For the first time in three decades, the Mets have an abundance of young starting pitching. Especially with Matt Harvey set to return in 2015, the Mets will boast as many as eight legitimate rotation options for next season.
In a sea of comparatively green, twenty-somethings vying for a slot, Bartolo Colon, the 17-year veteran whom the Mets signed to a two-year, $20 million contract this past offseason, could be the odd man out.
Colon, 41, has pitched notably well for the Mets in 2014, posting a 3.85 ERA (versus a 3.40 FIP and park-adjusted 3.61 xFIP) over 161 1/3 innings. With under $13 million remaining on his contract through 2015, the right-hander would be an attractive addition to just about any team’s rotation.
But that doesn’t mean the Mets should actually trade Colon this offseason…
Critics have been quick to poke fun at his physique and question his seemingly inexplicable success. But they’ve also been doing that for 17 years now. Colon hasn’t yielded to the jeers, owning a 3.58 FIP and 3.84 xFIP in 657 innings (as a starter) since 2011. In fact, over that span (and amongst starters with at least 600 innings pitched), Colon’s FIP and xFIP trump the likes of Jon Lester and Matt Cain, respectively.
Without Colon next season, Dillon Gee, who turns 29 in April, would alternatively reign as the Mets’ most aged hurler. And while possessing a talented, youthful rotation is hardly a conundrum, the lack of a veteran innings-eater could potentially hurt the Mets’ playoff chances in 2015. To Colon’s credit, the pitcher is currently on-pace for his consecutive season of at least 190 innings, while averaging a bit more than 6 2/3 innings per start this year.
No other Mets pitcher can list feats of endurance such as these. Not even the team’s longest tenured starter, Jon Niese.
Even though, since 2011, Niese has owned a similarly productive 3.68 FIP and 3.63 xFIP as Colon, the southpaw’s biggest obstacle has continued to be his health. In 2014 alone, the 27-year-old has made two trips to the disabled list, missing a combined 17 games due to elbow and shoulder injuries. And being just a year removed from a partial rotator cuff tear, the prospect of his re-tearing it is always there.
Niese’s long injury history only represents his tangible red flag. He’s also prone to mental lapses on the mound, and, especially this season, less-than-positive body language.
The point, however, is not to pick sides; a #TeamNiese versus a #TeamColon campaign isn’t necessary. Both pitchers have been key parts of the Mets’ strong pitching this year: a 3.84 rotation FIP and 3.79 xFIP — all in spite of a Harvey-less rotation.
It might not be either of these pitchers to be missing from the rotation at all next year. Young pitchers like Jacob deGrom, Rafael Montero and Noah Syndergaard are the type of pitchers that make many pitching-starved teams salivate. Don’t count on eight options being the case on March 27, either.
Instead, the focus should be how to immediately improve the Mets’ tepid offense—and subsequently, which pitcher or pitchers are shipped elsewhere. Despite receiving impressive individual performances from Daniel Murphy and Lucas Duda this season, the team’s bats have combined for a park-adjusted 88 wRC+ (tied for 24th) and 91 home runs (26th) to date.
With a free-agent market devoid of game-changing players, the Mets might turn their attention to rumored to-be-available Troy Tulowitzki.
Aside from tantalizing the Colorado Rockies with the likes of Noah Syndergaard, Rafael Montero and Kevin Plawecki, perhaps Niese, whose team-friendly contract essentially controls him through 2018, could be the key to the Mets’ acquiring the dynamic Rockies’ shortstop.
By comparison, a trade involving Colon might net the Mets an above average corner outfielder or a package headlined by 2017 or 2018 hopefuls. But adding a rare talent such as Tulowitzki—by way of Niese—could propel the Mets the way [deserving Hall of Fame] catcher Mike Piazza did when they acquired him in May 1998.
The loss of Niese would undoubtedly sting. Aside from leaving the Mets without a left-hander in the rotation (at least, until 23-year-old Steven Matz is ready), Niese has also been a poster boy for the Mets’ newfound ability to develop quality, starting pitchers.
Yet, Niese’s successes and still untapped potential notwithstanding, the only way for the stars to align for the Mets’ first playoff appearance since 2006 is for the team to actually acquire a star.
Ben Berkon’s work has been published on Huffington Post, The Onion, and various other mainstream sites. Make sure to follow him @BenBerkon.