With pitchers and catchers scheduled to report to Port St. Lucie, Fla., by Feb. 15, it's time to continue dissecting the Mets' 2014 roster. This is the second of a seven-part Around the Horn series taking a position-by-position look at the Mets' projected starters and backup options heading into the season. Next up: starting pitchers.
NEW YORK -- No Matt Harvey ... no problem?
That's the hope for this summer in Flushing, where a mostly unchanged rotation aims to thrive in the absence of its best pitcher. Harvey may not be available as he rehabs from Tommy John surgery, and the Mets will most certainly be weaker without him.
But they still feel their starting five is an overall strength.
"It's not an area of extraordinary need," general manager Sandy Alderson said earlier this winter. "Realistically, I don't think it's an area of weakness."
That's in large part because of Bartolo Colon, the team's high-profile newcomer whose $20 million free-agent contract is the second richest of Alderson's tenure. Colon's risks are plentiful, considering his age (40), injury history and relatively recent drug suspension. But his upside is also high -- the former Cy Young Award winner made the American League All-Star team last year, and he went on to rank second in the league with a 2.65 ERA.
Colon brings a wealth of experience to an otherwise youthful Mets rotation, boasting roughly twice as much big league service time as Jon Niese, Dillon Gee and Zack Wheeler combined. He also brings pedigree, with 28 wins, a 2.99 ERA and 1.4 walks per nine innings over the past two seasons. While his high-80s fastballs and sinkers will not come close to replacing Harvey's high-octane pizzazz, a healthy Colon could make up for a significant chunk of Harvey's missing value.
"Based on the year he had last year and the last couple of years, and based on our sense of his physical condition," Alderson said, "the talent merited the risk [of signing Colon to a two-year deal]."
If nothing else, Colon's presence should take pressure off Niese, who struggled through injury after entering last season as the Mets' de facto ace. A partially torn labrum in Niese's left shoulder affected his production early in the summer, eventually sidelining him for nearly two months. The result was a sizeable step back: an 8-8 record and a 3.71 ERA. If healthy, Niese is a decent bet to improve upon those numbers in 2014, coming closer to the 13-9 record and 3.40 ERA he established two years ago.
Niese will team up with the Mets' other homegrown veteran, Gee, who recovered from last season's near demotion to become the Mets' most consistent starter over the campaign's final four months. Owner of a 6.34 ERA on May 30, Gee went 10-5 with a 2.71 ERA over his final 22 starts, ensuring himself a position in the team's future plans.
Then there is Wheeler, the final Mets starter guaranteed a job once camp breaks. Like Harvey the year before, Wheeler flashed both potential and inconsistency after earning a midseason promotion, finishing 7-5 with a 3.42 ERA as a rookie. Now in his first full big league season, Wheeler will look to improve as Harvey did in his own sophomore campaign.
Along the way, the Mets will limit Wheeler to around 200 innings -- enough to get him to September, certainly, but possibly not through the entire month. Wheeler's innings total could develop into a highly-scrutinized subplot of the 2014 season.
As for New York's fifth starter, expect John Lannan and Jenrry Mejia to emerge as the primary candidates in a Spring Training competition, which will also include rookies Rafael Montero and Jacob deGrom. Mets fans are already familiar with Mejia, who thrived in 27 1/3 innings last year before undergoing season-ending elbow surgery. And they may also be somewhat familiar with Lannan, a Long Island native and longtime Nationals starter who recently joined the Mets on a Minor League deal.
Odds are both pitchers will log serious innings before the season is through.
Though Montero or deGrom could also win the fifth-starter job out of Spring Training, those two will more likely serve as depth should an injury strike early in the season. But should something happen in mid-June or later, the Mets will probably turn instead to Noah Syndergaard, one of the game's top overall pitching prospects. Like Wheeler last summer and Harvey the year before that, Syndergaard is scheduled for another half-season of Minor League seasoning before his big league debut.
The Mets are confident in his ability to make their already solid rotation stronger.
"We have a lot of young pitching that we've talked about," Alderson said. "It's time for us to give them a chance to compete."