This is the fourth in a five-part Around the Horn series looking at how the Mets stack up around the diamond. Next up: Starting pitchers.
It seems almost difficult to believe that one year ago, the Mets reported to Spring Training with Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander leading what was one of the most heralded rotations of this generation. Things, of course, did not work out quite the way the Mets had hoped. But not everything was bad news for the 2023 rotation, which will look to carry its successes over into a more productive ‘24.
This group represents a mix of incumbent arms, newcomers, high-upside pitchers and steady contributors.
It all begins with Senga, who vindicated the Mets’ decision to ease him into an American pitching schedule last year. After a strong but inconsistent first half that landed him on the National League All-Star team, Senga went 6-2 with a 2.44 ERA and 10.7 strikeouts per nine innings from the start of July through the end of the season. He enters 2024 as the Mets’ unquestioned ace -- though that does not imply a complete lack of questions. For Senga to blossom into a true frontline starter, he’ll need to take on a larger workload. How he and his right arm respond to that will go a long way toward determining the upside of this rotation.
If healthy, Severino is the obvious No. 2, considering he was good enough to finish third in American League Cy Young Award voting in 2017. As recently as 2022, the right-hander produced a 3.18 ERA over 19 starts for the Yankees. But injuries have long been a bugaboo for Severino, who’s made just 40 starts over the past five seasons combined. He says he’s healthy entering Spring Training. Of greater issue will be his ability to avoid the injured list all season.
Health hasn’t been a major issue for Manaea, but effectiveness has. To that end, Manaea worked to increase his fastball velocity more than 2 mph last season, while also regularly incorporating a sweeper that became his best putaway pitch. Upon rejoining San Francisco’s rotation in September, Manaea posted a 2.25 ERA over four starts. The Mets are betting he can double down on those gains in New York.
Finally, the team is counting on two control artists, Quintana and Houser, to round out the back of its rotation. Both battled injuries last year, combining for 24 starts. Both have been effective throughout their careers despite a lack of wipeout stuff. If healthy, Quintana and Houser are prototypical back-end starting pitchers.
The backups: Tylor Megill, Joey Lucchesi, José Butto, Max Kranick
Outside of their starting five, the Mets employ two pitchers with significant big-league experience in Megill and Lucchesi. That duo will jockey for positioning on the depth chart throughout Spring Training, and if history is a guide, one of them may even end up in the Opening Day rotation. (The last time the Mets broke camp with each of their top five starters healthy and active was 2019.)
If nothing changes to the current roster picture, it’s possible Megill, Lucchesi, Butto and Kranick could all wind up back at Triple-A Syracuse, given that each has accessible Minor League options. The Mets will want to keep as many of them stretched out as starters as possible, at least until one or more prospects arrive in the Majors.
Each member of this group also possesses some notable upside. Lucchesi dominated when given a chance down the stretch, going undefeated with a 1.48 ERA over four starts in the second half. Megill unleashed a new split-fingered fastball -- which he continued working on this winter -- to great effect. (He calls it the “American Spork,” a play on Senga’s “ghost fork.”) Butto, the youngest of the bunch (as well as a former Top 15 Mets prospect), produced a 3.29 ERA over five starts after joining the rotation in September.
Then there is Kranick, a waiver claim from the Pirates and a high-upside arm who returned from Tommy John surgery late last season. The hard-throwing right-hander is ticketed for Triple-A to begin the year, but he could become a valuable source of innings once he proves he’s all the way back from his operation.
Also in the picture: David Peterson
If not for a left hip injury that forced him to undergo offseason surgery, Peterson would be the clear sixth option on the Mets’ rotation depth chart. As it is, the left-hander is set to miss at least the first month of the season and maybe more, adding importance to the spring performances of Megill, Lucchesi, Butto and Kranick.
The future: Mike Vasil, Christian Scott, Tyler Stuart, Dominic Hamel, Blade Tidwell, Justin Jarvis
Vasil is the one to watch from this group, as a former Futures Game participant who reached Triple-A last season and could debut quickly with a strong camp. Vasil won’t make the Mets’ Opening Day roster, but he can do plenty in his first big league Spring Training to aid his short-term prospects. Same goes for Scott, who shot up prospect rankings last year and also stands an excellent chance of debuting in 2024.
The rest of this group represents the best of the Mets’ upper-Minors options. Any of them could realistically make the Majors this season, but not all of them will. Tidwell, the organization’s second-round pick in 2022, probably has the highest ceiling of this bunch. The Mets desperately need one or more of these arms to break out.