By Mike Steffanos
We'll finish up our initial thoughts on the 2009 Mets -- which was supposed to be a brief overview but somehow grew into War and Peace -- with a look at the bench today and conclude with a final summation tomorrow.
The consensus seems to be that the Mets are likely to carry 12 pitchers, which will leave room for 13 position players. Since the Mets seem committed to a platoon with Murphy and Tatis in LF, that would leave 4 other spots open.
One will almost certainly go to a catcher. Barring any late signings or injury, the only real candidate is Ramon Castro. When he's healthy, he's a legitimate offensive force for a catcher, and not a bad defensive player.
Castro, who will turn 33 next month, has never accumulated more than the 209 AB he totaled his first season with the Mets in '05. There are several starting catchers in MLB who have less talent than Castro, who was a first round pick in 1994. The only thing they have over him is the ability to stay on the field.
Castro will make $2.5 million this season in the second year of a two-year deal he signed. In his fifth year now as a Met, you sense that frustration is mounting with this talented player who seems very content to backup lesser talents and, as mentioned, cannot stay healthy. I don't think he's going anywhere this season, but it wouldn't shock me if the Mets elected to let him go this winter.
The club carried 3 catchers at times last year, but I don't see that happening this year. Look for Castro to catch a game or two a week until he goes down with some leg injury this summer. Robinson Cancel will be counting the days in Buffalo waiting for that to happen.
With Castro and the non-playing half of the left field platoon occupying the first two slots on the bench, a third would have to go to a backup infielder who can play both 2B and SS. Considering the $2 million contract he was handed, that would undoubtedly be Alex Cora.
The good about Cora is that he is a much better shortstop than anyone the Mets had on the roster last year, so perhaps Reyes might get a day off here and there.
The bad is that he is a lifetime .245/.313/.348 hitter and yet another lefty on a team that is top-heavy with them.
By all accounts, Cora is a good clubhouse guy and a smart ballplayer. I can't help think that $2 million could have paid for a lot more offense, but that's water under the bridge at this point.
With two roster spots left, the primary candidates are Marlon Anderson, Nick Evans, Angel Pagan, Jeremy Reed, Cory Sullivan and non roster invitees Ramon Martinez, Jose Valentin, Bobby Kielty and Rob Mackowiak. Let's take a brief look at them:
Marlon Anderson has value because he's a terrific pinch hitter. He was awful last year, but he was never healthy. In two stints with the Mets he's had a ton of big hits, and seems to love being up at a big moment. Because of that, if he is truly healthy, he's the guy I like most of this bunch. The biggest negative is that he is a LH hitter.
Nick Evans was good in spurts last season when he actually beat Daniel Murphy to the bigs. He's a RH bat with some power who could play both 1B and OF. That alone gives him his best chance of making the team. Unlike fellow rook Murphy, though, Evans does not work an at bat well. He'll need to learn to be more selective to have a good shot of sticking.
Pagan was great last year, but was essentially done for the season in mid-May, so he'll have to impress all over again. He's a very good defensive OF with a little bit of pop, and it also helps that he's a switch hitter. The bad is that he is much better hitting from the left side and doesn't have enough power to justify a lot of ABs as a corner OF.
Jeremy Reed came over in the Putz deal. Not that long ago he was a top prospect, but now he's a young veteran (28 in June) who has failed to live up to his minor league numbers (.321/.388/.476) in the majors (.257/.314/.365). He's reportedly a good defender, but he's another lefty. Pagan would be more versatile, Reed has with more upside, but the clock is ticking.
Cory Sullivan is a fine defensive OF, but also a LH hitter with little power. (It's as if that's a commodity the Mets tried to corner the market on this winter.) He's older than Pagan and Reed and doesn't walk enough. The swami foresees a summer in Buffalo in this man's future.
Martinez was great in a short stint at the end of last year. He's also a RH hitter who can play all the infield positions and some OF. He's 36 years old with his best days behind him, but has a lot of experience as a pinch hitter. That, the RH bat and the versatility gives him some small chance of grabbing a spot.
Jose Valentin admits that he just wanted to give it one more shot as a player before going on to coaching. I don't think he'll make it as a player, but I would allow him to manage in my farm system any day. I have a feeling we might see him in the majors again someday in that capacity.
Kielty is interesting as the rare switch-hitter who is stronger from the right side, which is obviously a need on this team. He hasn't had a major league home run since 2006, though, and is more likely to be flanking Cory Sullivan in Buffalo rather than Carlos Beltran in Queens.
Rob Mackowiak is another of those lefty OFs. There was a time when he wasn't a terrible offensive player, but the last two seasons he hit .196 for the Padres and .132 for the Nats after enjoying a couple of solid years with the White Sox.
My best guess -- which you could probably equal with a Ouija board -- is that Marlon Anderson and Angel Pagan grab the other two bench spots along with Castro, Cora and whichever half of the LF platoon doesn't start. I wouldn't bet the farm on my guess, though. I wouldn't be totally surprised if any of the above names grabbed the last 2 spots. I think the battle for those jobs will be the most wide-open in camp.