It might sound obvious, but Jenrry Mejia should be the Mets’ fifth starting pitcher to begin the 2014 season. Of course, the Mets brought in Daisuke Matsuzaka and John Lannan on minor league deals this offseason, and while it already sounds like Lannan will get a look in the bullpen, Matsuzaka appears to be the favorite for the starting rotation. But if the Mets are aiming for 90 wins this year—a lofty goal, even for the most optimistic—they’ll need to use the players who give them the best chance to win from the beginning of the season.
Mejia is no sure thing, especially when it comes to health, but with legitimate major league stuff, he was incredible in five starts for the Mets last summer. In 27.1 innings, Mejia had 28 strikeouts, just 4 walks, and he posted a 2.30 ERA and 2.46 FIP. Before that, he posted a 2.55 ERA in 24.2 innings of work in the minors on a rehab assignment. In total, it’s not enough data to establish Mejia as a front-of-the-rotation pitcher in the big leagues, but it’s not hard to see a high ceiling for the 24-year-old.
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Season Preview: Jenrry Mejia
Jenrry Mejia made just five starts in 2013 but he managed to dazzle Mets fans in that short period of time. Can the former top prospect stay on the field enough this year to develop into a valuable starting pitcher?
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Matsuzaka had a good stretch of starts at the end of last season, too, after a few disasters, but his track record over the past few years is poor. In 51 appearances since the 2010 season, Matsuzaka has a 5.33 ERA and 4.52 FIP, neither of which is good. He’s still just 33 years old and had Tommy John surgery in the middle of the 2011 season, so his days as a major league pitcher might not be over; he just doesn't look nearly as good as Mejia does right now.
Rafael Montero and Noah Syndergaard might, too, be better options for the rotation than Matsuzaka and Lannan, but the Mets’ front office has consistently kept young pitchers in the minors past the Super-Two cutoff date. In short, a player brought up after mid-to-late June will have his salary arbitration years delayed by one season. And it would be a shock to see either pitcher on the Mets before at least the mid-April cutoff for the team to gain a full extra season of control over a player. With Syndergaard in particular, a pre-Super-Two promotion seems incredibly unlikely.
As for Matsuzaka, Lannan, and Mejia, the Mets have full control over all three players as the season begins. Matsuzaka requires a $100,000 bonus to go to the minors and can opt out of his contract if he’s not on the team’s roster by June 1. Lannan can opt out if he’s not on the roster by June 14. And Mejia still has one option remaining, which means the Mets wouldn’t risk losing him if they sent him to Vegas to begin the year. But the Mets have the ability to send those players where they wish, at least for a couple of months.
Still, it’s hard to see how Mejia doesn’t give the Mets the best opportunity to win as the season gets underway. The knock on him is that he’s often been injured thus far in his professional career. But why waste any of his innings in the minors at this point?
If Mejia gets hurt again, that's where Matsuzaka and Lannan would make sense for the Mets, as fill-ins for him or any other starting pitcher who might get hurt while the team awaits at least that one extra year of control before promoting Montero or Syndergaard. For now, putting Mejia in the starting rotation seems to be the perfect way to balance the Mets’ short- and long-term aspirations.