The stakes for losing out on a rotation spot are very clear in the Mets clubhouse. After announcing the two-year deal for lefty Jason Vargas Sunday, the Mets have two open spots in the rotation for five pitchers who were major league starters last year.
So the odd men out in the rotation are facing possible assignments to Las Vegas or the bullpen. Not every starter can bounce back rapidly enough to be utilized in the bullpen. Past injuries can factor into how risky the club feels it is to try and use them as relievers.
Mickey Callaway tried to downplay the fact that one of those guys will likely be demoted at the end of camp.
“We have to think about who needs to stay stretched out, who can bounce back, who has the pitches that can perform out of the bullpen versus starting,” the Mets manager said. “There’s a ton of factors that are going to be taken into account and just because one of these starters doesn’t end up being in the bullpen and end up in Triple A doesn’t mean — it’s not that big of a deal about how we feel about them. We’re just trying to put ourselves in the great position to win every game. I think they’ll understand that in the end because that’s a tough thing to handle.”
Zack Wheeler, who has pitched 17 games since 2014 because of an arduous rehab from Tommy John surgery; Steven Matz, whose career has been hampered by a series of injuries; and Matt Harvey, who has struggled since 2016 Thoracic Outlet Syndrome surgery, are facing uncertainty. So too are Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman, who filled in for a rotation plagued by injuries over the last two years.
Nobody wants a demotion to Triple-A, but the bullpen is an uncomfortable change for most starters as well.
“There needs to be a little bit of a transition period for sure so we can at the end of spring training, if we do take one of these starters and they do end up in the pen, we can condition them so we can handle that because it is a various role,” Callaway said. “The good thing is that if that happens, they are going to be in a pen role that would permit them to throw multiple innings so it won’t be like he’s a guy who’s going from a starter to a guy we are going to lean on three out of four days. It’s going to be a multi-inning role and he’ll pitch two or three innings and then have a couple days off most likely. It’s not totally urgent but it would be nice to give ourselves a week and a half, two weeks to prepare that person the right way. Spring is very short so the main thing we want to do is see everybody’s full p-otential throughout spring training and if we have to make that decision later rather than earlier, we will.”
REYES OF SUNSHINE
Jose Reyes says he was confident he’d be back with the Mets, even if he had to wait until the end of January to agree to a one-year deal worth $2 million plus in incentives.
“I know from the bottom of my heart that I want to be here, but I don’t want to go crazy in my head,” Reyes said. “I told you guys last year, this is where I want to be and hopefully finish my career with this team.”
Reyes, 34, comes into camp projected to begin out in a utility role, backing up at three infield positions. He entered spring training last year slated to do the same job, but ended up getting 561 plate appearances due to multiple injuries across the roster. Reyes bounced back from an awful first half to finish the season slashing .246/.315/.413 with 15 homers and 24 stolen bases.
“I’m ready for everything, man,” Reyes said. “This is not my first time talking about this (role). I came into last year in the same situation and I have every glove in my locker. Wherever they need me to be, I’ll be open to be there.”
Reyes, a former All-Star shortstop, also is prepared to continue mentoring and backing up top prospect Amed Rosario entering the 22-year-old’s first full major-league season.
“I have a great relationship with Rosario and I’m going to assist him with everything that he needs,” Reyes said. “He’s gonna be one of the great players in this game for a long time. I will be open, and I told him anything you need to know, just let me know because I know how tough it can be in the starting.”