It is often joked that Rafael Montero is the man with nine lives. For a few years now, it has seemed like Montero, no matter how poorly he’s pitched, has somehow consistently found his way back onto the Mets’ major league roster. Some folks have wondered in the past when Montero would finally reach the end of his line with the Mets, having held on to a 40-man roster spot for a few years now that could have come in handy for someone else.
Through it all, Montero somehow still remains, but we don’t know for how much longer. He is now out of options, which means the Mets can’t send him back down to the minor leagues without first passing him through waivers. Given Montero’s prospect pedigree and the fact that he has four more years of team control, there is still a chance that a rebuilding team with nothing to lose claims him.
But at this point, it seems like the Mets have little reason to even fear that outcome. Of course, when Montero debuted in 2014, he looked to be a competent MLB pitcher at worst, with a 4.06 ERA over 44.1 innings. But a 5.14 FIP and 11.9% walk rate that year raised concerns for his future. Then a lost 2015 season hurt his stock, and in 2016, an 8.05 ERA in 19 major league innings with a 7.20 ERA in 80 Triple-A innings all but tanked his the rest of his stock. And in 2017, myriad injuries allowed Montero to get his first actual extended look in the major leagues, and it did not go well. He made 18 starts and pitched 119 innings, amassing an ugly 5.52 ERA while walking 5.07 batters per nine.
Montero now has a career 5.38 ERA and a 5.19 BB/9 in 30 big league starts and 192.1 innings. Those numbers are, without a doubt, very replaceable, though a career 4.63 xFIP and 8.84 K/9 still offer a glimmer of hope for the pitcher that was once there. However, this spring training has done nothing to help Montero’s case to make the club on Opening Day. The 27-year-old has been roughed up so far in spring to the tune of 10 runs (seven earned) in just six innings of work. He’s given up nine hits, five walks, and a hit-by-pitch to just 32 batters faced so far. As our own Chris McShane argued, it’s hard to justify giving Montero a spot in the Mets’ bullpen at this point with so many pitchers vying for the few spots available—and almost all of them having stronger cases than Montero at this point.
Montero not making the club out of spring still doesn’t necessarily mean it’s his last chance with the Mets, though. If he happens to go unclaimed on waivers, he can remain on the Mets’ 40-man roster. That said, with the team having so many arms not currently on the 40-man that may be able to provide what Montero can—like Corey Oswalt, A.J. Griffin, Drew Smith, P.J. Conlon, Matt Purke, or Corey Taylor—then the onus will still be on Montero to pitch well in Triple-A Las Vegas in order to justify a roster spot over any of those pitchers. At this rate, it’s possible he’s designated for assignment before the season even begins.