With the No. 5 spot in the rotation up for grabs, Terry Collins and the New York Mets need to resort to an open competition this spring.
We all know that New York Mets Manager Terry Collins loves fielding “open competition” on his team and it looks like he’ll get to host his favorite game show again, this time for the fifth starting pitcher spot in the club’s rotation.
According to Mike Puma of the New York Post, the Mets will use spring training to determine one of the following three pitchers for that final spot: Zack Wheeler, Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman. While Wheeler is still expected to be an important part of the rotation for years to come (even though he has not played the last two seasons), open competition is the best way to figure out who gets the last rotation spot.
Without the efforts of Lugo and Gsellman late last season, there is no way the Mets would have made the playoffs. The two of them filled in admirably in a rotation that was without three-fifths of their starters (Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, and Steven Matz) for the final month-and-a-half of 2016, combining for a 9-4 record with a 2.57 ERA.
It is also important to mention Lugo and Gsellman rose to the occasion in some of the most important victories for the Amazins’ last year. It was Gsellman who had to make an emergency appearance out of the bullpen in the first of a three-game series in St. Louis against the Cardinals in late August. The Mets entered the series with a .500 record and four-and-a-half games behind the Cards for one of the Wild Card spots in the National League.
When the starter, Jon Niese, failed to get through the first inning because of an injury, things looked bleak for the Mets (even if Niese was the pitcher anyone would starting) in a game they absolutely had to win to keep any playoff hopes alive. However, Gsellman filled in remarkably, pitching nearly four scoreless innings in a 7-4 win that kick-started last season’s turnaround.
That same series, two nights later, the Mets faced another must-win situation after a disappointing loss the night before. This time, the season was in Lugo’s hands and he was opposed by nobody other than Adam Wainwright. Lugo wound up throwing five scoreless innings (he probably could have gone further if he did not leave the game with a minor injury) in a 10-6 win that put the team only three-and-a-half games out of a playoff spot going into a ten-game home stand.
The Mets wound up going 7-3 over those ten games and by the time the homestand was over, they saw themselves only a half-game out of the playoff picture. Lugo and Gsellman had quality starts in four of those games, winning three of them, including the last two of the homestand against the division rival Washington Nationals.
This is by no means an indication Wheeler has no shot at making the rotation. When the Mets acquired him from the San Francisco Giants for Carlos Beltran in 2011, Wheeler was a highly-touted prospect and showed signs of his full potential in the majors before opting for Tommy John Surgery prior to the 2015 season. He deserves a fair chance this spring to see if he gets his stuff back quickly. If he doesn’t, then placing him in the bullpen could be a good way to ease him back to being a starter.
There are also many who worry about Lugo and Gsellman turning into John Maine and Oliver Perez. Like Lugo and Gsellman, Maine and Perez unexpectedly came on the scene in the Mets rotation in 2006 and remained strongholds through the 2008 season. Yet, after the club moved to Citi Field in 2009, both pitchers fell off the face of the earth and hearing either name now will make any Mets fan cringe. Does this mean the same thing will happen to Lugo and Gsellman? Not necessarily, but it’s something not to take with a grain of salt.
With some questions that need to be answered about all three pitchers, it only makes sense to use Spring Training to determine the Mets final starting pitcher. This is the only way to find out if Wheeler is close to where he was before his surgery and if Lugo and Gsellman can resemble their efforts from last year.
It is also important to mention that the two pitchers who don’t make the rotation will still have very important roles on the team. If there is anything this franchise learned last year, it is that you can’t have too much starting pitching. Especially with Bartolo Colon no longer there, the Mets need to have reinforcements ready to make spot starts or join the rotation when needed.