As spring training approaches its likely that the New York Mets will add at least a piece or two to their Major League roster. While one of those pieces should be a left handed bat off the bench, all others should all be with regards to the teams starting pitching. Regardless of who these late additions might be, and despite the losses of Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran on offense, we can say with certainty that the 2012 New York Mets biggest concern and their weakest link will be their starting pitching.
So allow us to take a closer look at the team's starting pitchers and what it really is about them that make the starting rotation the team's weakest link.
Johan Santana: If healthy, even in his rehabbed state, he is the de facto ace of this staff. Healthy being the key word! The fact of the matter is Johan will be 33 years old on opening day and hasn't appeared in a Major League game since September 2nd, 2010. Furthermore, Chien-Ming Wang is the only pitcher of note who has returned from such a surgery and he's hardly had the body of work (4-3 with a 4.04 ERA over 62.1 IP) necessary to illustrate what Johan Santana could be when he returns at full strength. Best case scenario this season would see Johan throw 125 to 150 innings at a level of effectiveness to be determined. Johan, despite being the de facto ace, is without question the best question mark on this staff!
RA Dickey: Fresh off his controversial assent of Mount Kilimanjaro, RA Dickey is set to enter the final season of his guaranteed 2 year/ $7.8 million dollar contract. Giving credit where its due, Dickey pitched much better last season than his 8-13 record would indicate, as he received very little run support for his efforts. If nothing else, Dickey appears to be equipped to give the Mets at least 200 IP and still provides a great change of pace with regards to the rest of the staff. Unfortunately, the jury remains out as to whether or not he is anything more than the slightly better than .500 pitcher we watched in 2010.
Jon Niese: Possessing what is likely the best "stuff" on the staff, Niese is yet to prove he can go a complete season without an injury. However in his defense, the 25 year old did show progress in his second full Major League season, increasing his number of strike outs (7.7 K/9IP to 7.9 K/9IP) while limiting his walks (3.2 BB/9IP to 2.5 BB/9IP). Still evolving and under team control for at least the next four season, Niese has the makeup of a #3 starter at minimum. On this particular staff, that probably makes him the #2 if not the ace. Most importantly, the Mets need Niese to continue his maturation and hope that his health can improve as well.
Mike Pelfrey: If there is a more frustrating player in blue and orange over the last few years, I'm not sure who it is. Coming off of his worst season since entering the Major Leagues full-time, Mike has the physical ability to be dominant at this level. His mental makeup however leaves a lot to be desired. A previous 15 game winner, its Pelfrey's durability (195.2 IP average over the previous four seasons) rather than his results, that earned him his 2012 $5.7 million dollar contract. What pitcher shows up remains to be seen, but it figures to be another season of ups and downs for the pitcher with more twitches and ticks than anyone in recent memory.
Dillon Gee: Gee's 7-0 start to the 2011 campaign found him in early contention for the Rookie Of The Year Award. The remainder of the season saw him go 6-6 with an ERA that spike more than a point and a half (2.86 to 4.43) over that time. Whether or not the league figured out the young righty or he simply ran out of gas in what was effectively his first full Major League season remains to be season, however one thing that appears certain is that it will be difficult to predict exactly what he brings to the table in 2012. One thing is certain, if he can remain effective the Mets can certainly use the 7.0 IP/game average that his sported in 2011 from the fifth spot in the rotation.
You see, these five men offer far more questions than answers. The other question, which may actually be the most important of all, will be who fills the void when one of these five can't take the mound. As it stands how, the Mets have no certain sixth starting candidate. While the long term future at starting pitcher appears bright, those prospects (Matt Harvey and Jeurys Familia) won't be ready until late summer. As such, it will be up to these men and whomever the Mets bring in/up in the meantime to hold the fort. A house of cards no doubt and one which is a mere arm injury away from total chaos. Yes, the 2012 Mets rotation is no sure thing and is undoubtedly their weakest link.
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