It almost seemed as though Matt Harvey was the last to figure out what the rest of the world already seemed certain of—that his elbow would require Tommy John surgery and that he would miss the entire 2014 season.
But Harvey’s absence isn’t likely to ruin the New York Mets’ 2014 season. Oh, make no mistake, there’s still a high degree of uncertainty surrounding the team’s fortunes after its fifth consecutive losing campaign and a collectively discouraging showing by the position-playing prospects given a chance to win a job or make an impression over the final two months of the 2013 season.
With the exception of Shaun Marcum before he was finally placed on the disabled list and then eventually let go before midseason, the Mets’ starting rotation overall acquitted itself very well. Harvey went 9-5 with a 2.27 ERA and 9.6 strikeouts per nine innings before going down in August. But, from June 1 on, Dillon Gee (12-11, 3.62 overall) pitched every bit as well as Harvey did, and better than most other more celebrated pitchers in the National League who throw harder and generate more attention.
Zack Wheeler (7-5, 3.42) might not have been overwhelming in 17 starts after coming up from Las Vegas in mid-June, but he turned in more good starts than bad, pitched very well on the road and showed enough to verify why he was actually considered a prospect with a higher ceiling than Harvey coming out of the minor leagues. It’s worth remembering that general manager Sandy Alderson got Wheeler in 2011 from the Giants in exchange for Carlos Beltran—who spent the rest of 2011 with the Giants when the Cardinals went on to win the World Series, and then spent 2012 with the Cardinals when the Giants went on to win the World Series.
Jonathan Niese (8-8, 3.71 ERA) recovered from a partial tear of his rotator cuff that looked, in June, like it might jettison the rest of his season. Instead, he was back by August, pitched significantly better than he had in the first third of the season, and was actually still standing at season’s end—he started the final game of the year.
Gee, Wheeler and Niese right now make up the top of the Mets’ 2014 rotation, each of them at .500 or better this year for a team that finished 14 games below .500 (again). What the Mets do with the two veterans they added to soak up innings and audition for 2014 in the final month—Daisuke Matsuzaka and Aaron Harang—is still unknown. But Dice-K, after three miserable starts, turned in four excellent starts thereafter to finish at 3-3 with a 4.42 ERA. Harang excited nobody but hardly embarrassed himself with his 3.52 ERA in four starts.
In Harvey’s absence, what the Mets could really use is a full recovery from the bone-chip surgery Jenrry Mejia had on his elbow in August. Mejia made four terrific starts (2.30 ERA and a 27-4 strikeout-walk ratio) and, if he were to nail down the fourth spot in the rotation and pitch anywhere close to that level next year, the Mets could have a better chance of winning all those 3-1 games they lost this year.
There has been talk of the Mets seeking an innings-eating veteran to round out their rotation. Someone like Bronson Arroyo of the Reds might be too much to ask for, but Arroyo is the prototype for the kind of starter—one who’ll stay healthy, make 30 starts and not need to spend any time in the maintenance shop during the course of the year—the Mets need and hope to find. Marcum was a washout, but Dodger lefty Chris Capuano, who pitched for the Mets in 2011, might be another possibility.