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What Kodai Senga’s injury means for the Mets

The New York Mets’ parade of misery started early for the 2024 season as general manager David Stearns announced on Thursday morning that Kodai Senga has a mild strain of his posterior capsule in his shoulder and that would likely begin the season on the injured list.

The injury comes as a huge blow for the Mets in what is viewed as a transitional year for the club. Senga, 31, signed a five-year, $75 million contract with the Mets before the 2023 season, after a dominant 11-year stretch in the NPB in Japan. After the Mets traded away Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer at the trade deadline last season, Senga grew into the ace of the Mets rotation and was viewed to be the Opening Day starter to begin 2024.

Senga performed beyond some expectations in 2023, resulting in an All-Star nod and a second-place finish in Rookie of the Year voting after he went 12-7 with a 2.98 ERA, making him one of only two NL pitchers with a sub-3.00 mark. He became just the second Mets rookie pitcher with over 200 strikeouts thanks in part to his signature “Ghost Fork” pitch that bamboozled MLB hitters.

The Mets were looking forward to what he could do in his second full season in MLB, but now he will have to wait longer as he has to heal from the shoulder injury, with an unknown timetable for his return. Even then, there is no guarantee that he will be as effective as he was in 2023 as shoulder injuries can often have drastic effects on a pitcher’s career.

In the wake of the injury, what happens now for the Mets’ starting rotation? There is no doubt that super agent Scott Boras and others have reached out to the Mets to offer the services of the numerous starting pitchers still available in free agency, but the Mets don’t seem to be in a position to add from the outside.

“I don’t think so,” Stearns replied when asked whether Senga’s injury increases the likelihood of adding someone from outside the organization. “We’re always going to be opportunistic and hear what’s out there, but I don’t think it really changes our thought process.”

The Mets have made it a point to avoid long-term contracts this offseason, with the exception being 25-year-old pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto who ended up signing a large contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Mets’ luxury tax comes in at about 110%, meaning they would be paying double for any pitcher’s services they signed. Instead, the team will have to rely on the pieces they already have and try to be savvy on the market should something arise.

The role of Opening Day starter logically falls to the next veteran in the rotation, José Quintana. In an injury-shortened year, Quintana was effective when healthy for the Mets. In 13 starts had a 3.57 ERA in 75 2/3 innings with 60 strikeouts and 24 walks. However, beyond Quintana is a rotation with plenty of question marks.

The Mets were busy adding to their starting depth and have a solid, albeit questionable rotation. Luis Severino, a longtime New York Yankee, joined the team on a one-year deal with the hopes that he can bounce back and remain healthy for the 2024 season after coughing up 66 earned runs in 89 1/3 innings for an unsightly 6.65 ERA in 19 games with the Yankees. Sean Manaea, who signed a two-year deal worth $28 million, is looking to prove he can still be an effective starter after posting a 4.44 ERA in 117 2/3 innings over 37 appearances with the San Francisco Giants mainly as a reliever/opener in 2023. Adrian Houser, acquired from the Milwaukee Brewers, has had success as a starter but mostly has been viewed as league average and nothing particularly special.

The rotation is filled out with players trying to prove their worth or build it back up. This can be a beneficial factor for the Mets who could end up with some prospects at the deadline should they be out of the race and the players are doing well. Or, on the other hand, if the players aren’t doing well, they aren’t exactly committed to them. However, there is a lot of risk as all the players have had some injuries in the recent past or have had less than-desirable results.

This also brings into question who will round out the final spot in the rotation. As it stands, Tylor Megill, Joey Lucchesi and Jose Butto will all battle for that final spot in the rotation and perhaps one spot in the bullpen. Megill likely has the inside track for the spot, but all three have their issues. The starting rotation wasn’t supposed to be a question in Spring Training, but is now one of the main battleground spots in Mets camp.

Still, while losing Senga for any amount of time is concerning for the Mets, it likely won’t have as detrimental an effect on the overall season. The team is clearly in some sort of transition after years of exuberant spending that has yet to yield the champion hopes of owner Steve Cohen. Stearns joined the team with the goal of not making the Mets a little wiser in their spending and roster construction. While additions can and should still be made, it may have to come via trade or cheaper bargain deals. In a competitive division where Atlanta and Philadelphia block their path, the Mets will just have to do their best with what they have to begin the year and hope that Senga can return just as good as he was last season.


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