Jenrry Mejia is the Mets’ fifth starter, for now

Jenrry MejiaWith opening day mere hours away, the Mets finally named their fifth starting pitcher yesterday. The competition for the fifth spot in the rotation started out wide open, even including top prospects Noah Syndergaard and Raphael Montero. Realistically, though, the true competition came down to top prospect Jenrry Mejia and recently re-signed Daisuke Matsuzaka. Most observers would have pegged Matsuzaka as the odds-on favorite out of the gate, if for no other reason than Mets’ manager Terry Collins’ tendency to give the edge to veterans.

To the surprise of many, including a “shocked” Matsuzaka, the team selected Mejia to fill in the back end of the rotation while sending Matsuzaka to Las Vegas. That’s welcome news for those who were rooting for Mejia to win the job, but there’s more to the decision than many may realize. The Mets were simply hedging their bets on this one.

Jonathon Niese is going to open the season on the DL because of his elbow but is scheduled to make his first start of the season on April 6th against the Cincinnati Reds. The expectation is that he will be able to make this start, but there’s still a chance he has a setback. If the Mets had instead optioned Mejia to Las Vegas and Niese couldn’t make that start, the team would not have been able to use Mejia to fill in because he would need to spend at least 10 days in the minors before he could be recalled. The same restriction does not apply to Matsuzaka because he is on a minor league contract and not on the 40-man roster.

Long story short, this decision allows the Mets to have both Mejia and Matsuzaka in the rotation in the event Niese cannot make his projected start. As ESPN’s Adam Rubin simply explained it on Twitter: “They can go from Mejia to Dice-K or Niese to Dice-K. They cannot go from Niese to Mejia.” This was most likely simple roster manipulation.

There’s a good chance that Mejia only makes one start before being optioned and replaced with Matsuzaka, decimating the good will this decision has generated with fans who believe the organization made the right one. That remains to be seen, of course, but history tells us that the team will likely go with the veteran until it is painfully obvious they shouldn’t have. It would be a surprise if the team didn’t make that decision, actually.

That would leave Mejia, Montero, Syndergaard, and Jacob DeGrom waiting in Las Vegas to move up when the inevitable injury occurs in the rotation. It’s the type of pitching depth this team hasn’t had for quite some time and a very good “problem” to have.

4 comments for “Jenrry Mejia is the Mets’ fifth starter, for now

  1. Metsense
    March 30, 2014 at 7:34 pm

    Wally Backman should have a dominant team in AAA. The starting team will have a player at every position that is capable of being promoted and filling in for a short term injury on the major league level. Campbell-Flores-Tovar(?)- Lutz across the infield; Nieuhenuis- denDecker – Puello across the outfield;Teagarden and Centeno catching and Black, Walters and Leathersich in the bullpen. The Mets will finally have some minor league depth in 2014 and players that will be coming to the majors from a winning background.

  2. norme
    March 30, 2014 at 11:01 pm

    Well done. A very clear and, I believe, accurate explanation of the Mets thinking.

  3. tommyb
    March 31, 2014 at 7:47 am

    Probably makes sense. Of course, Mejia’s outing will have a lot to do with it. If he dazzles us, he’ll stay. And if he goes down, a slight correction…the Mets have never had 4 arms like that sitting in the minors in reserve…has to be better than some major league rotations right now.

  4. Patrick Albanesius
    March 31, 2014 at 11:32 am

    Agree with Norme and Tommyb. We can only hope that Mejia forces himself into the rotation with good play. Having Dice-K as a reserve rather than a necessity is a nice change from last year.

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