia: Up and down has been the story of Mejia’s short career. Mejia’s role bounced from being a starter to an ill-fated trip to the bullpen under Jerry Manuel that eventually ended in a demotion and elbow injury.
Mejia still throws hard and is back competing as a starter. He’s coming off surgery, but has the inside track for the fifth starter role if he’s sound.
The significant question: How healthy is he?
John Lannan: He’s 29, left-handed and comes with a reasonable contract.
The Mets signed him as Mejia insurance, but he has shown signs of becoming a solid starter. From 2008-2011, he started 31, 33, 25 and 33 games respectively for some pretty bad Washington teams, and three times worked at least 180 innings.
There’s promise here, and because of his age, he’s worth keeping.
The significant question: Will he get a chance to show his durability?
Daisuke Matsuzaka: Brought in as a stop-gap following the injury to Harvey and innings ceiling on Wheeler, Matsuzaka won his last three starts and went at least six innings each time.
That was good enough for Alderson to say last October he could come back. However, nothing was done until after January.
Matsuzaka, 33, turned his season around when he accelerated his delivery.
The significant question: Were those last three starts a fluke?
Summation: Barring injury, Niese, Wheeler, Colon and Gee are givens in the rotation. If Mejia falters and Lannan pitches well, expect Mejia to start the season in the minor leagues.
So, the Mets have a balanced rotation with at least one question for each starter.
(Note: Montero, Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom were omitted because they aren’t expected to be promoted before June. I will discuss them later this spring in a prospects segment).