June 14, 2015, is an obscure date from this season, but it's noteworthy for two reasons: The Mets won, overcoming a five-run deficit in the process, and Dillon Gee threw his last pitch as a Met. In an odd twist of fate, that last pitch was thrown to Juan Uribe, and the last run was knocked in by Kelly Johnson, both of whom the Mets would later acquire near the trade deadline. Gee surrendered eight earned runs in three and two-thirds innings that afternoon and was designated for assignment the following day, clearing up space for Steven Matz, the last of the young arms the team had cultivated over the years.
Lost in the sprint to and through the playoffs was Gee declaring himself a free agent, as was his right after being outrighted off the 40-man roster. The news was met with a collective shrug; Mets fans had bigger things on their minds. Displacing Gee from the rotation was both necessary and inevitable, one of the last pages to turn before closing the book on the rebuild and again starting to contend.
Like many Mets, Dillon Gee is a human Rorschach test. Some admire his blue-collar, workmanlike approach (euphemisms for players who lack elite talent); some despised him as a symbol of an organization that refused to spend or contend. But Gee's is, devoid of the Mets' situation, an unmitigated success story.
Drafted in the 21st round of the 2007 draft, Gee quickly rose through the Mets' minor league system. He finished 2008 with a few starts in Double-A Binghamton and began 2009 in Triple-A Buffalo, but had his season cut short due to shoulder issues. Gee remained an unheralded prospect entering the 2010 season (he checked in at number 20 on our internal list that year), partly due to health concerns but mostly due to underwhelming stuff and a mediocre strikeout rate. Things changed that year—his strikeout rate rose from 20.1% to 23.7% in Triple-A—and while his ERA was a poor 4.96, injuries opened a space for him to make a few starts for the Mets late in the season. His 2.18 ERA in five starts masked poor underlying peripheral numbers, but firmly placed him in the conversation for the Mets' rotation in 2011.
Gee began 2011 back in Buffalo, but an injury to Chris Young opened a spot in the rotation and Gee was the next man up. He would go on to toss 160 2/3 innings over 27 starts that year, posting a 4.43 ERA and a 4.65 FIP. Despite the results, the Mets' financial and competitive position guaranteed Gee a spot in the 2012 rotation. And though not everyone was on board with this decision, Gee went out and had what was arguably his best year. His 21% strikeout rate and 3.71 FIP were, and remain, career bests. Gee's season was unfortunately limited to just 17 starts due to blood clots in his shoulder, which led to surgery to repair an artery in the same place.
By the time the 2013 season opened up, Gee was healthy and back in the starting rotation. He did not, however, pick up where he left off in 2012. Through his first 10 starts, Gee had a 6.34 ERA and a 2-6 record, for what that's worth. As Gee entered his next start—against the Yankees no less—there was chatter about replacing Gee in the rotation with Zack Wheeler, who was pitching well for Triple-A Las Vegas. Gee went on to strike out a career-high 12 batters that night, allowing one run and pitching into the eighth to pick up the win. That began a remarkable string of 30 starts spanning two seasons over which Gee posted a 2.72 ERA. That run of dominance ended with a lat injury that sidelined him for over a month and a half, and when he returned, he struggled to regain his dominant form. He finished 2014 with a 4.00 ERA and a 4.52 FIP, which was a step down from his 2013 season, when he posted a career-low 3.62 ERA with a 4.00 FIP over 199 innings.
Entering the 2014 offseason, there was speculation that the now-pitching-rich Mets would try to trade Gee. But despite some trade rumors that popped up throughout the winter, nothing ever developed. So Gee opened the 2015 season in the rotation while the Mets sent the more talented Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz to Las Vegas. Gee struggled in seven starts before tossing that final pitch to Uribe and ceding his place in the rotation. Gee would finish out the season pitching for Vegas before declaring free agency after the regular season ended.
It's hard to find nice things that have been said or written about Gee. He was called the best fifth starter in baseball a couple of times, which is probably as good as it gets. Some optimistic things have been written on this site over the years, mostly trying to figure out a way that Gee might somehow be better than he was. But Gee is what he is, and that's okay. I'm surprised how well this quote from our 2010 prospect list holds up if you toss in the curveball that he developed as his fourth pitch:
Gee's strengths is an arsenal that has some depth, despite its lack of dominance. He throws three different pitches, a fastball that generally sits 89-91 mph with some movement, a solid changeup, and usable slider. Though none of the three pitches grades as an above-average major league pitch, he commands them all well, and can throw all three for strikes in any count.
Gee may not have been the best fifth starter in baseball throughout his Mets career. He had stretches in which he was below average, and then stretches in which he was above average but that left you hoping for more. What that adds up to is a slightly above-replacement-level pitcher who can anchor the back end of a second division rotation. The problem for Mets fans is that Gee was anchoring the front end of the Mets' rotation for a couple of years (which was not his fault). And he's no longer with the Mets because they're no longer a second division team.
From an organizational perspective, any time you can turn a 21st-round pick into a major league starter who gives you 110 starts and 679 innings above replacement level, it's a wild success. Dillon Gee is a wild success. From a fan perspective, when a player like Gee logs the second-most innings for your team over a four-year span, it's hard to strip out the context and view the player for what he is.
I don't think we will look back on Gee's years with the Mets fondly but, viewed in the proper context, it's hard not to be impressed with what he accomplished during his time with the organization.