The latest on the starting rotation…

Michael Baron, Contributor

Opening Day is now two days away, and the Mets’ Major League-ready starting rotation depth remains paper thin. Currently, the Mets have three healthy starters: Jon Niese, Matt Harvey, and Dillon Gee. Jeremy Hefner suffered a bruise from a come-backer during his start earlier this week, and Shaun Marcum has suffered through some strength and neck problems.

Jeremy Hefner polaroidNow, Hefner told me on Wednesday his elbow was fine, and should have no problems starting the season on time. He’s wearing a small brace on his arm, but he is not nearly as concerned as he was at the time of the injury. Marcum is hopeful he will pitch on April 7, but it’s appearing likely he will begin the season on the disabled list, backdated by ten days. But even if Marcum is ready next weekend, between his arm, his neck, and the lack of innings under his belt this spring, he is a complete mystery right now.

In other words, the Mets need options for their rotation, and Sandy Alderson said last night those options will come from within, and not from outside the organization.

The Mets are stretching Aaron Laffey out so he can serve as short-term insurance for the rotation. He was re-assigned to minor league camp last weekend and struggled in his start against the Cardinals on Sunday. But he will probably continue to work in the rotation once the Las Vegas 51’s season starts next week. However, Laffey is not on the 40-man roster, and so the Mets would have to cut somebody else to make room for him.

Another option could be Collin McHugh, although he struggled this spring and clearly has work to do in order to be an effective Major League pitcher.

Based on Sandy Alderson’s comments last night, it’s clear Zack Wheeler is still not making the team out of camp. Yes, according to multiple reports, scouts believe Wheeler is ready right now. But the Mets have made it clear Wheeler will not be used as a band-aid, and his situation has not changed despite the injuries inside the rotation. I also can’t envision the Mets sacrificing a year of Wheeler’s control under any circumstances.

Last weekend, Alderson told reporters that if John Buck got injured, they would immediately recall Travis d’Arnaud from Las Vegas.

Zack Wheeler 4 polaroid“I know people talk about control and ‘Super Two’ and all of that. If John Buck gets hurt tomorrow, Travis d’Arnaud is the front-line catcher,” Alderson said.

If the Mets wait 20 days to promote either or both of Wheeler or d’Arnaud, neither would be able to accrue a full year of service time in 2013, which in turn would delay their eligibility for free agency an extra year. If the Mets wait until the ‘Super Two’ cutoff date (which will be sometime in June), they will not be eligible for arbitration an extra year, which could potentially lower their salary commitments to both of those players significantly in 2015.

However, if the Mets are willing to allow d’Arnaud to achieve ‘Super Two’ status in a situation of need, I have to believe the same applies to Wheeler if he’s ready and performing in late April. The depth issues inside the rotation aren’t going to change in the next three weeks, and so I bet there will be a lot of buzz about Wheeler joining the big league rotation soon after the 20th day of the regular season (that’s the last day Wheeler would be eligible for a full year of Major League service time, which would delay his free agency an extra year.

The Mets might be risking a rapid salary escalation in future seasons by calling him up before the ‘Super Two’ cutoff, but if Wheeler is healthy and performing, they could look to curtail those large raises and sign him to an extension at that point in time, thus creating better clarity and cost certainty in their payroll structure.

Click here for rules about MLB service time, 'Super Two' status, and arbitration...

Per MLB rules, a player accrues a full year of Major League service time if he spends 172 of the 182 days on the active roster or on the Major League disabled list. If a player is optioned to the minor leagues for 20 days or less, he is credited with big league service time as well.

A player becomes “Super Two” eligible if he is one of the top 22 percent of rookies called up in a season. If a player becomes eligible, he has four years of arbitration eligibility, the first coming after his second year.