Around the Horn: Rotation health key for Mets

Around the Horn: Rotation health key for Mets

With pitchers and catchers scheduled to report to Port St. Lucie, Fla., by Feb. 19, it's time to dissect the Mets' 2017 roster. This is the fourth of a six-part Around the Horn series taking a position-by-position look at projected starters and backups heading into the season. Next up: starting pitchers.

NEW YORK -- On a bright sunny morning late last February, six Mets starters walked onto the infield grass, standing shoulder to shoulder for a photo shoot. There was Matt Harvey, the brash one; Noah Syndergaard, with the triple-digit heater; Jacob deGrom, quietly successful; Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler, and even Bartolo Colon.

As those six ringed the Tradition Field mound, the implication was clear: in a game dominated by pitching, the Mets reigned as kings.

But things did not unfold quite that way for the Mets. Harvey, deGrom and Matz all underwent surgery. Wheeler never returned from his Tommy John operation. The Mets instead had to lean heavily on Syndergaard, Colon and a pair of unheralded rookies, Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo.

• Around the Horn: Bullpen | Corner IF | Catcher

While the Mets retain all the personnel necessary to be a dominant rotation again in 2017, more question marks surround this group than any point in recent history.

Start with Harvey, who never approached his historic levels of success even before receiving a diagnosis of thoracic outlet syndrome. Turns out Harvey experienced numbness in his right arm for most of the season, leading to his 4-10 record and career-worst 4.86 ERA. While Harvey should be in better health entering Spring Training, the history of pitchers coming back from surgery to remove a rib is not extensive. Only time will tell if Harvey can return to his previous levels of dominance.

Harvey fans Zimmerman

A surer bet is deGrom, whose surgery involved moving the ulnar collateral nerve in his right elbow. But for all deGrom's success over three years in the big leagues, he has eclipsed 30 starts and 190 innings just once. Until deGrom proves his durability, he will be something of a question mark as well.

deGrom strikes out Peralta

Matz has almost never been healthy throughout his Major and Minor League career, putting extreme pressure on Syndergaard, at 24 years old the rock of the bunch. If Syndergaard can replicate the Cy Young Award-caliber season he submitted in 2016, going 14-9 with a 2.60 ERA and 218 strikeouts in 183 2/3 innings, the Mets will have far fewer worries.

Thor's 10 K's in 10 seconds

To help those pitchers, the Mets will rely on their depth, likely even turning to a six-man rotation at times. With Colon departed to Atlanta, that means heavy innings should again fall upon Gsellman and Lugo, who pitched the Mets into the postseason last August and September. Though at least one of those pitchers is likely to begin the year in the bullpen or even at Triple-A Las Vegas, odds are good the Mets will lean heavily on both before the year is through.

Then there is Wheeler, who never made it back after undergoing Tommy John surgery in March 2015. While there has been plenty of talk about the Mets potentially using Wheeler out of the bullpen, he should have a chance to compete for a rotation job this spring. If Wheeler can return to become even a fraction of the pitcher he was prior to surgery, the Mets will have a measure of depth they lacked last season.

They'll need it. Beyond those seven pitchers, there is little of note at the top levels of the organization.

Next up on the depth chart are Gabriel Ynoa and Rafael Montero, two pitchers with low ceilings and spotty track records. It will be years until the Mets' next crop of blue-chip starters, including 2016 first-round Draft pick Justin Dunn, is ready for the Majors. In the meantime, Syndergaard, Harvey, deGrom and company will need to carry the Mets.

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.