With the Mets’ front office giving strong indications that they are finished bringing in potential starters, we can start to suss out what the sub-Jason Vargas contingent will look like. And though it leaves a lot to be desired, there are some interesting ways it could all shake out, particularly with a long injury history among the team’s top starters.
The Mets have focused largely on bringing in potential starters on minor league deals and remaining open to pulling existing players from the bullpen to fill in. The result is a system that is either counting on an unexpected breakout or willing to compromise what is shaping up to be a strong relief corps.
Seth Lugo has been serviceable as a starter in his career, with a 4.07 ERA across the rough equivalent of a full season’s worth of starts. But he has shined as a reliever, with a 2.38 ERA and a WHIP under 1, and he has the ability to go multiple innings. His presence in the bullpen also helps protect Edwin Diaz and Jeurys Familia from overuse. Spot starts are one thing, but an extended run out of the rotation for Lugo would be a significant loss.
Robert Gsellman has yet to truly excel at either role, and though his peripherals are slightly better in relief, he might be the better candidate of the two for a shot at starting since his services in the bullpen are less essential. Just 25 years old, he’s still developing, and there may even be an argument for having him begin the season in Syracuse as a starter to get in that rhythm and see how he settles in.
Almost certainly ticketed for Syracuse are Chris Flexen and Corey Oswalt, both of whom have had brief stints with the Mets in recent years. They are young, but very hittable so far, and there’s no guarantee they will be up to the task of providing potentially long-term production at the level needed for a contender.
One of the new faces who will be vying for a shot at starting this season is lefty Hector Santiago, signed to a minor league deal earlier in the offseason. More likely to make a splash as a reliever based on his recent history and the Mets relative lack of left-handed relievers, he has spent most of his career as a starter, and if he doesn’t make the big league team out of camp, he will probably slot back into that role as insurance in Syracuse.
Walter Lockett is another recent arrival, part of the return for catcher Kevin Plawecki. He has yet to really break out in the minors, though there’s still room for growth at 24 years old, and a new organization could be what he needs. Still, he’s largely a lottery ticket at this point as opposed to a reliable depth signing.
The other minor league acquisition the team has pointed to is Rule 5 pick Kyle Dowdy. Dowdy’s best shot at sticking with the Mets is in the bullpen, though if he’s able to turn his career around there, he might earn a shot at the rotation later in the year.
The common denominator with every player in this group is “maybe.” Maybe they’ll show something new in the minors, maybe they’ll reverse a downward trend in the aging curve, maybe they can make the jump from relief to starting. Depth is supposed to be about protecting against the unknown, and it’s hard to do that with even more unknown.