The New York Mets need starting pitching, and Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com reports that their next option might be current reliever Jenrry Mejia. In order to make the transition, Mejia would need about a month in the minor leagues, which could happen as soon as Wednesday, according to Rubin.
Mejia has been a starter for the majority of his professional career, and it was only an eye-popping spring that prompted the Mets to convert him to a bullpen role in the majors this season. The Mets have said that they still view Mejia as a starter long-term and that he would have spent the winter converting back regardless.
The question remains, however, shouldn't the Mets have seen this coming? The Mets have only used 5 starting pitchers this year, so they are just now getting into a situation where they have had to use an extra starter. Their immediate minor league options include 35-year-old knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, Pat Misch (7 starts with the Mets last season) and prospects Dillon Gee (4.21 ERA in Triple-A) and Mike Antonini (4.54 ERA in Double-A). Clearly there wasn't a lot of depth after the 5 guys penciled into the initial major league rotation at the start of the season, and that rotation included a rookie (Jon Niese), a pitcher coming back from injury (John Maine) and Oliver Perez (enough said).
Sure enough, through almost 40 games the Mets have two reliable pitchers, with Niese now injured and Perez banished to the bullpen. The Mets are going to try long-relief man Hisanori Takahashi in the rotation for the time being, but still need another arm, and that's without replacing Maine and his 6.13 ERA (prefer sabermetrics? his FIP is 5.72 - still bad).
These are the specifics, however. Hindsight makes it easy to see how they Mets shot themselves in the foot by making their best starting pitching prospect a reliever this spring. But consider these facts: In 2009, National League teams used an average of just over 10 different starting pitchers. No team used fewer than 8, and the Mets themselves used 11 different starters. So far we've named the 5 initial rotation members, Takahashi, Gee, Misch, Dickey, and Antonini. That's 10, and even some of those options are a stretch (Antonini would be rushed, for one).
It's not even worth asking if the Mets should have seen the potential need for extra starters. But the question that does remain then is whether a month and a half of Mejia in the bullpen was worth the wins it is going to cost them to use one of these other pitchers for the next month while Mejia gets his arm ready to throw a hundred pitches. It's a matter of opportunity cost. If the Mets had left Mejia in the minors as a starter, he could be called up today and enter the rotation immediately, but they would have lost his bullpen production. Now, he must spend a month preparing to be a starter again.
So was it the right decision?
We won't know for sure until we see how his replacements fare, but we know what they're up against. In his 18 appearances, Mejia had a WAR of -0.1 and a WPA of -0.38, so despite his impressive ERA numbers and flashy velocity, he was actually right around replacement level and came in as the least valuable member of the Mets' bullpen based on Win Probability Added.
In other words, his production wouldn't have been hard to replace.
Assuming the Mets believe he will fare differently as a starter (an arguable point in its own right, but not part of the discussion here) and more importantly if they believe he is a better option than their current replacement starters (which, accurately or not, they probably do), there is no reason Mejia should have been in the major leagues this season instead of preparing for a situation the team knew it would eventually have to face.