Jenrry Mejia's renaissance was a big bright spot in the second half for the New York Mets. Mejia, who had been the forgotten man in the Mets' stable of pitching prospects, impressed in a spot start against the Washington Nationals and earned a spot in the Mets starting rotation. Mejia went 1-2 with a 2.30 ERA in his first five starts before being forced to leave his last start against the San Diego Padres with pain in his right elbow. Mejia, who was pitching with a bone spur in that elbow, was placed on the disabled list Sunday and could miss the rest of the season. That development was not what the Mets needed at all.
Besides the immediate loss to the rotation, Mejia's absence hurts the Mets in an evaluative sense. Mejia looked like a completely different pitcher in his starts than he had in prior appearances. Mejia began to work in his off speed pitches more and really began to learn how to pitch instead of throw, a big milestone in a pitcher's development. If the Mets had another full month of starts from Mejia, they could look to pencil him in to the 2014 starting rotation and have an unexpected bonus arm on their hands. Now, with Mejia hurt again, questions about the young right hander's durability will return.
Mejia was a guy who the Mets could also have used as trade bait in the winter if he was able to build on his strong start to the 2013 campaign. Mejia, who was at one point the team's top pitching prospect, still has the same electric ability and stuff that got him a promotion to the 2010 Opening Day roster as a 20 year old. If Mejia had showed that he was capable of putting that stuff to good use and get major league hitters out consistently, Mejia could have been a valuable trade chip for the Mets. The Mets have a surplus of young power arms and may need to dip into that surplus this offseason to try and trade for a power bat in the outfield, where they don't have any minor leaguers close to filling that role. Mejia could have been a piece of the package, but the latest injury setback makes it unlikely the Mets will be able to use him as a main cog in a deal.
Mejia's injury problems also can't be ignored at this point. Mejia has already undergone Tommy John surgery in his career and has now lost the majority of this season to elbow problems. Mejia is not built as a big strong pitcher in the mold of Matt Harvey and fellow prospect Noah Syndergaard. Mejia has a build that is reminiscent of former Met Pedro Martinez, who also had electric stuff but had problems with durability later in his career. The fact that Mejia is having these durability concerns at such a young age has to give any team, including the Mets, pause. The Mets have experimented with moving Mejia to the bullpen in the past, hoping to reduce the wear and tear on his arm. Mejia, however, has stated his preference to be a starting pitcher and struggled mightily when the Mets tried to convert him into a reliever last season.
Mejia is clearly better suited mentally to be a starting pitcher, but his injury history makes it difficult for the Mets to just hand him a starting rotation slot right out of spring training. Even though the elbow surgery he will undergo this offseason should be minor, it is the latest in a series of injury concerns for Mejia. The Mets may go into spring training with the hope that Mejia can stay healthy and win a job outright, as the Mets should have an open slot in the rotation (barring a trade) behind Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, Jon Niese, and Dillon Gee. The Mets will likely add a veteran starter to fill the back of the rotation, like Barry Zito or Paul Maholm, to hold the fort in case Mejia is not ready to go on Opening Day. The Mets will have a lot of questions to answer this offseason, but how they handle the Mejia situation may be one of their most important dilemmas to solve.
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