One of the big questions surrounding the New York Mets this offseason has been "Who should be the team's fifth starter?" With Bartolo Colon, Jon Niese, Zack Wheeler, and Dillon Gee having locked up spots so far, one position remains, and there is a group of candidates who need to make the most of their spring training to be in consideration.
Matsuzaka is an appealing candidate for the Mets because of the way his season ended last year. After coming over to the Mets in the second half of the 2013 season, Matsuzaka failed to impress in his first several starts where it seemed like every piece of contact was a hard-hit line drive. He recovered though, posting an impressive .146/.248/.213 slash-line-against in his final four starts. Matsuzaka also has the benefit of familiarity with the team, as he and Jenrry Mejia are the only two competitors with service time on the Mets.
One thing about Matsuzaka that could affect his case is that he has an opt-out clause in June. This would likely make for a seamless transition into either Rafael Montero, Noah Syndergaard, or Jacob deGrom if Matsuzaka feels there is a better opportunity elsewhere.
Mejia seems like the most logical candidate for the job. He certainly has the best stuff, and was immensely impressive during five starts last year. As stated before, he is one of only two competitors with service time on the Mets, and he has shown he is more than capable of being an above-average major league pitcher.
Mejia doesn't come without baggage, though. His injury history is hard to ignore, and since his first major league call-up in 2010, Mejia has only made 11 starts with the big club. Mejia will likely be on a strict innings limit this year as well, which may not be a problem anyway with the probable call-ups of Rafael Montero and Noah Syndergaard coming sometime in late June or early July.
John Lannan is the most unfamiliar candidate to Mets fans coming into spring training. The Long Islander spent six years with the Nationals before swinging over to Philadelphia in 2013. Lannan has largely been the quintessential back-of-the-rotation starter, having been a league-average pitcher for most of his career while eating innings to the tune of a career 4.63 ERA while posting a .263 batting average against.
Lannan is coming off what is probably the worst season of his career, having posted a 5.33 ERA in 14 starts with the Phillies and seeing his strikeout percentage drop below his career average. Lannan did fall victim to high BABIP-against, however, which may have caused some of his troubles. His fly-ball percentage also increased, which may not be as much of an issue at Citi Field as it was at Citizen's Bank Park.
Montero is definitely a long shot to even make the major league roster. Perhaps the candidate with the highest upside other than Noah Syndergaard, Montero will certainly be getting a lot of attention in the next two weeks, and deservedly so. Sandy Alderson has never shown an inclination to bring Super-Two players up before the deadline and it doesn't seem as though that will be changing any time soon.
Montero has certainly made his case for making the roster, but the chances of that happening seem slim, and in a year where the Mets aren't expected to contend, it may be best to save a year of arbitration by keeping Montero in the minors.
Jacob deGrom was one of the Mets' best stories of 2013. The rise from St. Lucie to Las Vegas in a single season is evidence of his ability, but he needs some refining and changed his repertoire of secondary pitches last season.
While deGrom is a long-shot to make the team out of spring training, an appearance in June isn't out of the question as John Lannan and Daisuke Matsuzaka have opt-out clauses and the Mets will probably need extra starters anyway with injuries and ineffectiveness an ongoing concern with pitchers generally.
It's a pipe dream to think that Noah Syndergaard will be with the Mets on Opening Day. While the vast majority of Mets fans would love to see Syndergaard's name called on March 31, the reality is that his position as a highly touted prospect and his Super-Two status are going to keep him off the big league roster until late June or early July.
Syndergaard would be an extremely good choice just based on pure stuff. His fastball is absolutely electric, and his big power curve is a pitch that should befuddle many major league hitters. Although his repertoire is the most potent among the players on this list, there are too many other factors that will keep him out of the rotation to start the season.
Earlier in the week, Chris McShane asked if you thought that Jenrry Mejia should start the year in the Mets' rotation. The support for Mejia was clear, but there are other cases to be made and a strong chance that either Daisuke Matsuzaka or John Lannan could be given the last spot in the rotation as well. So now that you know the candidates, who is the best option for the Mets going into the 2014 season?