Rumors have the Mets looking to sign at least one free agent starter to add to the 2013 pitching rotation. As of right now, the staff stands at Johan Santana, Matt Harvey, Jon Niese, Dillon Gee, and Jenrry Mejia with Zach Wheeler expected to be called up sometime before the ASB. On paper, that rotation has potential. Santana pitched extremely well the first half of the season before unraveling in July. He very well might be back to his old self after putting another year between himself and Tommy John surgery. Harvey had a strong debut and although a sophomore slump is expected, he could adjust and continue his development as a dominant starter. Niese finally broke through and had the season we've all been expecting. Even if he repeats his 2012 performance, I'd be happy; however, it's reasonable to expect even more improvement next year. Bigger question marks follow Gee and Mejia. Gee is solid but unspectacular and I think we've seen his best - not too shabby for a #4 pitcher. Mejia has been all over the place as the 'Joba Chamberlain' treatment by the organization has done him no favors. He could shine or he could easily bust.
Given the promising but shaky state of the rotation, I agree with the FO's desire to add another starter. With the current state of the budget and the Mets' chances of contending in 2013, there was no way the team could sign a top flight FA starter. A gamble, high-risk high-reward type signing makes sense for the team.
Shaun Marcum is a name that has been connected to the Mets in rumors over the last week or so. I think he fits this team perfectly for now. He sports an ERA of about 3.60 over the last 3 seasons and was a mainstay of the Brewers rotation as they pushed for the playoffs the last few years. He's not a dominating starter but has been a talented and productive one. Last season, his elbow stiffness limited his effectiveness and has made him a questionable signing for most teams this offseason. He sounds like a great bargain buy like the ones the Mets have been making for the last couple of seasons. Given his injury last year, Marcum is said to be willing to accept only a 2-year deal. This could be a great signing for the team, and a no-lose proposition.
If the Mets can get him to agree, the best way forward would be an incentive-laden deal based on innings pitched. This way, if his injury limits his performance the team would have as large a sunk cost weighing down the payroll.
Signing Marcum would slot him in behind Santana as the #2 starter - Santana, Marcum, Niese, Harvey, Gee. Mejia could start as Las Vegas with Wheeler and get more innings as a starter with less pressure. If everything breaks right for Marcum and the starters, that could be a formidable playoff rotation - not that the team will get to the playoffs with their offense this year. Still, it is talented enough to keep the Mets in the hunt and maybe even surprise some people. If the Marcum bounces back but the team does not perform well enough overall to compete for the wild card, the Mets could have a valuable trading chip on their hands. Playoff teams are always looking for pitching and the deadline seems to be a seller's market. Marcum could provide the team with a few solid months of pitching and then bring back a top 100 overall prospect from a desperate team and bolster the Mets' farm even further. Zach Wheeler should be able to slide right into the rotation opening. Even if Marcum pitches well, the Mets would have the flexibility to decide in the offseason whether to keep him around to stabilize the 2014 rotation or to try and deal him for young talent then.
If Marcum does not heal fully or perform well, an incentive-laden contract limits the Mets' negative exposure. If they must hold onto him, he would get another offseason to rehab and then possibly come back strong in 2014. Either way, signing Shaun Marcum is a gamble that these Mets should be willing to take.
*I didn't want to write separate posts on Brian Wilson and Jair Jurrjens, I just wanted to make mention of them here. Wilson and Jurrjens fall into the same category as Marcum, talented but flawed upside gambles a team like the Mets should take. I would sign Wilson straight out on a 1-year deal and let him close games. Jurrjens I would bring to ST with the option of sending him to AAA to start the season. The way I see it, the Mets could either catch lightening in a bottle with a rotation of Santana, Marcum, Niese, Harvey, Jurrjens with Wilson closing games or they might have 4 valuable chips to trade at the deadline. Imagine being able to sell of Santana, Marcum, Jurrjens, and Wilson to playoff-bound teams in need of pitching. Adding 4 quality prospects would greatly increase the talent depth for the organization and make next winter's trade discussions all the more interesting. The team could be serious suitors for almost any player available at that point.