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Swimming in the shallow end: The Mets still have a pitching problem

Despite Brodie Van Wagenen’s boasting, the team’s rotational depth leaves a lot to be desired.

MLB: New York Mets at Chicago Cubs Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

The Mets kicked off this offseason with the departure of Zack Wheeler but quickly added Rick Porcello and Michael Wacha as free agents, prompting Brodie Van Wagenen to call the team’s staff “the deepest rotation in baseball.” Well, not to cry foul at a straight-shooter like Brodie, but the reality is not so rosy.

The 2019 squad had its fair share of warts, but pitcher health was not one of them. Their top four starters—Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Zack Wheeler, and Steven Matz—each made at least 30 starts, with Jason Vargas and Marcus Stroman combining for 29. It’s hard to imagine better luck for any team, let alone one with as colorful an injury history as the Mets, but it’s even harder to imagine it happening again.

Yet despite this exceptional run of luck, the 2019 Mets still had to dig into their reserves and trotted out Wilmer Font, Walker Lockett, and Chris Flexen for starts. And before you think that group sounds pretty bleak, remember that two of the three are no longer with the team. So if they need to dig again—and they will—it’s going to be even deeper. And the deeper they go, the uglier it gets.

Assuming the team goes into the season fully healthy (Why is everyone laughing? It could happen!), Porcello would likely be slotted in as a perfectly cromulent fifth starter with Wacha in some sort of a swing role. Wacha would then get the first chance at a rotation spot, presuming the oft-injured former Cardinal wasn’t already down to begin with.

Wacha’s performance trajectory is littered with red flags, but hey, it’s just pitching depth, right? And if he doesn’t work out, there’s always the next guy *checks notes* Walker Lockett? Seriously?

I’ve already been plenty mean to Lockett on this site before so I’ll pull some punches here, but suffice if you’re wondering why I would name him as the number seven guy on a staff that used nine starters in an exceptionally healthy season, that’s because you haven’t seen what comes after him. It’s not what you want.

You’ve got Quad-A average Joe extraordinaire in Corey Oswalt who put up a WHIP over 2 last year and looked it. You’ve got waiver claim rando Stephen Gonsalves who’s only 25 but had an ERA over 6 with the Twins in 2018 and hasn’t sniffed the majors since. And you’ve got David Peterson, the former first-round pick who’s by far the most likely of this group to find success, though he still has yet to throw a pitch in Triple-A.

Is it the worst pitching depth in baseball? Probably not, as the Mets could also technically gut an already-thin bullpen to harvest Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman if they had to (please don’t have to, Mets). But there’s a statistical likelihood that one or more of these pitchers will be tapped to start a meaningful number of games next year and that’s not exactly a comforting thought.

When you don’t have quality depth, the best you can hope for is quantity, to maximize the chance that one of these guys will find a new pitch or drop an old pitch or just capture good old fashioned lightning in a bottle. There’s a spate of unimpressive free agents still pending, and the Mets would wise to offer a handful of minor league deals going into spring. Danny Salazar, Henderson Alvarez, J.C. Ramirez, the options are nearly as endless as they are unexciting, but that’s how pitching depth works. The Mets don’t need their depth to be amazing, they just need it to be. And right now, it isn’t.