At this point, no one really knows when or if the Major League baseball season will be able to begin, and what shape or form it will take when or if it does. Will there be games played in empty stadiums? Will some games be rescheduled at or moved to neutral sites? Will there be travel restrictions already existing or that crop up to alter the schedule? All unanswerable at the moment.
But one thing that's always important in baseball, whether it's a 162-game season or a contracted one, is a team's depth — in particular, pitching depth. And the Mets have already taken a hit in that regard with Noah Syndergaard, their No. 2 starter, sidelined after Tommy John surgery.
There will be roster expansion when and if the season gets underway, which will help. MLB had already added an extra player (26) to rosters for this season, and that will be pushed to 29 for the first month of the season in order for teams to build up their starters and not tax their bullpens. And many people believe that if you're going to lose a pitcher to Tommy John surgery (Syndergaard, Luis Severino of the Yankees, Chris Sale of the Red Sox), this is the year for it to happen with an obviously shortened season.
But I don't necessarily agree with that assumption. MLB has several models and scenarios that they are working on, but the goal seems to be to shoehorn in as many games as possible; plans appear to call for numerous double-headers, possibly as many as two per week. The Mets do have five (Jacob deGrom, Marcus Stroman, Steven Matz, Rick Porcello & Michael Wacha) capable starting pitchers, but beyond that lies the great unknown.
The last time the Mets lost a starter to Tommy John during spring training was 2015 when Zack Wheeler went down. If you want to look at the bright side, the Mets also went to the World Series that year. However, they also had the luxury of adding both Syndergaard and Matz from the minors during that season, and they both pitched brilliantly down the stretch. Wheeler is now down the turnpike in Philadelphia with Joe Girardi and the Phillies, and as deGrom — the Mets' ace and No. 1 —was on his way to his second consecutive Cy Young last season, Wheeler was the 1A in the second half, going 5-2 with a 2.83 ERA in 12 starts. The Mets were hoping that Syndergaard would be this year's 1A to deGrom, and early indications this spring were that he could match or surpass that. Unfortunately, not to be.
So where do they turn for reinforcements? Well, the cupboard is not bare, but not exactly fully stocked.
There's Walker Lockett, who made four starts for the Mets last season and has seven in his short career. Young lefty David Peterson, the Mets' No. 1 draft pick in 2017, is another option, but he hasn't pitched above Double-A yet.
There's another lefty — Stephen Gonsalves —who started four games for the Twins in 2018, going 2-2 with a 6.75 ERA, and there's Corey Oswalt, who made 12 starts for the Mets in 2018 and looked good this spring. And I will throw in Erasmo Ramirez, who impressed the coaching staff in Florida. Ramirez made 10 starts for Seattle in 2018 and pitched well for the Triple-A Red Sox in Pawtucket last season, but not a lot of experience there.
The Mets could dip into the bullpen for either Seth Lugo or Robert Gsellman, but I believe they have to find out whether the back end of that bullpen — Edwin Diaz, Dellin Betances, Jeurys Familia and Justin Wilson — can deliver the goods to close out games before tinkering with it.
What constitutes this baseball season is hard to say right now. Do you just pick up the schedule at a certain point and wipe out the games that came beforehand? Do you try and tack those games on at the end and play deep into the fall? Do you make up an entirely different schedule? And is that even possible with so many tickets to games have already been sold?
The more games you play, the more games you have to put distance between yourself and the other teams. So a shortened season should mean less separation between teams, and if as rumored there are expanded playoffs, that could be a good thing. But also keep in mind that the Mets have been known to be slow starters and a better second half team of late, and that doesn't necessarily cut it in a shortened season.
But whatever the season, losing Syndergaard, and thus losing depth, doesn't make it easier.