Posted by Reese Kaplan at 8:00 AM
Sometimes when you flip a coin it lands heads-up. Sometimes it lands tails. Occasionally (and rarely) it lands on its edge. That seems to summarize how things have gone for the Mets this spring and what it’s going to do to the roster plans for the upcoming season. Between stellar and poor performances as well as ill health, things necessarily change. As poet Robert Burns once said, "The best laid schemes of mice and men go often askew."
That David Wright is unavailable should come as a surprise to no one except perhaps Sandy Alderson and Terry Collins. Anyone who’s been paying the slightest bit of attention for the past several years has known that you have to go into the season assuming you get nothing from Wright. Anything he does provide is a bonus on top of what you’ve already planned for the third base position. However, once again they seem surprised and are anointing Jose Reyes the answer despite not having been around to establish his swing, his fielding nor his baserunning ability.
On the plus side of the ledger, both Neil Walker and Asdrubal Cabrera seem to be completely healthy and in mid-season form. That’s good news for the Mets but bad news for the Met wannabes like Gavin Cecchini, T.J. Rivera, Wilmer Flores and others who are relegated to Las Vegas and/or the bench.
Lucas Duda remains a work in progress. He had started off slowly, then played, then had hip issues, then started playing again. Much like David Wright, planning is not in the Mets’ collective DNA and their sole gesture towards coverage due to injury was a two game stint by Jay Bruce at the position. Granted, Bruce will be playing regularly in RF, but would you rather have a James Loney should Duda hit the DL or would you rather have Michael Conforto with Bruce shifting to 1B? Duda knows how to play 1B. You’d think it would have been more prudent to play him at DH as much as possible and give the defensive reps to a potential replacement, but hey, that’s just how people who plan things for a living go about it.
Travis d’Arnaud has benefited greatly from his change in batting stance and the results are most definitely showing. However, if the new bench coach was brought it specifically to help him with the defensive side of the game, early returns are not there as he’s actually been worse throwing than ever before. The challenge will be if his bat is big enough to overcome his glove. If not, could HE be the 1st baseman of the future if Dominic Smith doesn’t progress on the fast track schedule everyone projects for him?
This one came with few surprises in terms of starting assignments. Left to right it will be Yoenis Cespedes, Curtis Granderson and Jay Bruce. That much was set in stone before spring training even started when trade partners for the expensive lefty duo were not found. Juan Lagares was penciled in for the 4th outfielder role and the only question was who would be number 5.
Well, the old injury bug has bitten hard already with Lagares now probably starting on the DL with an oblique injury which could be anything from 15 days to a couple of months depending on severity. Then there’s the hamstring issue that hit Brandon Nimmo while playing in the ever-so-critical WBC. You’d think it would be more important for him to make an impression on his employer, but to each his own.
Many have stated that these injuries open the door to Michael Conforto starting with the big club this year, but another 55 days in the minors slows the service clock down long enough to postpone an entire year of arbitration eligibility. I doubt the Mets will trade that financial gain for a guy to sit on the bench. They’re surely not benching their $15 million and $13 million outfielders to let Conforto start. As I’ve said before, salary dictates playing time.
To hear pundits tell it, the Mets were the envy of all other teams with the solid depth of their pitching rotation, such depth that it made it possible to let their IP leader, Bartolo Colon, walk away. The big four of Noah Syndergaard, Jacob de Grom, Matt Harvey and Steve Matz were as good as any team in baseball. The fifth starter slot was up for grabs with three viable contenders. Seth Lugo was brilliant throughout most of the WBC and Robert Gsellman is looking like a Rookie of the Year contender. They, of course, were behind Zack Wheeler, a guy who’s already done it on the big stage.
Fast forward to the end of March and things have changed dramatically. Syndergaard and de Grom are on track as expected, but Matt Harvey put together just one solid start thus far while working back from his thoracic outlet syndrome and now Steve Matz is slated to begin the season on the DL. Zack Wheeler is still a work in progress, too, though his stellar stint on Monday has whispers of them bringing him north instead of remaining in extended spring training.
The other surprising development is the spring performance of the all but forgotten Rafael Montero. His numbers speak for themselves – through Monday morning he was sitting tied for the team lead in IP, with a 1.96 ERA, a .209 BAA and a respectable WHIP of 1.20 (which is especially notable as control bedeviled him over the past few years). He’s also leading the club by a wide margin with 21 Ks in 18 IP.
There are a few no brainers based upon past performances – Jerry Blevins, Addison Reed, Hansel Robles and recent arrival Fernando Salas. Assuming Jeurys Familia is on at least a 30 day hiatus, that leaves perhaps 3 open slots in the bullpen.
At this point you’d think Josh Smoker is a leading contender to be the 2nd lefty out of the pen. That leaves some questions about who might attain the other roles. Since Seth Lugo has been starting all spring I’m guessing they will go with him filling in for Steve Matz in the rotation. That leaves Rafael Montero with the long man role in the pen based upon his 40-man roster spot, his strong spring and his high strikeout numbers.
I had originally thought that the final spot would be a 30 game trial for Paul Sewald using the suspension 40-man roster spot from Jeurys Familia to audition at the major league level. However, Tuesday morning he got sent to the minor league side, so it's some combination of Zack Wheeler, Seth Lugo and Rafael Montero coming north to accompany the Terrific Trio plus Gsellman.
Rene Rivera and Wilmer Flores are there for sure. After that it’s a bit murky. Is Nimmo healed sufficiently to bring him north? Is a sometime outfielder like Ty Kelly worth considering (and whose 40-man roster spot would he take?) Is T.J. Rivera going to be the second spare infielder? With Cecchini already gone, it would certainly look that way. If they had (and I hate to keep beating this drum) planned better, then Jose Reyes playing the outfield would enable them to use him as the spare part in that capacity given that they could cover 3B in a pinch with Flores or T.J. Rivera. Travis Taijeron has had a whale of a spring and is right handed to boot, but he’s a corner outfielder, not on the 40-man roster and the question remains who would play CF in the absence of Juan Lagares if Granderson needs a breather? I’m betting Brandon Nimmo gets the nod but plays sparingly to allow his hamstring more time to heal.