Danny Abriano, SNY.tv | Twitter |
Before Rafael Montero poured gasoline all over Wednesday's meaningless game against the Yankees and lit a match, he was already a pitcher the Mets shouldn't have had an Opening Day roster spot reserved for. Now? The thought of the Mets carrying Montero is enough to make me cringe.
The 27-year-old Montero was once a highly-touted prospect -- a strike-thrower with impeccable command who walked just 35 batters in 155.1 innings between Double-A and Triple-A in 2013 while posting a 2.78 ERA and 1.10 WHIP.
2013 was the final season before Montero's major league debut. And since then, something has changed. The strike-thrower with terrific command is often afraid to throw strikes, which is maddening for his coaches and manager, and for the fans watching him nibble.
Aside from a tiny sample during a lost season for him in 2015, Montero has been brutal in each of his seasons with the Mets. He had a 4.06 ERA (5.14 FIP) and 1.51 WHIP in 44.1 innings in 2014, an 8.05 ERA (6.30 FIP) and 2.05 WHIP in 19 innings in 2016, and a 5.52 ERA (4.37 FIP) and 1.74 WHIP in 119 innings in 2017.
While Montero's 4.37 FIP last season (5.52 ERA) suggests he was a bit unlucky, he still walked an unmanageable 5.1 batters per 9 as his strikeout rate (8.6) continued to dip.
Mixed in with Montero's ineffectiveness was his lost season in 2015, when he barely pitched even though he didn't have a detectable injury -- which led then-manager Terry Collins to take a special trip to Port St. Lucie to challenge him.
What Montero did in the minors wasn't a mirage. Somewhere inside him is that guy with impeccable command and a solid fastball. But with the Mets having so many other seemingly better bullpen options, they cannot justify carrying Montero if he can't learn how to throw strikes with regularity at the major league level.
The Mets have four locks for the bullpen -- Jeurys Familia, AJ Ramos, Anthony Swarzak, and Jerry Blevins. Paul Sewald will likely grab a spot as well. Depending on whether the Mets carry seven or eight relievers out of the gate (off-days early might mean they only carry seven at the outset), that leaves two or three spots. Throw into the situation the fact that the Mets will likely need to convert a starter or two to relief, and the bullpen numbers game gets even messier.
Among the pitchers who might wind up in the bullpen are Robert Gsellman, Zack Wheeler, and Seth Lugo, though the Mets will likely have at least one of Gsellman or Lugo head to Triple-A Las Vegas so they can stay stretched out to start. Then there's Jacob Rhame, who has struck out eight batters in 5.0 innings this spring with a fastball that has reached 97 MPH.
The Mets likely want to keep Montero as rotation insurance, but if it gets to the point where they need him to start, something has gone horribly wrong. If Montero suddenly rediscovers how to throw strikes, great. If not, there's simply no way to justify carrying him over any of the above pitchers -- even though not doing so could mean losing him.