Yesterday, we looked at the Mets' lineup issues in the off-season. Today, we take a gander at the rotation and the bullpen. It's worth remembering that the Mets' pitching hasn't been that awful this year at all: They're in the bottom half of the NL in ERA-plus, but considering seasthere has been no Johan Santana and Mike Pelfrey has turned into something different then Mike Pelfrey, it could have been worse.
The first thing to note about this year's Mets staff, by the way, is how old they are: They had the second-oldest pitching staff in the National League, ahead of only the Cardinals, at 30.2 years old. And that's without the 32-year-old Santana.
Let's start with the rotation, which of course starts with Santana. He's going to start long-tossing — a phrase that always sounds vaguely gross to us — in Port St. Lucie in the next few days, and it's possible he might sneak in a start before this year is over. That doesn't matter for 2011, but it might make a difference for 2012; it would mean everything is back on track for an Opening Day start. Considering the Mets are paying Santana $24 million next year, it might be nice to see him actually in the rotation. He's the first, and most important, question mark.
The rotation the Mets have sent out this year, once Chris Young suffered his inevitable injury, has stayed healthy: Chris Capuano, Dillon Gee, R.A. Dickey, Jon Niese and Mike Pelfrey have all made at least twenty starts. (After Gee's tonight, anyway.) For the second consecutive season, the Mets' best starter has been Dickey, who, despite his 5–11 record, leads the rotation in ERA-plus and innings pitched. He's under contract for next year, so he'll be back. Gee has shown some flashes and has done little to make you think the Mets will give up on him. Same goes for Jon Niese, who leads the club in strikeout rate and is still the youngest member of the rotation. Both of them will back. That leaves room for only one spot, assuming Santana is back. Chris Capuano is a free agent and thus gone, which means ... yep, you're going to be dealing with Big Pelf's ups and downs for one more year. He's eligible for arbitration, and general manager Sandy Alderson has said they're likely to keep him around.
So, rotation-wise ... 2012's gonna look just like this year's, except with Johan Santana in for Chris Capuano. (Hopefully.)
The Mets will be spending their free agent money this off-season on the bullpen. They'll use the next month-plus to see if Bobby Parnell can establish himself as the closer, and even though the raw tools are there (an 11.1 K/9 rate), he's proven way too hit-prone (averaging more than a hit an inning). Some of that is an unusually high BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play), but still: The Mets have too much history of bullpen problems to rely solely on Parnell. (He hits his first year of arbitration this off-season too.) It's possible D.J. Carrasco will be around next year, too — he's under contract — but other than that, the Mets bullpen is likely to be almost entirely turned over next year, with many of the news guys coming from Buffalo. If they wanted to get crazy, they could go after Jonathan Papelbon, but Alderson doesn't strike us as a "go get a crazy expensive closer just because" type of person. Unlike the guy he replaced.
In other words, much like the lineup, the Mets' pitching staff isn't gonna look all that different next year either. So you know.
(Tomorrow: Sandy Alderson and Terry Collins.)