The Mets have two starting pitchers, Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom, who have been solid performers this year. They have two pitchers, Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler, who have been roughed up some but have looked better in their most recent starts. Then there is the fifth starter, Jason Vargas, who has had a dreadful season so far. With a couple of off days this week, Mickey Callaway will skip Vargas in the rotation, but within two weeks or so, Vargas, or some other fifth starter, will need to make a start.
The 35 year old Vargas missed the early part of the season, when the Mets were rolling, due to a hand injury to his non-throwing arm. Since he was activated, he has started three games, pitched 12.1 innings, yielded 26 hits, and owns an 0-3 record with a stratospheric ERA of 13.86. We are near, or maybe at, the point where the Mets will need to implement plan B for that fifth starter slot. The trouble is, there is no slam dunk choice for plan B.
Plan B (1) would involve moving one of the multi-inning relievers to the starter role. Both Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo have experience as starters, they made important contributions as starters for the Mets in the 2016 wild card season. Both also did regress in 2017, and both have pitched exclusively out of the bullpen this year. Gsellman has 3.16 ERA with a 1.32 WHIP this year, and Lugo has been even better with a 2.42 ERA and 1.12 WHIP.
Despite their good records, there are reasons not to move one or the other into the rotation. They are thriving in the relief relief role, and keeping a stellar bullpen is important. As starters, both had tendencies to have trouble once they got to the third time through the lineup.
Plan B (2) could mean using one of their SP prospects as the fifth man. This would likely be either P.J. Conlon, who actually did get one spot start this year, and did reasonably well. The other option would be Corey Oswalt, who is on the Mets roster at the current time and has made one relief appearance for the Mets this year.
The downside for this approach is that both likely need more seasoning. Both have been hit hard in AAA this year, Oswalt has a 6.62 ERA in four starts at Vegas this year, and Conlon is not much better at 6.10. Sure, Las Vegas is a hitter’s park, but still those numbers are not encouraging.
Plan B (3) might mean going outside the organization to pick up a fifth starter, either via trade or perhaps FA signing. The most intriguing possibility would be R. A. Dickey, who pitched for the Mets from 2010-2012, winning the Cy Young Award in his last year with the Mets. The 43 year old knuckleballer pitched for the Braves in 2017, and did respectably. He posted a 10-10 record in 31 starts last year, with 191 IP, 4.26 ERA, 1.37 WHIP. The Braves did not pick up his option, but he does not appear to be officially retired.
Of course, after missing some turns and working with the coaches, Vargas might be able to recover his old form, and surely he will get a start down the road to show if that is the case. But if he keeps getting banged around, his tenure with the Mets could prove to be abbreviated.