March 16, 2012; Port St. Lucie, FL, USA; New York Mets starting pitcher Johan Santana (57) throws in the third inning against the Detroit Tigers during a spring training game at Digital Domain Park. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

Season Preview: New York's Pitching Staff

It’s been awhile since we’ve examined what the Washington Nationals’ NL East opponents have been up to in preparation for the 2012 season. Considering that season begins in under three weeks, this seemed like an opportune moment to take a look at the competition. We’ll start with the opponent of least resistance (so to speak), the New York Mets, and a look at their projected pitching staff.

The Mets were one of baseball’s least active teams this offseason, but the lack of moves came as no surprise. The team’s ownership group has been battling financial uncertainty for much of the past two seasons, ever since it was first revealed that the Wilpon Family was heavily involved in the questionable investment activities related to the Bernie Madoff scandal. Their ability to spend on improving the team has been greatly affected by said events and the Mets appear destined to land in the cellar of the tough NL East division.

The biggest addition to the pitching staff may actually come from within, as all indications seem to point towards Johan Santana being healthy enough to pitch for the Mets once the season gets underway in April. Santana last pitched in the Majors in September 2010 due to a shoulder injury. He was expected to return last season, but continued to suffer one setback after another and ultimately missing the entire season. He may not be the same pitcher he once was, but he’ll surely provide a boost to an underwhelming starting rotation.

R.A. Dickey, Mike Pelfrey, Jonathan Niese, and Dillon Gee will likely follow Santana in the Mets’ rotation. Dickey and Pelfrey both appear to be question marks in my opinion. Dickey is coming off a pair of strong seasons but he never had much of a track record before arriving in New York. Can he put up another solid season at age 37? Pelfrey was already a non-tender candidate heading into this past offseason, but the team elected to bring him back for at least one more campaign. If Pelfrey continues to underperform, he could be putting his place in the team’s rotation in jeopardy before 2012 even concludes.

Niese and Gee, two of the organization’s younger starting options, both need to take steps forward in their development if the Mets are going to have a respectable rotation this year. It could also be vital for both in terms of cementing their place in the team’s plans beyond this season. There are a handful of prospects working their way up the depth charts – most notably Zach Wheeler, Matt Harvey, and Jeurys Familia – but none of them are likely going to be ready to pitch every 5th day in the Majors until next year at best. Niese and Gee won’t have much competition creeping up behind them should they struggle, but the organization doesn’t appear to have much starting depth either.

The bullpen is where the Mets made most of their winter moves, signing Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch on the free agent market and acquiring Ramon Ramirez via trade. The trio will likely take over the backend of the team’s bullpen and while they certainly offer a level of experience to the roles, they don’t exactly inspire a great deal of confidence late in games.

Right-handers Manny Acosta, Bobby Parnell, and D.J. Carrasco will likely fill roles in the bullpen. Parnell was once considered a favorite to develop into the closer’s role in New York but his career has taken a much different path over the past two seasons, diminishing his potential and ultimately lowering expectations drastically. He’s a hard thrower who’s due for a solid season out of the bullpen. Garret Olsen seems to have the inside track at being the team’s left-handed option, given Tim Byrdak‘s recent surgery that will keep him out until May.

Bottom line, the Mets are putting a lot of faith in their pitching staff this year and there are a lot of hopes being placed on the hopefully healthy shoulders of Santana, the young and unproven arms of Niese and Gee, and the veteran experience of Francisco, Rauch, and Ramirez. The Mets may seem destined to sit at the bottom of the NL East, but there’s a chance that they could at least be respectable on the mound on some days so they shouldn’t be taken for granted.

Tags: Bobby Parnell Dillon Gee Frank Francisco Johan Santana Jon Rauch Jonathan Niese New York Mets Ramon Ramirez

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