It’s starting to look like it might (at least to me, anyway). Consider the rotation as it stands today: with Johan Santana recovering from surgery to start the season, Mike Pelfrey, R.A. Dickey, and Jon Niese are the only established major league starters on the roster. In some ways, referring to this group as “established” is being kind: they each have questions to answer in 2011). Pelfrey can be solid (if unspectacular), but has been prone to extended streaks where he struggles to be average. Can he be more consistent next year? R.A. Dickey was a revelation this season, but he’s 36 and the 174 innings he pitched last season were a career high. Can he do it again? 2010 was Jon Niese’s first full season, and he’s struggled with injuries the past two season. Can he stay healthy long enough to contribute?
That being said, those three will anchor the rotation next season. John Maine has most likely played his last game with the team: I expect him to be non-tendered this week. Dillon Gee will be given a chance to win a spot in the rotation in Spring Training, as will Misch and probably Tobi Stoner. Misch is easily the most established (there’s that word again, used even more generously here) of the three, which can’t hurt. Add in Sandy Alderson’s (and Terry Collins’) comments about not wanting to rush prospects to the majors and that’s about it for in-house candidates.
There are, of course, outside candidates. Joe Janish of Mets Today put together a list of signable (read: not Cliff Lee) free agent pitchers last week, focusing on the risk/reward aspect of each. Having just returned from a trip to Atlantic City, I find some of these gambles attractive, particularly Chris Young. I wouldn’t be opposed to signing one of them to a one-year deal and hoping for the best, but I don’t know if it’s possible. I’ve read in many places that the Mets’ off-season budget may be limited to $5 million. If that’s the case, these players may not fit in the Mets’ budget (even accounting for the discount generated by their injury histories). I mean, it could happen, but should the Mets really gamble on a pitcher with a history of injuries when their budget is so limited?
The next few days will see a number of pitchers hit free agency as the December 2nd non-tender deadline approaches. Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors has put together a list of non-tender candidates. While there are some interesting names for the bullpen, the starting pitchers leave something to be desired. I’ve always liked Brian Bannister and he might benefit from making half his starts at Citi Field, but he’s always struggled with major league hitters and he’s been injury prone recently, too. I wouldn’t have taken a shot at Zach Duke before he was traded to the Diamondbacks, making that moot anyway. Jeff Karstens? Kyle Davies? I guess, at the right price. But it’s debatable whether their better than Misch or not.
Acquiring a starter via a trade is also a possibility. The Mets could possibly trade Jose Reyes or Carlos Beltran (Beltran for Daisuke Matsuzaka might make some sense, I guess). Personally, I remain convinced that the Mets should refrain from trading either of those players until June, at the earliest. Their value is what it once was, but there’s still a reasonable chance that they can recapture most of it: it simply makes no sense to move them now. We’ll see.
In an effort to be fair to every candidate, I have to mention that Oliver Perez currently has a 10-inning scoreless streak over his last two starts in the Mexican Winter League. Whatever.
So, there you have it: based on the known available options (and their costs), Pat Misch will very likely be the fifth (or possibly even the fourth) starter in the rotation next year. Bill James predicts Misch’s 2011 season as: 23 games (12 starts), 75.0 innings pitched, 82 hits, 50 strikeouts and 18 walks (2.78 K/BB ration) for a 4.20 ERA (4.19 FIP). Obviously, the counting numbers would be higher if Misch won the job out of spring training, but a 4.20/4.19 ERA/FIP for less than $1 million isn’t that bad. It’s less than optimal, but budget constraints make it one of the more plausible options available.