After the conclusion of the 2020 season, the Mets were an important lesson in building actual pitching depth. The team featured some of the worst starting pitching in baseball last year largely due to their lack of depth and complete unpreparedness for injuries. This is after they had gone into the year touting their starting depth and patting themselves on the back for the job they did building it just because they happened to have six starting pitchers on the major league roster instead of the requisite five. This was common belief the Mets frequently championed during the Wilpon Era; that the organizational pitching depth beyond the major league roster was immaterial as long as they had that coveted sixth starter.
Predictably, in 2020—as would often happen in other years—the Mets suffered through multiple pitching injuries at the same time, leaving them completely vulnerable in the rotation in at least one spot and needing more than six starters to get through the season. They would often find themselves giving starts to career minor leaguers with no upside or being forced into making trades for other teams’ cast-offs.
As such, those teams often served an easy case study in how not to build pitching depth. It seems as though Sandy Alderson and crew have indeed taken lessons from them, as they’ve applied a completely different approach to building pitching depth.
Going into the offseason, the Mets had just three starting pitchers they could actually rely on: Jacob deGrom, David Peterson, and Marcus Stroman after he accepted the qualifying offer. The previous regime probably would’ve focused on filling just the two remaining holes in the rotation while hoping Steven Matz, Seth Lugo, Corey Oswalt, and Franklyn Kilomé could provide quality depth. But Sandy Alderson’s crew has gone out and acquired not just Carlos Carrasco and Taijuan Walker to fill those rotation holes, but they’ve also brought in a variety of starting pitching options beyond that, even after trading Matz.
Jordan Yamamoto and Joey Lucchesi are the top two, and they’re good enough to battle it out with Peterson for the fifth spot at bottom of the rotation. That gives Mets three options for the fifth starter and seven viable starters in total, which is at least one more than they usually have. Beyond that, non-roster invitee Mike Montgomery is a depth option both in the rotation and the bullpen, and Sean Reid-Foley is a much more competent 8th or 9th starter than the Mets have had in years.
Sam McWilliams and Yennsy Diaz were also brought in, and while both may profile more as relievers, there is starting ability in both of them. Kilomé and Thomas Sczapucki remain 40-man depth options as well. Oswalt has been bumped off the 40-man roster completely, though he remains a non-40-man depth option along with Jerad Eickhoff and Harol Gonzalez. With all of this depth now, you’d figure Lugo and Gsellman would only have to be used in the rotation in only the most extreme scenarios, thus securing the relief depth as a result.
What’s more, the types of pitchers that the Mets have brought in are also fundamentally different than what we’re used to. Under the Wilpons, if the Mets didn’t have pitching prospects waiting in the wings, they often just relied on washed up veterans (Héctor Santiago, Tommy Milone, etc.) and/or organizational minor league arms that have little to no upside (Drew Gagnon, Chris Mazza, Walker Lockett, etc.) to go to when they needed help in the rotation.
This year, not only did they stack arms deeper than they ever have, but the pitchers they brought in are all extremely interesting ones with recent major league success and/or intriguing upsides. Yamamoto and Lucchesi are both young with recent success and definitely have the ability to stick in a big league rotation. Meanwhile, McWilliams was touted as a guy whom the Rays might have turned into something, and Reid-Foley is not far off from being a top ten prospect in the Blue Jays’ system either. Diaz is at least a hard thrower with a nice fastball/changeup mix, and Mets fans will remember when Kilomé and Sczapucki were both considered among team’s best pitching prospects not too long ago as well. Montgomery, for his part, at least has had moderate success as a starter as recently as 2019 before a lat injury derailed his 2020. There might still be something there with him, too.
This philosophy also applies to the Walker signing as well. ln the past, the Mets tended to round out their rotation with the “veteran fifth starter” types like Rick Porcello, Bartolo Colon, or Jason Vargas. These were pitchers that figured to be reliable innings eaters, but were unexciting and lacked upside. With Walker, he’s not just a pitcher who can provide quality depth innings, but who has upside beyond that. Walker, of course, was once a top prospect and is coming off a 2.70 ERA in 11 starts last year. He’s only 28, now fully recovered from Tommy John surgery, and still has upside beyond what he’s done so far.
There’s obviously no guarantee that any of these guys are going to be good, but there’s a much better chance they are than your average PJ Conlon. Plus, when you bring in a lot of players with attainable upsides, you increase your chances of having at least one of them actually reach them. These moves are also how you can raise the floor of your team, ensuring it doesn’t accidentally fall ten wins short of its projection.
In a year where every team’s pitching depth is almost certainly going to be strained, the Mets have done pretty much all they can to not give significant innings to bad pitchers with basically no hope of being good. If you consider the state of the starting pitching staff when this new regime took over in November, it has been a stroke of near-brilliance to not only procure a deep and strong starting five, but a large number of viable starting options beyond them. It’s something we haven’t seen in a long time.