You know, unless Johan Santana can’t start the season, and then he’s your fourth starter. Or there’s another injury as well, always possible with pitchers, and then he’s your third starter.
That’s the only reasonable conclusion out of Sandy Alderson’s comments yesterday, when he pointed out something obvious- Johan Santana, off of shoulder surgery that has taken most pitchers more than a year to return from, is no sure thing to start the season- and added something puzzling, after making it clear that he doesn’t expect any major moves in the rotation.
Here’s the comment on pitching depth:
“The problem with rotation depth is you have to hit the sweet spot. You have to find somebody who could be a swingman — because if everything goes right, we don’t have a spot in that rotation. So it’s got to be somebody who can either be a swingman out of the bullpen, or somebody who could go to Triple-A initially and maybe move up and down.
“There are some interesting names out there. We have to hit the right spot with the guy that gives us the kind of flexibility that will ultimately give us the depth. And that’s not always easy to find.
“We claimed [Jeremy] Hafner off waivers yesterday. I think he’s the kind of guy that would fit what we’re looking for in terms of depth – somebody that has options that we can move back and forth. He’s not an established name, but someone we think nonetheless might be helpful.”
Let’s break this down. Because they have five starters, they don’t want to take the chance that adding a sixth starter could produce a logjam.
First of all, Dillon Gee still has options. And frankly, after a season of 84 ERA+ and 4.46 xFIP, he didn’t exactly make the case that he is indispensable and needs to remain in the rotation no matter what.
Second, let’s game this out. Let’s say Santana is healthy and dominating, Gee becomes a mainstay so great this spring that even keeping him as a long man is impossible to stomach, and the Mets have the unfortunate problem of a sixth starting pitcher who simply can’t fit in the rotation. Oy, such problems. What to do?
Simple. The Mets trade a starter if stuck in that awful, never-going-to-happen position.
So yes, we know what this is really about. I hate to repeat myself on this, but the Mets are using Jeremy Hafner as sixth starter for the same reason they are using Mike Nickeas as their backup catcher.
Even a reasonable fallback plan is beyond their means right now.