There's something pretty exciting happening with the New York Mets right now: For the first time since … um ... for the first time, all five members of the homegrown rotation -- the Dream Rotation as it is sometimes called -- are healthy. You don't want to say it too loudly, because, you know, bad luck. But it's really happening.
We'll get deeper into this in a minute, but let's say it right up front: Teams don't build super-rotations from within these days. They don't do this for many reasons. 1. pitching is hard to predict. 2. pitchers get hurt. A lot. Nobody understands this better than the Mets. Take a look at their five:
No. 1: Noah Syndergaard. The Mets got him in 2012 in the R.A. Dickey deal, and Syndergaard was the No. 10 prospect in baseball before the '15 season. He's electrifying when healthy, which he was not last year -- he made seven starts and pitched just 30 innings.
No. 2: Jacob deGrom. He is the least hyped of the five, having gone in the ninth round of the 2010 Draft and never appearing in the Top 100 Prospects list, but he has also been the most durable. deGrom pitched 200-plus innings last year, and he finished eighth in National League Cy Young Award voting.
No. 3: Matt Harvey. He might be the most hyped of the five. Harvey was the seventh pick in the 2010 Draft and a Top 100 prospect at age 22. He also got the cool "Dark Knight" nickname early in his career; he finished fourth in NL Cy Young Award voting in '13, his first full season. Since then, Harvey has been wrecked by injuries, missing one full season and having another entirely ruined by injury. He says that he feels great again.
No. 4: Steven Matz. He has the perfect Mets name, and he was the No. 15 prospect in baseball going into the 2016 season. Matz had left elbow surgery last season and has worked hard to regain his enviable stuff.
No. 5: Zack Wheeler. He came over from San Francisco in the Carlos Beltran trade when he was 21 and pitching in Class A ball. Wheeler was the No. 8 prospect at his Minor League height and he showed promise in the big leagues before blowing out his elbow. He missed a full season after Tommy John surgery in 2015, and he hasn't been the same since his return. Wheeler expected to start the year in the bullpen, but another injury -- this one to veteran Jason Vargas -- could give him a chance to start.
The feeling around baseball -- and certainly in the Mets' camp -- is that if the Dream Rotation can stay healthy, the club will make huge strides after last year's very rough season. And if it can't stay healthy? We know the answer to that one already.
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The Mets decided to do this very differently from, say, the Cubs. From the start, team president Theo Epstein made it clear that he and general manager Jed Hoyer and the rest intended to build the Cubs with everyday players, and they would fill in the pitching on a semi-year-by-year basis.
"There's just such a difference between stability and the culture you can establish when you build around young position players vs. around young pitchers," Epstein said. "When you build around young pitching, you're always a phone call from a trainer away from having your entire future blow up. That can be really destabilizing.
"To simplify, it's so hard -- virtually impossible, I think -- to consistently acquire amateur pitching talent, develop it, integrate it into a bigger roster and build good pitching staff. We've been bad at it, I admit it. But as we look around the industry, it's like, 'Who can do this consistently well? Who can we learn from?' There are clearly organizations that are pretty good at it and a lot who are better than us, but no one does it consistently well."
Look around baseball at the best pitching staffs, and you see exactly what Epstein is talking about. Cleveland allowed the fewest runs in the American League last year; four of its five best starters came over via trade (only Josh Tomlin was homegrown). Houston goes into the year with three of its five starters coming over in deals. The only homegrown Dodgers pitcher in the rotation is Clayton Kershaw. The Yankees will have two -- Luis Severino and Jordan Montgomery -- at least to start the season. When the Red Sox get healthier, they probably will have none.
This is just the harsh reality of trying to compete in today's baseball world. It's nice when you can develop one or two top-line pitchers -- the Cubs did trade for Kyle Hendricks, but they got him when he was still in the Minors -- but the truth is that pitching injuries are so common and pitching consistency so rare, that the best teams are constantly in flux. The Cubs won the World Series in 2016 with what was probably the best starting rotation in the game. Two years later, there are three new starters -- Yu Darvish, Jose Quintana and Tyler Chatwood -- all acquired in the past eight months.
"Go back and look at it," Epstein said. "There isn't a long list of drafted starting pitchers that get integrated into the best rotations. It doesn't happen. We felt like the answer to the general question, 'How do you build a good pitching staff?' is simply, 'Acquire pitchers who are good right now.'"
The Mets try to buck the trend. Now a good Mets fan is hopping up and down right now (or writing in the comments) that the key pitchers in the Mets' Dream Rotation stuck it to the Cubs in the 2015 NL Championship Series to get to the World Series. And this is true. But it's also true that Epstein's point is sustainability.
The truth is that the Mets' management group might have preferred to do it another way, but when they took over, the system was already loaded with Harvey and Syndergaard. As the football coach Darrell Royal said, "You dance with the one that brung ya." It was widely reported that the Mets really wanted outfielder Gary Brown in the Beltran deal, though Sandy Alderson said that Wheeler was his guy all along. The pitching thing came together, and it almost won the Mets a World Series.
But the real question is: Can they stay healthy enough to do it again?
The answer is: Nobody knows. You can't predict pitching health. All you can do is say that the Dream Rotation is healthy right now. And then you hope from there.