The Mets starting pitching “depth” for 2013, and re-signing Mike Pelfrey

Michael Baron , Contributor

On paper heading into 2013, the Mets have Johan Santana, R.A. Dickey, Matt Harvey, Jon Niese, and Dillon Gee for the starting rotation.

Zack Wheeler is on the horizon, and Jeremy Hefner proved to be a serviceable long-man/spot starter.

However, there are legitimate questions over what Santana will be able to provide next season. This past season could certainly be viewed as a rebuilding year for Santana – he was mostly effective for 14 of his first 16 starts (a span of 98 innings). But what he showed over his final five starts was more than alarming, and so the concerns about his ability to produce and stay on the field next season are reasonable until he proves otherwise. They need to figure out how to maximize the $31 million they’re going to pay Santana next year, but they also must ensure they are not hindering the the rest of the starting rotation by aiding Santana through the season.

In addition, Collin McHugh has work to do if he is to become an effective Major League pitcher. Yes, Zack Wheeler’s arrival in Flushing seems imminent, but his track and future cannot be predicted. And so, their actual depth could be a lot thinner than it seems on paper. And, if the Mets trade one of their current starters to acquire one or more position players, that further reduces their supposed depth.

The Mets probably aren’t going to get through next season using only five or six starting pitchers, and given the questions (and potential for a deal of one of their starters), they need more options. I don’t expect the Mets will commit long-term to a free agent starting pitcher this winter. In fact, Sandy Alderson said at the end of the season a major free agent acquisition was unlikely regardless of the position.

In general, the Mets have lacked overall Major League depth in recent seasons. Both Alderson and Terry Collins have acknowledged that problem, and it’s reared it’s ugly head in each of the last four seasons. They have been unable to withstand injuries to most of their front-line guys. In some cases, they have gotten three or four players deep at positions, and the results haven’t been pretty. The Mets can ill-afford to lose a starting pitcher no matter what, but they can better weather such a storm if they have legitimate options to turn to.

Earlier this week, Mike Puma of the New York Post said the Mets intend to non-tender Mike Pelfrey this winter, although they would like to bring him back on a lesser deal. He isn’t the fanciest name out there, and I know a lot of people have been down on Pelfrey, as I have been during his tenure with the Mets. But they don’t have anything to lose by bringing him back. For starters, he has said to me he loves working with Dan Warthen, and he knows the organization (and the organization knows him) and the facility he will be rehabilitating with. The Mets could bring him back on an incentive-laden deal and see how he progresses through the final stages of his rehab. When he’s ready to pitch – which should be around May 1 – the Mets can evaluate where he is and how he might fit (either in the rotation or the bullpen) based on the progress of Wheeler and Santana along with other options which might emerge in the Minor Leagues. I wouldn’t expect Pelfrey to get healthy and win 15 games next year, but he’s a body with big league experience which is a lot better than the Schwindens and Batistas they had when Pelfrey went down at the beginning of April. In a role where the expectations are low, Pelfrey might be in a better position to perform if he can get back on a Major League mound.

It’s not to say bringing Pelfrey back is a slam dunk. Scott Boras is his agent, and he will shop Pelfrey around in an effort to get as strong a Major League deal as he can. But as unpopular as Pelfrey has been with the fans over the years, there’s a fit from both a player and team perspective. But, this isn’t a popularity contest – it’s about having the depth necessary to get through a 162 game season.¬†They need to be able to maneuver through injury, fatigue, rainouts, or all three combined, and they have struggled to do so recently due to that lack of depth.