The Mets have been a pleasant surprise during the first half of the season and one reason has been their strong starting pitching. But now the team has lost starter Dillon Gee for the rest of the 2012 season.
Depth at this position at the Major League level is hardly encouraging. Miguel Batista and Jeremy Hefner are both available for spot starts, but neither of them truly belong as members of the starting rotation on a winning Major League team.
So if the Mets want to stay in contention, what do they do now? The two most promising prospects available to them are 23-year-old Matt Harvey who is now 7-4 with a 3.39 ERA in AAA Buffalo and Zach Wheeler, 22, who is now 9-4 with a 2.39 ERA at AA Binghamton. Both have plenty of potential, but the Mets brass is concerned about rushing them to the Major League level too soon. The latest buzz coming from Flushing indicates that Harvey will be promoted if he pitches well Monday for Buffalo and then Wheeler will be promoted to AAA.
But unless Harvey proves himself ready over the course of a few starts, his promotion is likely only a temporary solution. So what options to the Mets have as we approach the July 31 trade deadline if they hope to stay in contention in the NL East and in the running for one of the two NL wild card spots?
Fans who have been impatient with ownership’s unwillingness to spend money feel that they need to see some commitment from the organization to winning and acquiring a good starter to replace Gee would be a good starting point towards restoring the faith of the Citi Field faithful. The Mets don’t need to spend too much money and fans don’t want to see them give up quality prospects like Wheeler and Harvey. But they need to show some kind of support for the team and for the fans who have remained loyal to them throughout the past few rather difficult years.
Keep in mind if the Mets are not going to give up a lot or spend too much, they aren’t going to acquire the likes of Cole Hamels (not that the Phillies would likely trade him to the Mets anyway). But here are a few players who could be acquired for very little, wouldn’t cost too much in salary and might just be respectable fifth starters down the stretch:
1) J.A. Happ, Houston Astros. The Astros aren’t going anywhere this year so they will be sellers at the deadline. Happ isn’t pitching all that well for Houston (ERA 5.14, WHIP 1.49) but the lefty is only 30 and a change of scenery may be just what the doctor ordered for him. If he can regain the form he showed with Philadelphia in 2009 and Houston in 2010, he can be worth the price the Astros would ask. At the very least, the Mets can get quality starts and innings from Happ and he would be more reliable than Haffner or Bautista.
2) Jake Arrieta, Baltimore Orioles (AAA). The O’s demoted Arrieta to AAA after his inconsistent start. At 26, he could still be a longer term option if the Mets can get his confidence back and get him straightened out. The 6’4″ righty won 10 games in 22 starts a year ago. Again, he can be an innings muncher with an upside to become a 5th starter next year if he proves himself this year. The O’s may also make lefty Brian Matusz available in a trade depending on where they stand near the deadline. Either Arrieta or Matusz would be an upgrade over what is already on the Mets big league roster and probably wouldn’t cost too much.
3) Bartolo Colon, Oakland Athletics. Colon would make sense in a lot of ways. The A’s are clearly not contenders and will be sellers. Colon is 39 and has been reliable this year, going 6-7 with a 3.80 ERA. He is steady, having gone six innings or more in five of his last seven starts. Colon need not be in the Mets long term plans, but he has experience pitching in a pennant race and could be helpful to some of the younger pitchers on the Mets staff.
The Mets have to fill Gee’s spot in the rotation if they hope to remain in contention in the second half of the season. How they do it may go a long way towards determining how interesting the last 70 games are going to be for Mets fans this year.