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Breaking Down the New York Mets: The Starting Rotation

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COMMENTARY | The New York Mets enter the 2013 season with a lot of questions at key positions. Fortunately, the starting rotation looks to be in good shape.

Not only will the Mets come north with five quality starters, they have a prospect -- Zack Wheeler -- who will start the season at Triple-A Las Vegas but should make his way to the majors this summer.

While Wheeler has attracted a lot of the attention in Port St. Lucie, here's a look at who will be in the Mets' rotation when the season starts on April 1:

Johan Santana: The Mets big signing back in 2008, Santana enters the final year of his contract with more uncertainty than any other pitcher on this team. How will he pitch? Will he stay healthy? If he pitches well, what will the market be for him? If the Mets are in contention, will they still look to deal him if there's interest?

The one thing we do know is that this is most likely Santana's final season with the Mets. Last year, he pitched a no hitter on June 1, but then struggled and was placed on the disabled list with an ankle sprain. Then he was shut down in August due to inflammation in his back. Still, after missing the 2011 season following surgery on his left shoulder, he returned last year to go 6-9 with a 4.85 earned run average.

Santana is no longer the ace pitcher that he once was, but the Mets owe him $31 million this season. He was penciled in to be the Mets' starter on opening day, but that could now be in jeopardy. It was announced Friday that his first spring training start would be pushed back to mid-March to allow him time to build up his arm strength. The Mets insist he'll be fine. They better hope he is.

Jonathon Niese: Of all the pitchers on this team, Niese is one of the most intriguing. How good can he be? He won nine games in 2010, 11 games in 2011, and 13 games in 2012. It's perfectly reasonable to think that he could take that next step and win 15 games this year. If that's the case, there will be a lot of teams who inquire about him. The Mets should hold on to the 26-year-old lefty who last year pitched to a 3.40 ERA in 190 1/3 innings.

"I think it's time for Jon Niese to be that guy," Mets manager Terry Collins said as reported by the Star-Ledger. "I think Jon Niese is ready to turn the corner."

According to the Star-Ledger report, the Mets would like Niese to add 20 more innings in 2013. Add a couple more wins to those extra innings, and the Mets would have themselves one of the most productive lefties in baseball.

Shaun Marcum: Up until the Mets signed Marcum to a one-year deal last month, they had not signed a free agent all offseason. It took a while, but the Mets got a pitcher who should fit nicely into their rotation.

Marcum has had to deal with injuries (elbow issues last year; Tommy John surgery in 2009), but he's put together a decent career, with three years of 12 or more wins and a career ERA of 3.76 to go along with his 57-36 record. In 21 starts for the Milwaukee Brewers last year, Marcum went 7-4 with a 3.70 ERA, but was limited to 124 innings.

When the Mets traded R.A. Dickey, they needed to fill the void in the rotation. Will Marcum win 20 games like Dickey did a year ago? Probably not. But he's a solid veteran who the Mets hope can repeat the 13-win seasons he had in 2010 and 2011.

Dillon Gee: One of the better stories of 2011 was the emergence of Gee, who went 13-6 and gave the Mets 160 2/3 innings in just his second season. In 2012, he was 6-7 before his season ended due to a blood clot in his pitching hand.

Gee is looking forward to getting back on the mound (he began throwing in September), and he knows everyone will have to pitch in to replace Dickey.

"When you look at the teams that do well, their starters go out every five days and become guys the rest of the team can rely on," Gee said in a New York Times report. "My goal this season is to set a career mark on innings. I want to pass that 200-inning threshold and try to be one of the guys that sets the tone."

Matt Harvey: In 2012, no pitcher on the Mets had more hoopla surrounding his starts than Harvey did. After a good spring, Harvey started the year at Triple-A Buffalo, pitched well, and was called up in July. In 10 starts, he went 3-5 with a 2.73 ERA, allowing just 42 hits in 59 1/3 innings while striking out 70.

The sky's the limit for Harvey, who the Mets envision as one of the anchors of their staff for years to come.

Collins told the New York Post that Harvey has the potential to win 17 games this year if he pitches 200 innings. Harvey responded by saying he's going for 20 wins. He may only be 23, but he has the confidence of a seasoned veteran.

"Mediocre is not OK for me," Harvey said in the Post's report. "It's never been OK, and it will never be OK."

Sounds like a good motto for a baseball team.

Charles Costello has followed the Mets closely since the rookie years of Darryl Strawberry (1983) and Dwight Gooden (1984). He was a beat reporter assigned to cover the Mets during the 1997 and 1998 seasons.

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