The Mets knew before the 2020 season that they were going to have some work to do heading into 2021 when it came to their starting rotation. And that work got harder when Noah Syndergaard was lost for all of 2020 and potentially a chunk of 2021.
Now, with the shortened 2020 season nearing the halfway point, the Mets have taken more rotation hits, with Marcus Stroman opting out due to coronavirus concerns, Steven Matz pitching so poorly that his spot in the rotation is no longer secure, and injuries to young David Peterson and likely one-year stopgap Michael Wacha.
Thrust into starting roles have been Robert Gsellman (who hadn't started a game since 2017), Walker Lockett (career 8.84 ERA coming into the season), and Corey Oswalt (who hadn't started a game since 2018).
To sum things up, a rotation that was a huge strength in 2019 became a question mark before the 2020 season began, and is now in shambles.
Amid the wreckage that is the current state of the rotation, the Mets' main goal should be making sure this doesn't happen again as they put pieces in place for the rotation to, again, be a strength in 2021 and beyond.
How do they do that? Let's break it down...
IMMEDIATE IN-HOUSE OPTIONS
Heading into the 2021 season, it's very likely that the Mets will have three spots in the rotation accounted for with Jacob deGrom, Matz, and Peterson.
While Matz's struggles this season have been alarming, his track record suggests he'll recover. And it's very hard to see the Mets non-tendering him -- nor should they even be considering it.
Beyond those three, though, there's not much to rely on.
Lockett and Oswalt have not had success at the big league level, Gsellman is probably better suited in a relief role, and the Mets clearly prefer Seth Lugo in the bullpen.
Franklyn Kilome could be an option, but with him building back up after Tommy John surgery, he'll likely be on a strict innings limit in 2021.
As far as Syndergaard goes, he's aiming to be ready by Opening Day 2021. But any pitcher coming off Tommy John surgery can't be counted on until he returns and has success.
That means help in 2021 will need to come from outside the organization.
THE PAYROLL SITUATION AND FREE AGENTS TO TARGET
As of now, the Mets have roughly $76 million on the books in terms of 40-man roster salary commitments for 2021.
The above will rise substantially when arbitration-eligible players are tendered contracts, but the Mets -- with a new owner likely in place before the offseason -- will have plenty of room under the luxury tax threshold to work with.
Out of the above, Bauer -- who will be in his age-30 season in 2020 -- arguably makes the most sense. But the Mets should be open to bringing two pitchers in from outside the organization, whether they come via free agency or trade.
Ideally, those pitchers will have plus stuff and be coming off healthy stretches. As the Mets have seen this year, relying on multiple what-ifs in the rotation can be extremely dangerous.
PROSPECTS ON THE WAY
Beyond Peterson, the Mets have pitchers such as Kevin Smith and Thomas Szapucki who are potential options for the rotation in the near-term. Like Peterson, Smith profiles as a back of the rotation piece. Szapucki has more upside, but a checkered injury past, and could potentially wind up in the bullpen.
Further down the line are Matthew Allan, Josh Wolf, and J.T. Ginn, a trio of arms who have tremendous stuff and top-of-the-rotation potential, but whose debuts probably won't come until 2023 or late in the 2022 season.
The difference so far this season between the Mets being a contender and worse than mediocre has been their rotation.
And while it's rare for a team to have the kind of firepower the Mets had atop their rotation when it featured deGrom, Syndergaard, Zack Wheeler, and Matt Harvey, it's the kind of rotation that can be built with smart drafting and patience.
Heading into 2021, the rotation can be bolstered through free agency and trades. But the Mets need to keep their highest-upside pitching prospects like Allan, Wolf, and Ginn while building this back up the right way if they want to have another starting five to envy in the years to come.