With Noah Syndergaard now out for an indefinitely with a partially-torn lat and Steven Matz and Seth Lugo both still a month away from returning themselves, the Mets—who came into spring training with seven viable major league starting pitchers—now have a large hole in their rotation. Rafael Montero is slated to take Syndergaard’s spot on Friday, but he doesn’t appear to be a long-term solution.
With the Mets already stumbling out of the gate this season, they need to avoid falling any further behind the eight ball. So they really can’t afford to mix and match with their newly-formed hole in the rotation for what is likely at least a month’s time. They need to find a pitcher who they can reliably send out there every fifth day to give them at least 5-to-6 innings. They can’t dream of replacing Syndergaard’s production of course, and there are no prospects on the horizon. But there are pitchers out there who can fill an “innings-eater” role and at least pitch respectably for the Mets until their pitchers get healthy again. Let’s have a look at some of the possible candidates.
As mentioned, Montero is getting the first crack at things this Friday against Miami. But his prospect pedigree is long behind him at this point. The 26-year-old was demoted back to Triple-A last month after posting an unsightly 9.45 ERA out of the Mets’ bullpen. He had walked eight and struck out six in 6.2 innings. His career ERA in the big leagues is now 5.51 with a 5.00 FIP in 80 innings, and he’s averaged nearly six walks per nine innings in his MLB career. He’s had success in two starts since being demoted to Las Vegas, but Montero cannot be trusted for any length of time at this point.
Sean Gilmartin could also receive some starts, but he hasn’t looked much better than Montero. He was shellacked in relief of Syndergaard on Sunday for five runs on eight hits in just 2.2 innings. He has struggled at both the Triple-A and MLB levels since his strong 2015 season, and like Montero, he cannot be counted on for anything more than a spot start.
Other starting pitchers on the Las Vegas 51s roster with MLB experience include Adam Wilk, a 29-year-old career minor-leaguer who has 26 innings of major league experience, Wilfredo Boscan, who finally broke into the big leagues after nine years in the minor leagues last year but had a 6.46 ERA in 15 innings with the Pirates, and Donavan Hand, who has pitched only three MLB innings since 2013. Tyler Pill and Ricky Knapp are other members of the 51s rotation who have never pitched in the big leagues, but both have struggled tremendously in Triple-A. In addition, all of these guys would need to be added to the 40-man roster anyway.
There aren’t many good options here. So with the lack of quality pitchers left in the system, the Mets might be forced to look outside the organization for help.
While the remaining free agents aren’t inspiring either, it does have names like Doug Fister. The Mets have shown interest in Fister already this year, and he could make sense for them right now. He pitched to a 4.64 ERA and a 4.89 xFIP in 180.1 innings in 2016. He’s seen his walks rise and his strikeouts sink, as he had a career-worst 1.85 K/BB ratio last year. That’s a concerning trend for the 33-year-old, but he’s probably still better than anyone else the Mets have right now. And Fister’s not the only option either; there are other free agents similar to Fister, like C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis.
Now make no mistake, there’s a reason all of these pitchers are still unsigned. They are declining, mid-30s veterans who are losing both their command and velocity. But there’s a better chance of them giving you five or six major league quality innings most nights than anyone else the Mets have. That said, it’s tough to gauge what kind of shape any of these guys might be in, as well. None of them were in spring training with a team, so they’d almost certainly need some minor league starts to ramp-up first, which could take a few weeks. And with the situation the Mets are, they need someone who can step in as soon as possible; they can’t afford to wait a few weeks. So perhaps they need to acquire someone ready to step in right now.
Making a trade in May is very, very difficult, but not necessarily impossible. For example, the Mets acquired James Loney in a deal last May. So, if they can make a trade, who could be available?
The Brewers have just designated Tommy Milone for assignment. Milone struggled this year with a 6.43 ERA in 21 innings through three starts and six overall appearances, and also struggled last year to the tune of a 5.71 ERA in 69.1 innings. That said, before 2016, Milone had several seasons as a productive back-of-the-rotation starter. Given that he’s only 30-years-old, it’s not impossible for him to regain that form, and he could step in right away. He probably wouldn’t take much more than a waiver claim and a deal for cash considerations to acquire.
Other more expenisve trade candidates could come from teams who are not planning to contend at all this year, like the San Diego Padres, Atlanta Braves, Milwaukee Brewers, or Cincinatti Reds. All of those teams have low-end veteran pitchers who can eat innings like Clayton Richard, Trevor Cahill, Matt Garza, Jimmy Nelson, Scott Feldman, Bronson Arroyo, Jaime Garcia, and perhaps even Bartolo Colon, all of whom should be attainable for a fairly cheap price, though probably tougher to get at this point in the season and definitely can’t be had for only cash.
There really is no clear-cut answer for the Mets at this point, and a lack of starting pitching depth in Triple-A has made this situation even tougher than it already was. The best course of action probably isn’t going after only one guy, though. The Mets could sign someone like Fister but still trade for someone like Milone as well, just to fill Fister’s spot until he’s ready. And with injuries and innings-limit issues likely to crop up as the year goes on, the Mets could probably use multiple pitchers to help account for that anyway.