The Mets’ Options If Jose Quintana Misses Time


The Mets entered spring training with a deep but revamped rotation. Gone were longtime ace Jacob deGrom and steady right-handers Chris Bassitt and Taijuan Walker. In their place, the Mets signed future Hall of Famer Justin Verlander, NPB star Kodai Senga and veteran lefty Jose Quintana, who had a resurgent campaign between the Pirates and Cardinals this past season.

That the first injury of the season for manager Buck Showalter’s club came from the typically durable Quintana is both unexpected and unwelcome news. The 34-year-old southpaw logged 32 starts between Pittsburgh and St. Louis in 2022, logging an excellent 2.93 ERA with a 20.6% strikeout rate, 6.9% walk rate and 46.4% ground-ball rate. It was a vintage Quintana showing, hearkening back to his peak years in Chicago — and it was impressive enough to land him a two-year, $26MM contract (13 times larger than the one-year, $2MM guarantee he received from Pittsburgh one winter ago).

Quintana will be out for a yet-to-be-determined period of time, however, owing to a stress fracture in his rib. There’s no sense running wild with speculation as to whether that’ll amount to weeks or months at this juncture, but at the very least, Opening Day doesn’t appear to be in the cards. Quintana exited after just one inning in his most recent Grapefruit League start due to discomfort, so this isn’t likely to be an injury he can just pitch through.

If there’s a silver lining for the Mets, it’s that even through all of the turnover in the rotation, they’ve managed to maintain a solid amount of depth beyond the projected Opening Day quintet of Max Scherzer, Verlander, Senga, Quintana and Carlos Carrasco. There were times when the team appeared open to moving Carrasco, but the early setback for Quintana highlights the importance of retaining him and so much of the other depth from which they could’ve dealt.

To that end, with what looks to be at least a short-term vacancy in the rotation, let’s run through the Mets’ options to fill the spot.

The Two Favorites

David Peterson, LHP, 27 years old

About as overqualified a sixth starter as you’ll find in the league, Peterson was the 20th overall pick in the 2017 draft and has spent parts of three seasons in the big leagues with the Mets: two of them good and the middle one (2021) quite bad. The lefty sandwiched an ugly 5.54 ERA between a pair of sub-4.00 efforts, with the end result being a solid 4.26 ERA (4.18 FIP, 4.14 SIERA) in 222 innings at the big league level.

Peterson leaned more heavily on his four-seamer and slider than ever before in 2022, dropping his sinker/two-seam usage from 26.3% in 2021 to 12.3% last season. He posted career-best totals in swinging-strike rate (12.8%), opponents’ chase rate (31.2%) and opponents’ contact rate (71.2%). It’s tempting to think that some of those gains might be from working out of the bullpen for a spell, but while Peterson had similar ERAs as a starter and a reliever, he had better strikeout and walk rates while working out of the rotation.

Fresh off a season that saw him toss 105 2/3 innings of 3.83 ERA ball with a 27.8% strikeout rate, 10.6% walk rate and 49.4% grounder rate, Peterson is the ostensible front-runner to take any early starts that Quintana might miss. Other clubs surely had interest in him this winter — particularly once the Mets had signed all three of Verlander, Senga and Quintana — but the decision to hold onto him is already paying off.

Tylor Megill, RHP, 27

If Peterson is the favorite, Megill might not be all that far behind. He made 18 respectable starts in 2021, pitching to a 4.52 ERA with more impressive strikeout and walk rates (26.1% and 7.1%, respectively). In 2022, when the Mets needed a starter, Megill stepped up and took the ball on six occasions from April 7 through May 4, pitching to a sterling 2.43 ERA with a gaudy 36-to-8 K/BB ratio in 33 1/3 innings of work. His fastball, which averaged 94.7 mph in 2021, was up to nearly 96 mph on average in 2022, and Megill suddenly looked like far more than a band-aid on an injury-marred starting staff — at least until the injury bug bit him, too.

The Mets placed Megill on the 15-day injured list with biceps inflammation on May 12, just days after he was tattooed for eight runs in 1 1/3 innings against the Nationals. He returned on June 10, made a pair of starts that lasted 3 1/3 frames apiece (yielding a combined six runs in the process) and went back on the IL just seven days after being activated — this time due to a shoulder strain. The absence proved far more substantial this time around. Megill was transferred to the 60-day IL just 10 days after his original placement, and he remained sidelined all the way until Sept. 19.

In his career, Megill has overwhelmed right-handed opponents with a power fastball/slider combination, but his changeup has been generally ineffective, leaving him susceptible to left-handed batters. That bears out in his alarming platoon splits. Righties have been downright flummoxed by him, batting only .202/.247/.331. Lefty bats, however, have absolutely clobbered Megill at a .307/.368/.568 clip. He’ll have a chance to win the job, but if he’s going to find long-term success, he’ll need to find a better offering to neutralize opponents in platoon settings.

Longer Shots Who Could Start At Some Point In 2023

Joey Lucchesi, LHP, 29

Acquired from the Padres in the three-team deal that sent Joe Musgrove from Pittsburgh to San Diego, Lucchesi made 11 solid appearances for the Mets in 2021, serving in this exact type of sixth starter role that’s now resurfaced in Queens. Eight of those appearances were starts, and the former fourth-round pick worked to a decent 4.46  ERA with a more-impressive 3.40 FIP and 3.79 SIERA. Lucchesi punched out a strong 26.1% of his opponents against a similarly strong 7.1% walk rate. He might’ve held that role down the stretch — and into 2022 — had he remained healthy, but a late-June diagnosis of a torn ulnar collateral ligament led to Tommy John surgery. Lucchesi missed the remainder of the 2021 season and all of the 2022 campaign.

Early in his career with the Friars, Lucchesi looked the part of a solid fourth starter, pitching to a 4.14 ERA in 56 starts and 293 2/3 innings from 2018-19. He’s thrown just 44 innings since that time, due primarily to injury, but he owns a 4.24 ERA in 337 2/3 big league innings. He still has a pair of minor league options remaining, so the Mets can send him to Triple-A Syracuse to stay stretched out and monitor his workload if they go another route in the rotation. Given that he missed all of the 2022 season, Lucchesi is likely to have his innings capped this season, which probably works against him — especially in the early stages.

Elieser Hernandez, RHP, 27

An offseason acquisition made with an eye toward bolstering the pitching depth, Hernandez came over alongside reliever Jeff Brigham in a deal sending minor leaguers Franklin Sanchez and Jake Mangum to Miami. He’s fresh off a tough 2022 season, but the former Rule 5 pick — the Marlins selected him out of the Astros organization in 2017 — was once a promising member of the Marlins’ young core of arms. From 2020-21, he pitched 77 1/3 innings of 3.84 ERA ball with plus strikeout (26.3%) and walk (5.7%) rates.

Home runs and injuries have been a problem for Hernandez throughout his career, however. His breakout 2020 campaign was shortened by a lat strain, and his 2021 season was interrupted both by a strained quadriceps and inflammation in his right biceps. He’s only shown glimpses of his potential in the Majors, but Hernandez also sports a stout 2.86 ERA, 32.4% strikeout rate and 6.5% walk rate in 129 Triple-A frames spread across parts of four seasons. He has a minor league option remaining,  but he could also make the club as a long reliever.

Jose Butto, RHP, 25

Butto, who’ll turn 26 in less than two weeks, made his big league debut last year when he tossed four innings but was knocked around by the Phillies, who scored seven runs against him at Citizens Bank Park. It wasn’t a great first impression, but Butto nonetheless had a strong year in the minors, logging a combined 3.56 ERA in 129 innings between Double-A and Triple-A.

Scouting reports at each of Baseball America, and FanGraphs laud Butto’s plus changeup and above-average heater, but he lacks a third offering, leading to plenty of speculation that he’ll ultimately settle in as a long reliever or swingman. There’s more upside here if he can improve either his curveball or his slider, but he’d be hard-pressed to leapfrog the names ahead of him for starts early in the season. Still, he’s already gotten his feet wet in the Majors and had success in the upper minors, so with some improvements to his secondary pitches and/or a big early performance in Syracuse, Butto could find himself making some starts at some point this year, as injuries on the big league roster necessitate.

As far as non-roster options go, the Mets are generally light on MLB-ready starting pitching in the upper levels of their system (beyond the 40-man names already covered above). Recent trades have thinned out some of that depth, with both J.T. Ginn and Adam Oller going to the A’s for Chris Bassitt, while Thomas Szapucki went to the Giants as part of the Darin Ruf swap. Most of the Mets’ very best prospects are position players, and the top-ranked pitchers in their system are generally multiple years from MLB readiness.

The presence of Peterson, Megill, Lucchesi, Hernandez and Butto gives the Mets ample depth from which to draw, particularly given how solid both Peterson and Megill looked at times last year. Still, pitcher performance is volatile and injuries are inevitable. If the Mets want to further cultivate some depth, there are a handful of recognizable veteran names who’ve yet to sign — Michael Pineda, Chris Archer and Dylan Bundy among them. Whether that trio, or any of the other remaining starters on the market, is willing to take a minor league deal remains to be seen.

Failing that, the Mets can perhaps keep an eye on other veterans around the league who are currently on minor league/non-roster deals. Many of those pitchers have opt-out opportunities if they don’t make their current club’s roster or upward mobility clauses that allow them to leave the current organization if another team is willing to offer an immediate 40-man roster spot.

For the time being, it doesn’t appear particularly crucial for the Mets to make another addition, but a second injury in the rotation would start to leave an otherwise strong staff looking vulnerable, and there’s little harm in stockpiling depth to the extent possible.

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