The New York Mets have yet another area of concern to deal with after Jonathon Niese’s latest injury. Just when the back end of the rotation seemed to be sorted out (Daisuke Matsuzaka in, John Lannan to the bullpen), the front end is falling apart. The best case scenario has Niese returning on April 6 against the Cincinnati Reds, though combining “best-case scenario” and “Mets” in the same sentence rarely works out.
Free agent signing Bartolo Colon is already being expected to replace Matt Harvey; if not in dominance and excitement, then at least in total wins. This was already asking a lot from the Dominican-born righty who is due to turn 50 by the end of this sentence.
That means Dillon Gee or Zack Wheeler will have to step up big time. Both would be nice, but again, this is the Mets we’re talking about. So who faces more pressure to keep this season from going completely off the rails?
Gee is a solid mid-rotation guy looking to build on a decent 2013 campaign (3.62 ERA in 199.0 innings pitched). He’s having an uneven spring with a 1.69 ERA and nine hits allowed in 5.1 innings. Never considered a phenom on the level of Wheeler, Harvey or Noah Syndergaard, I believe Gee is totally pressure-free in this situation. Double-digit wins, a sub-4.00 ERA and around 200 innings pitched are Gee’s parameters for a positive season, no matter what new chaos erupts around him.
Wheeler is different. Although he’s coasted through spring training with little notice so far despite his impressive outings, Wheeler does carry the “phenom” label. He’s expected to be an ace-level thrower, a click or two behind Harvey. He brought pressure upon himself in February by stating he wants the Opening Day gig. His laid-back attitude seems to work well for him under the New York spotlight, and some say he’s got the goods to eclipse Harvey’s dominant achievements from a year ago.
While the pressure to have an above-expectations season weighs heavier on Wheeler than Gee, that might be perfect for everybody. Gee needs to be the unassuming guy who surprises you by posting a 2.79 ERA for three straight months like he did to end 2013. Wheeler wants to be the Man from day one. He’s supremely confident in his abilities as he should be. 20 wins, an ERA in the mid-2.00s and a couple hundred strikeouts is probably the year Wheeler expects out of himself.
With or without Niese and Harvey, this is a season that will go a long way toward defining what kind of careers Wheeler and Gee are building. Kidding aside, fans should expect both players to perform at the high end of their potential, likely not high enough to get the Mets into October, but enough to keep the long-expired “Wait Till Next Year!” mantra alive and well in the outer boroughs.