Just when we thought the New York Mets’ young and flashy pitching staff would carry the team to regular playoff contention, the wheels have come off in another haze of injuries. Last night’s 5-3 loss to the New York Yankees was the Mets’ third in a row, and GM Sandy Alderson needs to realize that going all-in on pitching may not be the best approach.
Thanks to several factors, namely injuries sidelining ace Noah Syndergaard and closer Jeurys Familia, the Mets rank 27th in baseball with a staff ERA of 4.88. Twelve different pitchers have made a start for the team this season, and only Jacob deGrom has made over 20.
Even if this year is a fluke, one thing is certain. Relying solely on the pitching staff to carry the team isn’t the right move.
High hopes in the past
It wasn’t long ago that the New York Mets’ pitching staff was the toast of the city. After a miraculous run to the 2015 World Series, despite losing in five games to the Kansas City Royals it truly looked as though the starting rotation alone had that special something to carry a lineup that came with some questions.
Noah Syndergaard’s tremendous velocity, plus Jacob deGrom’s knack for consistency, the ice water in Matt Harvey’s veins, and two other talented arms in Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler provided a glimpse into what the future could hold. On looks alone, especially after 2015, it looked like this pitching staff could be very much like that of the 1971 Baltimore Orioles, who fielded four 20-game winners led by future Hall of Famer Jim Palmer.
Unfortunately, fate has proven to have other plans and dealt the Mets a devastating reality check over the past two years. The once-dominant Harvey had thoracic outlet surgery last season and has yet to return to form. He went from posting a 2.71 ERA in 2015 to 5.02 over the past two years and has managed just 70.1 innings in 13 starts this season.
Matz and Wheeler have struggled to stay off of the disabled list, with Wheeler missing two seasons recovering from Tommy John surgery. deGrom had an injury issue of his own last year after an ulnar nerve problem ended his season in August, and Syndergaard has not pitched since April 30 due to a torn lat muscle.
Even if the Mets’ pitching struggles this year is just a bout of bad luck management still needs to have a plan in place. Going all in on the arms with Yoenis Cespedes carrying the offense is not a recipe for success.
How to fix the problem
One way to combat the injury problems to the Mets’ pitching staff, specifically with Syndergaard, is to have him rely less on velocity. It may be his bread and butter, but learning how to change speeds like deGrom could be beneficial and ultimately prolong his career.
There’s not much that can be done for Harvey, Wheeler, and Matz. Harvey has a year of arbitration left and is earning just over $5 million this year. His thoracic outlet issues mean he’ll likely be touch and go for the rest of his career, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him traded or even non-tendered this offseason. Wheeler and Matz will come at a cheaper price but have already proven to be injury prone.
The real solution is not to blow up the pitching staff, mind you, but to build around it without expecting it to do the lion’s share of work. Keep in mind that the Mets rank 18th in baseball in runs scored this year, third in home runs and 21st in batting average with a team mark of .248. This would suggest that the offense is too home run oriented and Alderson should address that accordingly via free agency or trades.
This would mean unloading the oft-injured David Wright’s contract once and for all, be it by releasing him and eating the remaining $47 million or negotiating a buyout. Curtis Granderson will be off the books at the end of the season and so could infielder Asdrubal Cabrera, depending on what Alderson does about his $8.5 million club option.
Money freed up in that capacity means that Alderson can give the Mets some much-needed batters to complement not only Cespedes but also Michael Conforto. Adding an Eric Hosmer, Todd Frazier, or even J.D. Martinez-quality bat could provide the team with the lineup injection needed to get back to the postseason. Just look at how much of an impact Cespedes had when he was acquired from the Detroit Tigers in 2015.
The best part is that Alderson, who has been in the business for decades, surely knows this is the best way to cure what ails the Mets. If he can work his magic this offseason and clean up the payroll, then baseball in at Citi Field can find itself back in the spotlight for the right reasons.
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