Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Thoughts on the Mets Opening Day Roster - Pitchers

It's getting down to crunch time for roster decisions. We're looking at which 26 players will break camp with the New York Mets, beginning with the pitching staff.

It seems like spring training just started, but we're only a week and a half away from Opening Day in  Miami. The Mets must decide which players begin the year on the 26-man active roster. They have some really tough decisions to make.

The Mets can carry a maximum of 13 pitchers on the roster. With 8 games in 8 days to kick things off — all in domed stadiums with no chance of rainouts — it feels like a safe bet that the club will elect to carry a full load of 13 pitchers. My assumption is that they will begin with 5 starters and 8 relievers. Even if they decide to use a 6-man rotation to start the year, that sixth starter will be added when needed. The 5 starting pitchers seem pretty settled at this point, barring another injury (your author performs several superstitious rituals here to ward off bad luck).

Starters (5)
Kodai Senga (Remember, folks, it's not a real ghost)

The first 4 are really a lock. I think Peterson had a leg up on Tylor Megill going into Sunday's exhibition game against St. Louis. Peterson has established himself more as a Major League starter. David competes well, even if he sometimes walks too many batters. It was telling that Peterson had the start Sunday while Megill was penciled in for 4 innings of relief. Then Tylor didn't help himself with a rather poor performance, even if he was betrayed by his defense a bit. Both of those guys get their share of starts, health permitting (more superstitious rituals performed), but I believe David gets the initial nod out of the gate.

My only concerns with Scherzer and Verlander are health-related (insert more superstitious rituals here) and that they can stay ahead of Father Time for at least one more season. As for Senga, we won't know exactly what to expect until we see him compete in real regular-season games.

But my biggest worry is about Carlos Carrasco. Carrasco was pretty good for the Mets in the first half last season — a Godsend, considering all the injuries they were dealing with — but he really struggled over the last couple of months. Carrasco spent some time on the IL in mid-August with a low-grade left oblique strain. After his return, opponents batted .286/.339/.438 against Carlos. And this included starts against Miami and Pittsburgh where Carrasco was able to dominate inferior opponents. His last 3 starts for the Mets, against Milwaukee, the Marlins again, and the Nationals were all pretty bad. I wonder if the Mets made it further into the playoffs if they would have used Carrasco as the fourth starter or chosen someone else.

Bottom line, I worry that Carlos Carrasco may lose the battle against Father Time this season. I think his stuff has deteriorated to the point where he needs to execute perfectly to compete against MLB hitters, especially the top lineups. If he's off a bit, it's not going to be pretty. If you've been a Mets fan for a long time, the analog I fear would be Steve Trachsel in 2005. With José Quintana out until the All-Star break, I really hope my concerns about Carrasco prove to be unfounded.

Relievers (8)
Brooks Raley (If he makes it back from the hamstring issue)
Tommy Hunter (needs to be added to the 40-man roster)

The first 4 are locks. They should all be late-inning options. Robertson should start out getting the majority of closing opportunities. However, he turns 38 in April. I think Buck Showalter will be really cautious with Robertson's usage. Going back to the 2006 Mets, they had an older closer (Billy Wagner, 34) who was overused during the season, appearing in 70 games. Wagner looked somewhat gassed by October. I'm sure Buck will try to avoid that with David Robertson. Ottavino, Raley, and Drew Smith are all going to have opportunities late in games.

John Curtiss has been pitching well. I think he has a good chance to be another late-game option. Tommy Hunter can also earn some higher-leverage usage if he can dodge the injury bug this season. I think Nogosek breaks camp with the Mets since he no longer has minor league options, pitched well last season, and is multi-inning capable. Brigham is my guess for the final spot, although RHP Dennis Santana, who they picked up on waivers, could get that slot instead. Santana is also out of options, so the Mets will have to expose him to waivers if they don't keep him on the Major League roster.

I wrote a bit about Santana in my last post. Dennis came up through the Dodgers system. He pitched a bit for LA — a combined 40 inning over parts of 4 seasons. Santana was traded to Texas in June 2021 and pitched very well for them that year. He got off to a great start in 2022, but then really tailed off by the end of the season. The Rangers sold him to Atlanta last November. The Braves passed Santana through waivers in February and Minnesota claimed him. The Twins waived him last week and the Mets claimed him.

Santana throws pretty hard but walks way too many batters, which limits his success in MLB. The Mets must have seen something tantalizing to bother claiming Santana. The problem is that they'll need to keep him on the Major League roster all season or risk losing him. Dennis Santana seems more like the sort of project a non-contender should take on, but does represent a potential late-inning option if a team could fix him and get him to throw strikes. Santana did appear in his first spring game for the Mets on Monday evening, pitching a scoreless inning with a strikeout. There are only 5 spring training games left, which would limit how much the Mets can work with Dennu. Trying to "fix" Dennis Santan in-season would represent a fairly big gamble for the Mets. We'll keep an eye on what happens with him.

There will be plenty of opportunities for other arms to pitch out of the Mets' bullpen this season. Bryce Montes de Oca and Sam Coonrod both are on the IL for some period of time to start but, once healthy, both should get chances with the Mets. I also like Grant Hartwig and think he'll get a chance this year. Jimmy Yacabonis has pitched in camp and will likely get a look.

Jeff Brigham is another guy who's done well this spring and is a multi-inning option, which is why I assigned him that final bullpen slot in my projections. If he doesn't make the bullpen out of camp, I'm sure will see him in New York this summer.

If you're curious about which of these relievers have minor league options, according to Spotrac, not counting the top 3 of Robertson, Ottavino, and Raley:

Relievers with options:
Drew Smith
Sam Conrood (currently injured)
John Curtiss
Jeff Brigham
Bryce Montes de Oca (currently injured)
Stephen Ridings (working his way back from injury)
Grant Hartwig
Elieser Hernández (also starting pitching depth)
Eric Orze (not currently on the 40-man roster)
William Woods (not currently on the 40-man roster)

Relievers without options:
Stephen Nogosek
Dennis Santana
Jimmy Yacabonis (not currently on the 40-man roster)
Tommy Hunter (not currently on the 40-man roster)
T.J. McFarland (not currently on the 40-man roster)

That's not a full list, but prospects not listed above will also have options. If the Mets decide to carry pitchers without minor league options on the 26-man roster out of camp, they will have to remain on the 26-man roster all season, unless they are injured. Also, although Drew Smith does have options remaining, he's unlikely to be sent down unless he's pitching poorly. Let's hope that doesn't happen, as Smith is really needed to step up this year. John Curtiss likely also falls into that category. If the Mets decide to break camp with Santana on the roster, that really limits their flexibility with shuttling guys back and forth to the minors.

There will undoubtedly be opportunities for relief pitchers on the 2023 New York Mets. I think there's a big opportunity for one or two to establish themselves as capable of handling some high-leverage situations. I could see this potentially happening with Nogosek or Brigham, possibly Santana if pitching coach Jeremy Hefner can work some magic with the guy. The bullpen will be fascinating to watch all season. With Edwin Díaz on the shelf for the season, how well Showalter manages these guys will really make or break the season.

We'll be back soon with projections for the position players. Until then, please be well and take care. Let's go Mets!

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Update 3/22/2023
Thanks to David Sheridan for catching a mistake I made on the original post. William Woods was incorrectly listed with the pitchers with no remaining options. He actually has 2. I've made the correction above.

Also, if you're unclear about what it means to have minor league options, MLB has an excellent short explainer on the website:
Players on a 40-man roster are given three Minor League "options." An option allows that player to be sent to the Minor Leagues ("optioned") without first being subjected to waivers. Players who are optioned to the Minors are removed from a team's active 26-man roster but remain on the 40-man roster.

A player who is on the 40-man roster but does not open the season on the 26-man roster or the injured list must be optioned to the Minor Leagues. Once an optioned player has spent at least 20 days in the Minors in a given season, he loses one of his options. Only one Minor League option is used per season, regardless of how many times a player is optioned to and from the Minors over the course of a given season. (Players may only be optioned five times per season; after that, it requires outright assignment waivers to assign the player to the Minor Leagues.)

Out-of-options players must be designated for assignment -- which removes them from the 40-man roster -- and passed through outright waivers before being eligible to be sent to the Minors.

Players typically have three option years, but those who have accrued less than five full seasons (including both the Major and Minors) are eligible for a fourth if their three options have been exhausted already. For the purposes of this rule, spending at least 90 days on an active Major League or Minor League roster during a given season counts as one full season. Players also earn a full season if they spend at least 30 days on an active Major League or Minor League roster AND their active-roster and injured-list time amounts to at least 90 days in a given season.

Upon being optioned to the Minor Leagues, a position player must remain there for a minimum of 10 days before he is eligible to be recalled to the Major League roster. For pitchers, the minimum is 15 days. If a player is serving as the 27th man for a doubleheader or replacing a player who has been placed on the injured list, there is no minimum number of days for which the optioned player must remain in the Minors.

A player's option years do not need to be used in succession. Any player with fewer than five years of Major League service time and an option year remaining can be optioned to the Minor Leagues. Players with more than five years of service time must consent to being optioned.
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