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New York Mets: Taking A Deep Look At Back-End Rotation Candidates

The New York Mets opened up spring training today with a 5-5 tie against the Atlanta Braves -- and the heat is on in the race for the last two rotation spots.

With Johan Santana on the shelf until at least late June, the Mets' rotation, as currently constructed, is headed by opening day starter Mike Pelfrey, knuckleball renaissance man R.A. Dickey and second-year pro, Jonathan Niese.

While everyone will certainly get a shot this spring, let's narrow down the potential field. Collins has already stated that he wants Jenrry Mejia to work in Triple-A to refine on his secondary pitches (Meija started today and threw two innings, struckout three and walked one), so even though he will get his fair share this spring, he most likely not make the five-man group, unless he really dominates. D.J. Carasco has been in the majors for six seasons and has started just 23 games; he'll be given a shot, but the bullpen needs a whole re-modeling and he'll most likely end up as part of that. And then there's Oliver Perez. Since becoming a Met his ERA has escalated from 3.56 ERA in 2007 to 4.22 ERA in 2008 to nearly 7 the past two season, in which he's tossed just 112.1 innings with a WHIP of about 2.00. He also had a 5.22 ERA and 32 walks in 39 winter-ball innings. Unless he was holding something back, the likelihood for a spot is minimal.

Thus, that leaves us with three hurlers for two open spots: Dillon Gee and the newly signed Chris Capuano and Chris Young.

Dillon Gee: Gee received five starts at the end of last season and had a 2.18 ERA and a 1.21 WHIP in 33 innings. It all looks good on the surface, but much of that was buoyed by good luck, as he gave up 25 hits, walked 15 and struckout a meager 17 batters (4.64 K/9). His strand rate was also an unsustainable 81 percent. More telling was his 4.20 FIP -- and 5.19 xFIP (which normalizes a pitcher's homeruns per his flyballs to league average). Let's just get this straight with Gee: He never was a top prospect and his minor league numbers were never truly great. He's not a power guy; he'll touch about 90 on his fastball, with a slider, a decent changeup and curveball. Despite fanning 165 batters in 161 innings in Triple-A, Gee doesn't really have a plus go-to swing-and-miss offering. He had a 4.96 ERA and 1.33 WHIP in Buffalo last season and has a 3.76 ERA, 1.18 WHIP in the minors for his career. He has great pitchability and guts, but he's definitely more of a fifth starter and probably third on the depth chart in this battle.

Chris Capuano: The first starter signed this offseason by the new regime was Capuano, the former five-year Milwaukee Brewer and 2008 recipient of Tommy John surgery. The 32-year-old lefty threw 66 solid innings with Milwaukee last year to the tune of a 3.95 ERA and 1.30 WHIP and a 7.4 K/9 rate, which matches his career. Typically pitchers come back stronger in their second year off of Tommy John surgery and if Capuano is fully back, he has the potential to be a decent innings eater -- he threw around 220 innings in 2005 and 2006 (when he was an All Star). Capuano isn't a top-of-the-rotatino type; he'll give up about a hit per inning, walk around 3 per nine and strikeout a handful. His fastball is below average at 87 mph, and he also has a pretty good changeup and a slider he'll go to as well. He neutralizes lefties extremely well, with a career .231/.294/.331 slash line and only 12 HR allowed -- but righties certainly have a field day against him in comparison: .274/.340/.474 and 98 HR allowed. As a fourth/fifth-type, he will be adequate enough.

Chris Young: Sandy Alderson's other rotation booster, Young, has dealt with a handful of injuries over the past few seasons. He's been on the 60-day DL three times, with shoulder surgery in 2009 and a shoulder strain suffered in April 2010. He's been on the 15-day DL twice, once with an oblique strain and a forearm strain. The hope -- despite not pitching over 102 innings since 2008 -- is that Alderson took advantage of a market inefficiency wit his one-year, $1.1 million incentive-laiden deal for an arm with decent upside. Even though Young was signed for pennies on the dollar in what seemed like a signing off the scrap heap, the 6-foot-10, 280-pound righty has the potential to be a huge sleeper this year for the Mets. In his seven seasons, 135 games started, Young has a 3.80 ERA, 1.21 WHIP -- and he's given up 7.4 H/9, walked 3.5 BB/9, and struckout 7.8/9. Young is an imposing presence on the mound, but he won't light up radar guns, as his fastball, which he throws about 75 percent of the time, only tops out in the mid 80s. He does have a deceptive motion, which batters often have a tough time picking up -- and he makes his living giving up fly-ball contact, but with the friendly confines of Citi Field and the Mets' decent outfield defense, this looks like a very nice fit. Even more so than Capuano, if Young stays healthy, at least until Santana comes back, he could very well be the Mets' best pitcher.