If the season were to begin today, the New York Mets would have a starting rotation that was questionable at best. Johan Santana was a disaster after his historic no hitter and his health is a major factor. The Mets even have been rumored to be shopping him. The question is who would be dumb enough to take that massive contract for a pitcher his age with his health issues? There’s Dillon Gee, who had to be shut down mid-season after a 6-7 record with a 4.10 ERA in 17 starts. He is also returning from injury. How reliable will he be?
Then, there is Jon Neise and Matt Harvey. Both young and talented, but still inconsistent. At just 26, Neise is on the rise after starting 30 games last season and going 13-9 with a 3.40 ERA and being inked to a long-term deal in Queens. Harvey had a solid rookie debut campaign. He was instantly embraced by fans, media and teammates. He went 3-5 in 10 starts with a 2.73 ERA. A bit better run support, and he easily could have been in the mix for the ROY award. The loss of R.A. Dickey left a massive void in the rotation that the Mets are trying to fill. Several players have been whispered to be in the mix for making a home start at Citi Field this year. Among them are Kyle Lohse, Carl Pavano, Shaun Marcum and Chris Young.
First, Lohse is out of the question. Yes, the 34 year old hurler’s 16-3 record and 2.86 ERA last season is certainly enticing, but any team that signs him must give up a first round draft pick to the St Louis Cardinals for his services. How many teams can afford that? Definitely not the Mets. Then, there is Carl Pavano. The Mets have been rumored to be in “serious talks with him“. There are several problems with him.
While I understand the logic, he has two major things working against him: age and health. He is 36 and returning from injury over the last season. His 6.00 ERA in just 11 starts is scary. If the Mets choose to focus on his previous years where he posted a 14-12 record in 2010 (with two teams) and a 17-11 record in 2011 with the Twins, then he would be a sure bet. However, the reality is that he is most likely not the same pitcher he was then. The truth is that he may be closer to that 1.40 WHIP posted last year than he is the 1.19 WHIP that he had in 2010.
Next, there is Shaun Marcum. He had a 3.70 ERA in 21 starts last year. He is 31 years old and can be an anchor to a rotation if he is on. If he is not, he could be a disaster. Marcum will command bigger dollars than the Mets may be willing to pay. Especially since they are not the only ones interested. The Indians have had talks with him and are very serious about signing him. It’s doubtful these Mets would usher into a bidding war.
That leaves the most obvious option of all left: Chris Young. He signed with the Mets in 2011 and again in 2012. He totaled a 5-9 record with a 3.76 ERA in that span. That combined tally is misleading, however. His Mets career has been feast or famine. Year one was more feast with a 1-0, 1.88 ERA in just four starts in a injury-shortened year. The next go around, the Mets were hoping to see that performance built on. It wasn’t. Again, he was injured, but not before posting Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde type stats with a 4.15 ERA and a 4-9 record in 20 starts. While his performance in a third stint in Queens would be anyone’s guess, it is not a stretch to imagine it would be more comparable to last year as opposed to the previous one.
All of these options are decent. Some are better than others. The Mets are obviously looking to catch lightning in a bottle like they did with Dickey.With age, health and experience as a backdrop, the Mets need a proven starter to serve as a go between for their future rotation. If that is their mentality, allow me to add another name to the mix that, in my humble opinion, deserves a real consideration: Jair Jurrgens. He meets the age requirement at only 26. He meets the experience factor after pitching in the league for six years (Detroit and Atlanta) and posting a career 3.62 ERA.
When the Braves cut ties with him in December, it was a shock that several teams were not in line to pick him up. As of right now, it is an even bigger shock that he is still available. His asking price can not be high, even with Scott Boras as his agent, due to his poor performance last year when he posted a career low 6.89 ERA in a sub-par season. The question on him is health. Is he healthy? There are no reports that his health is an issue. The Braves optioned him to AAA after his first 10 starts. Only three were quality appearances lasting five or more innings. They did not tender him a contract after that.
All signs point to a loss of velocity. According to FanGraphs, he posted a fastball at an average of 88.6 mph last year. That is down from his 90’s plus average from just two years before. Whether it’s age or an undisclosed injury, he has lost something. If there was a better current free agent candidate for the Sandy Alderson “lightning in a bottle” theory, I don’t know who it is. Because of his age, he is more likely to regain his form and his zip.
That spells a promising trend for whatever team eventually signs him. It would be a wise acquisition. One that a GM would have to carefully weigh and recognize the chance that he is taking on this player but that it is worth the risk for the smaller contract on a player with bigger upside. That’s the exact mindset the Mets have shown under Alderson. This seems like a perfect fit. What’s the hold up?