DENVER -- Every team needs a starting-pitching safety net, a group of second-tier pitchers who can step in if the need arises. In the case of the New York Mets, the safety net is in tatters, perhaps even more so than the actual rotation -- at least health-wise.
A diagnosis by team doctor David Altchek in New York on Monday resulted in right-hander Chris Young being diagnosed with a torn anterior capsule in his right shoulder, the same injury for which Johan Santana underwent surgery on Sept. 14 and only now is ready to step onto a mound. The best-case scenario is Santana -- who, unlike Young, had not had previous shoulder woes -- is back in a major league game in July, a full 10 months after the procedure.
Young's contract was structured to minimize the Mets' risk. He received a $1.1 million base salary. The incentives that could have lifted his contract to as much as $4.5 million did not start kicking in until Young made 10 starts or pitched 70 innings. He was at four starts and 24 innings when he landed on the disabled list last weekend for the second time this season.
So the Mets insulated themselves from serious financial risk, but the safeguards for Young in terms of rotation depth suddenly have disappeared. That is, they have disappeared beyond Dillon Gee.
The top two alternatives in Triple-A Buffalo's rotation both now have torn elbow ligaments. Boof Bonser already has undergone Tommy John surgery. A second look at Jenrry Mejia's right elbow in Birmingham, Ala., has confirmed the need for the prospect to undergo that procedure, too. Altchek will perform the procedure soon.
For now, Gee will step into the rotation, with his next start scheduled for Friday at Houston.
Who is next if Gee or another member of the rotation goes down or otherwise falters?
Well, Santana may very well be back in July. He is supposedly due to step on a mound any day. But there are no guarantees he returns like his former self, especially during the second half of this season. Chien-Ming Wang, who also had a torn anterior capsule, has not returned to the majors since going 1-6 with a 9.64 ERA with the Yankees in 2009 and then undergoing the procedure. Wang has not yet even made a minor league rehab start in two seasons with the Washington Nationals.
Pat Misch is currently in the major league bullpen, but certainly has the background to step into a starting role if needed -- provided the southpaw gets some lengthier outings in the interim and does not lose his stamina.
And do not forget about D.J. Carrasco, who cannot be pleased sitting at Buffalo. In the first season of a two-year, $2.4 million deal, the 34-year-old Carrasco was demoted April 24. Carrasco has a 6.00 ERA in three appearances (two starts) in the International League since the demotion. And clearly Mets officials are not pleased with the results. After all, they have since called up Misch and fellow left-hander Mike O'Connor while bypassing Carrasco.
Right-hander Matt Harvey, the 2010 first-round pick out of the University of North Carolina, may be the top healthy pitching prospect at this point. And he has been wildly successful at Class A St. Lucie, producing a 4-1 record and 1.10 ERA in six starts. But that merely merits a promotion in the immediate future to Double-A Binghamton, not a jump to the major league level -- not without an intermediate stop or two at the upper levels of the minors, anyway.
So you may start hearing more about mid-level prospect Josh Stinson, who had a 2.57 ERA in four starts with Buffalo at the end of last year, but who has not duplicated that success so far this season with the Bisons. Or you may start hearing about Jeurys Familia, who just made the jump from St. Lucie to Binghamton.
The Mets even dipped to the independent Atlantic League last week and signed 36-year-old right-hander Brian Sweeney, formerly of the Seattle Mariners . He made his Buffalo debut Monday, surrendering three homers while being charged with five runs (four earned) in six innings against the Yankees' Triple-A affiliate.
"This is part of the deal," assistant GM John Ricco said, referring to the litany of starting pitching injuries. "You deal with these injuries. And you know that going in -- that you try to build up as much depth as possible. Dillon Gee is a guy who has stepped in and done very well so far for us. And we have other pitchers in the organization who will step up as well."