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An Amazin' Cy Young in '17? Latest on Mets' injury-riddled aces

Will Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler finally be healthy enough to give the Mets a world-class starting five next season? Marc Serota/Getty Images

Which was shrewder: Stockpiling an arsenal of young starting pitching? Or an array of promising young position players?

That had been the debate in recent years regarding whether the New York Mets or the Chicago Cubs were building the better model for sustained success.

Now, the Cubs are celebrating their first championship in 108 years. And the Mets, albeit coming off consecutive postseason appearances, are holding their collective breath that five young starting pitchers successfully return from surgeries.

"It's a cautionary tale for everybody," Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said at last week's GM meetings. "But it relates back to pitching versus position players. You've got to have pitching, but they've got to stay healthy."

A review of the Mets' health situation:

  • Matt Harvey underwent season-ending surgery on July 18 in St. Louis to remove his top rib and alleviate thoracic outlet syndrome. The aim of the procedure was to relax muscles that were constricting a nerve bridging Harvey's neck and shoulder. The nerve compression caused weakness in his pitching arm and a loss of feeling in his fingers. Agent Scott Boras has maintained that Harvey's entire season was affected by the condition, resulting in a 4-10 record and 4.86 ERA. Harvey already has resumed long tossing a baseball since the procedure, according to Alderson.

  • Jacob deGrom did not start after Sept. 1 and ultimately underwent surgery 20 days later to move the ulnar nerve in his pitching elbow. Irritation of the nerve had been causing intermittent elbow discomfort as well as finger numbness. He has resumed lightly tossing a baseball.

  • Steven Matz spent the season's final seven weeks on the disabled list because of a shoulder impingement that irritated his rotator cuff. Mets doctors believe that will resolve itself via rest. Still, Matz underwent surgery on Oct. 4 to remove what was labeled a "massive" bone spur in his pitching elbow. The presence of the bone spur had been known for much of the season, and Mets officials maintain that the issue did not prompt Matz to alter his mechanics and affect his shoulder. Like deGrom, Matz has resumed lightly tossing a baseball, according to Alderson.

  • Robert Gsellman, who along with Seth Lugo admirably stepped into the depleted rotation, underwent surgery after the season to address a labrum tear in his non-pitching shoulder. Gsellman's injury dated to his time with Triple-A Las Vegas, and resulted in him never swinging the bat at the MLB level. Despite the secret revealed that he was unable to swing, Gsellman nonetheless recorded his first major league hit on Sept. 25 with a bunt single against the Phillies. While shoulder surgery should not be minimized, the fact is that Gsellman's procedure was on his non-pitching shoulder and it should not affect him in 2017.

  • Zack Wheeler still has not returned from Tommy John surgery, which was performed in March 2015. Wheeler suffered a handful of setbacks this past season and at one point required a second procedure to remove undissolved stitches. He was shut down late in the season, when it was determined he would not have enough time to get back to the majors for the first time in 24 months. He presumably will be good to go in spring training.

The good news: The Mets project all five will be ready in spring training without issue. But the odds that all five have seamless camps and are prepared for Opening Day seems wishful thinking.

"They're in the midst of their throwing programs," Alderson said. "Varying stages based on what their injuries were."

The Mets have lost Bartolo Colon to the Braves, who signed the 42-year-old pitcher to a one-year, $12.5 million deal. So the primary safety net, at least right now, for a projected rotation of Noah Syndergaard, deGrom, Harvey, Matz and Wheeler is Gsellman and Lugo.

"The real tangible benefit of those injuries was the emergence of Gsellman and Lugo," Alderson said. "We went into the season last year, if you recall, and we were maybe six deep. And Wheeler was No. 6. Because we had traded [Michael] Fulmer [for Yoenis Cespedes], we didn't really have anybody at the Triple-A level that we felt we could slide right in -- we had [Sean] Gilmartin and [Logan] Verrett and so forth, but in terms of prospects coming up.

"Going into next season, I look at it that we're eight or nine deep, depending. Am I confident they're all going to be 100 percent? Well that would probably be unrealistic to believe. But I do believe we're going to be in a much better position coming out of spring training next year with our pitching than we have been. And I think we may end up doing some things next year that we did in 2015 to ensure that."

Syndergaard also was diagnosed with a bone spur in his pitching elbow this past season. But Alderson reiterated last week that it was too insignificant to even consider removing.

Manager Terry Collins similarly expressed faith his standout starters would be healed and ready to go from the get-go in 2017.

"I think you can only go with what past research and past things have shown, and that's that these guys will bounce back," Collins said. "As we saw from Zack Wheeler, not everything is etched in stone. Fourteen months after Tommy John isn't a guarantee you're going to be ready to pitch. But you're looking at the end of [2017] spring training, 24 months after Tommy John, there's no reason to think that [Wheeler] can't be ready. Matt was a three-month [recovery time]. DeGrom's is a three-month. Steven Matz's is a three-month.

"We'll make sure we don't push them too much early in spring training, so that they are ready. Coming out of spring training, are they ready to go seven innings? Probably not, some of those guys. But I do believe that certainly as we get closer to the end of spring training, those guys should be ready to pitch."

If there is a silver lining to the injuries, it's possibly that the group will stay intact despite escalating salaries. Alderson said that while he has received interest in his young starting pitchers, it is not foreseeable that any of them are traded this winter.

"Because of all these nicks and other things, I think it's unlikely we trade any of that pitching -- partly because it is our strength and partly because, right now, they might be discounted a little bit in value," Alderson said.

Still, the GM insisted the Mets' pitching remains coveted around baseball.

"In spite of the bumps and bruises and things, people have expressed interest," Alderson said.

Going forward, Alderson suggested the Mets probably will institute some of the same practices they did in 2015 to try to protect their pitchers. That means a six-man rotation, or at least spot starters, at points. It also might mean shutting down a pitcher for two weeks during the summer to recharge.

Alderson noted the Mets proposed a few years ago a "no-fault" DL for pitchers to miss a week or so without specific injury. The idea was shot down by a "medical committee or some bureaucracy," he added.

Alderson also figures the pitching staff might be better off because they did not have to pitch in the playoffs this year -- an extra month of work.

"Spot starters, six-man rotation, giving somebody a week off in the middle of the season, skipping a start -- there's a limited but a variety of things we can do," Alderson said. "You just have to do them. It requires a certain amount of prior planning. It requires a certain amount of discipline. And it requires buy-in, not just by the front office and the field staff, but also the players.

"If you're taking away one start over the course of a season, or two starts, in order for an ERA to go from 3.25 to 2.75, that's a tradeoff most pitchers would make."