By William Botchway
The man who’s actually the subject of a rap lyric (Action Bronson noted “I stay in Flushing like I’m Dillon Gee,”) may be on the move soon. This has been rumored for a while, but the closer we get to Spring Training, the more likely it is to happen, as the Mets become impatient.
The first reason why the Mets are shopping their 2014 Opening Day starter is simply because of space. With Matt Harvey returning from injury, and the expectation of Noah Syndergaard’s readiness at some point this season, the rotation is becoming very full. Harvey, Jacob deGrom, and Zack Wheeler are locks to be part of the rotation this year. That leaves Bartolo Colon, Jonathon Niese, Rafael Montero, Syndergaard, and Gee in flux as the team decides who will be in their starting five in April.
Montero isn’t completely ready for the big leagues just yet, so he’ll return to Triple-A Las Vegas to start the season. Despite his struggles in his short stints with the team in 2014, he’s not a lost cause, and thus not being moved to the bullpen just yet, as I’ve seen suggested in a few places. Syndergaard isn’t in the conversation to start the season with the team because he hasn’t really proven that he can put it all together for an extended period of time yet. He’ll be in Vegas as well until at least June before management re-evaluates whether or not he should debut this season. At that point, expect some aggressive trade talks involving one of the veterans still remaining.
Those veterans are Colon, Niese, and Gee. Colon isn’t going anywhere yet, because his value isn’t very high during the offseason. As an expiring contract, he’ll be useful to a contender, so some team poised to make a run at the World Series that also happens to be in need of a back end starter will be calling Sandy Alderson at the end of July looking for everyone’s favorite hitting savant (who moonlights as a decent starting pitcher). Being the only lefty in the rotation, it seems that Niese has a secure spot on the team, meaning that Gee is the odd man out.
So Gee’s gone, but is that the right decision? Throughout his four full seasons in the MLB, while being somewhat hampered by injuries, Gee has been an okay pitcher. His 3.91 ERA is good enough to deserve a spot in almost any rotation in the league, and at 28 he is coming off of the best two seasons of his career as he heads into his prime.The problem is, I don’t know how much of that is going to continue. Digging a little deeper into his stats reveals his true mediocrity. His WHIP is slightly below average, and his strikeout rate is on the low side. The most telling statistic about Gee, though, is his FIP.
For those who don’t know what that is, it stands for Fielding Independent Pitching, which attempts to measure a pitcher’s ERA without the factor of his team’s defense, using only what the pitcher can control. For every year but one, his FIP has been higher than his ERA, which isn’t terrible in and of itself, but there has been a significant gap between the two numbers each of the past two seasons. In 2013, he posted an ERA of 3.62 with a FIP of 4.00, while last season he pitched to the tune of a 4.00 ERA and a 4.52 FIP. Even those numbers are a bit misleading. While Gee’s FIP was constant throughout the year, his ERA looked good until he evened it out by posting an ERA near 5 over his final 8 starts.
In simpler terms, he’s going to run out of luck at some point. We just saw what the FIP Gods did to Travis Wood this past season. The downgrade at center field from Juan Lagares to the next guy that patrols the outfield for Gee by itself will negatively affect his numbers. Most importantly, guys who defy their FIP by such a wide margin historically can’t be relied upon to reproduce their success with consistency. He’s due for a drop-off, even as his age suggests he should be entering his peak years. Ideally, he’ll be a long reliever somewhere, because he has shown throughout his career that his struggles skyrocket when he faces a lineup for the second or third time. In reality, however, his “starter’s experience” will prevent that move from happening for a while.
So that answers whether or not the Mets should even be pursuing a deal involving him, but what about the return? There’s no use in trading away a guy if the team isn’t getting good value back. Gee is roughly equivalent in value to Jeremy Hellickson and Wade Miley, who were both traded this offseason, netting decent packages for their respective teams. There was nothing amazing involved, but a couple of lower level fliers, or a young, fringe major leaguer with the potential to become something very useful is on the table. This means there’s a good chance that the Mets will receive a quality relief pitcher in exchange for Gee, along with possibly a young prospect currently in Single-A or lower. While the names Rex Brothers and Hunter Strickland that I’ve heard thrown around may prove to be unrealistic, a young reliever may very well what fans can expect. If Gee were with the team in 2015, he’d likely be used out of the bullpen anyway, so it’s useful to upgrade. We’ve already seen how Sandy Alderson can make something out of players with little to no value in trades, so it should be interesting to see what happens here.
At this point, it looks like Alderson has outsmarted himself, and should have traded Gee at the Winter Meetings. The Padres took themselves out of the running by signing James Shields. The Rockies have signed Kyle Kendrick, lessening their need for another starter. That pretty much just leaves the Texas Rangers as a suitor for Gee, meaning that the Mets don’t have much leverage. The closer we get to the season, the more likely it is that Alderson will hit the panic button and trade him. I’m usually against the idea of making a trade for the sake of making a trade, but this case is an exception. Gee’s value was highest a couple of months ago, but will only decrease from this point forward. Trading him now will be getting 85 cents out of the dollar he may have been worth earlier in the offseason, but it needs to be done.