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More Thoughts on the Bench

Mike SteffanosFriday, March 20, 2009
By Mike Steffanos

In many ways, the battle for bench and bullpen spots have been the most compelling of the spring for the Mets, particularly since no one really seemed inclined to battle Livan Hernandez all that hard for the fifth starter's job.

The latest speculation is that Nick Evans has forced himself onto the roster at the expense of Marlon Anderson. Not to be contrary, but I am unconvinced of this on several levels.

Not to deny that Evans hasn't taken a huge step up this spring, but we need to keep in mind that this is, in fact, spring. While I wouldn't argue that Evans' terrific camp has been an illusion, I would contend that Evans is being used in a way that he is unlikely to be used during the season.

If we accept that Carlos Delgado, Daniel Murphy and Ryan Church will all play almost every day, it's clear that there will not be enough AB to keep both Evans and Fernando Tatis sharp. Evans has been pretty much playing every day in camp, but he will find it hard to hold it together if he is confined to pinch hitting and occasional starts. For a young guy like Evans it is important to play every day and face both lefties and righties.

Secondly, folks forget sometimes that the job of pinch hitter is one of the toughest in sports. Marlon Anderson was awful last year trying to play with a bad hammy, but he has excelled as a pinch hitter for the Mets in 2005 and when he returned to the team during the 2007 season. He's a proven commodity in a very difficult job.

Unless someone gets hurt or either Murphy or Church fall on their faces, the job that Evans and Anderson are allegedly fighting over figures to be primarily the pinch-hitting job with occasional starts as described above. I think the odds are hugely in favor of Anderson handling the job better.

Anderson got off to a nice start in camp but then slowed down just as Evans was really heating up. The momentum is clearly in Evans' favor. Still, when I look at this logically I still like Anderson. If he can hit the way he did in 2005 and 2007, he could be a very valuable part of this team.

I just don't see enough work to keep Evans and Tatis both sharp right now. While things could change, the sensible route would be to send Evans to Buffalo when the Mets need a fifth starter and let him play every day until something develops here that opens up a spot.

I still see the Mets with primarily a 5 person bench. It's obvious that Ramon Castro, Tatis and Alex Cora will take up 3 of those 5 spots. One other spot will likely go to a late-inning defensive OF to replace Daniel Murphy, with Jeremy Reed the likely front-runner for that right now. You're going to need that guy, whether Reed or someone else, to get a few starts to stay sharp -- but I see Murphy, Beltran, Church and Tatis getting most of the starts. I just don't see room for a talented young player at this time.

I say make Anderson the primary pinch hitter with the job as his to lose. As for Evans, if we've learned nothing else we know that opportunities for other players will come up during the course of the season. Evans will get his shot. I know this isn't the popular view right now, but I believe it to be the correct one.

Bonus Bullpen Thoughts
I saw Fernando Nieve, the Astros castoff that the Mets picked up on waivers, throw an inning against his former team in Thursday's Mets win. His fastball was in the mid-90s and he displayed a sharp down-breaking slider that was impressive. You could understand why the Astros once were so high on him.

He had an impressive rookie season for the 'stros in 2006, then was injured for most of the last two seasons. Obviously they have their reasons for giving up on him, but he looks like decent minor league depth for the Mets with some upside. Really a can't-lose situation for Minaya and company.

I note in checking today's box score against the Orioles that the Mets continue to stretch Bobby Parnell out. He pitched 2 2/3 scoreless innings in relief of Ollie Perez despite allowing 5 hits (all singles). The good news was no walks and a couple of Ks.

It seems increasingly apparent that the Mets are considering Parnell as both a short man and a long reliever. This would only increase his chances of making the squad.

Finally, don't despair if the games you want to attend this season are selling out fast. The good folks at Ticket Solutions can set you up with prime seats for virtually any Mets game. They have Yankees Tickets, too, if you're looking to go over to the dark side.

About Mike: I was the original writer on this web site, actually its only writer for the first 15 months of existence. Although I am grateful for the excellent contributions of my fellow writers here, I have no plans of stepping back into strictly an editorial role. I started this thing in the first place because I love to write and I love the Mets, and blogging here keeps me somewhat sane. If you haven't had enough already, more bio info can be found here.

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Comments (4)

I am with you 100% on the Evans topic ... while he did have some fine moments, I feel he was overmatched much of the time and really needs to play everyday in AAA to improve .... I also think that Marlon -- with his guranteed contract -- will have a leg up unless they trade him before the end of spring training .... even if they do, I would go with Bobby Kielty over Evans ....

One of the things I really like about Evans going back to last season, and something he continues to do this spring, is that he likes going to the opposite field and up the middle. Not only has he been doing that this spring, but he's also pulling the ball with power, and generally hitting to all fields, making him both tough to pitch to and tough to defend. I think this approach is what would make Evans a valuable PH if the Mets kept him up in the majors. Plus, he has two things going for him that Marlon doesn't, and that's being a righty and being able to play the field. If the Mets decided to get Evans experience at 3rd a well, which apparently was where he was drafted, and where he spent his first year in the minors, then Evans would certainly have more value in that regard than Marlon, who is an absolute defensive liability. I can't see Evans not going after that fly ball to the left field line last week in that 2-0 game in the 9th inning that Marlon seemed to not go hard after, thereby opening the floodgates, and causing the Mets to lose. Evans just seems hungrier, and that, plus his youth, can be infectious, just like with Murphy. We saw that last year. Plus it seems Evans has been developing that respectable power that Marlon doesn't have, nor does Marlon have any speed to speak of. Evans isn't fleet of foot himself, but certainly moreso than Marlon, plus I always feel like Marlon could just break down at any moment. There is just so much more you can get out of Evans, plus I do believe he can do a solid job when asked to pinch hit. And even though the Mets havenTatis, it would still be nice to have Evans. Whenever Tatis starts, you have no other righties off the bench, either to pinch hit, or to take the field for another player for whatever reason. I don't see Manuel using Castro other than to backup Schneider, not without a third catcher as insurance.

Having said all this, while I think Marlon has very limited value, I'd still like to see Evans get more experience in RF and get more time at 3B so that he will be a viable option for all 4 corner spots just like Tatis. Plus, I think Evans is at a crucial time in his development. He's done extremely well this spring- why, in one game, he hit a double over the RF's head in one AB, and then later in the game, he hit a 3-run bomb to LF, which came just a game after he hit a pinch hit grand salami in the bottom of the 8th to tie up that game, which they wound up winning. Now that's using the field, and that's impressive for a young player. Dare I say it's Murphyesque? But what happens if he takes this newfound success and confidence in himself to the majors, and then he struggled? It might knock him back a bit. Perhaps not. But I do see the wisdom of bringing Evans to Queens for the first week until Livan is needed, and then send Evans back down to continue his success for a little while, while also getting him experience at First, Third, Left, and Right, and making sure he understands both why he is being sent down, and what the big club expects of him. And if he continues to do well down there, then I think it truly would do wonders for his game. While he's down there, we'll see how well Marlon does, or whether he's providing any value at all. Perhaps he doesn't even stay healthy. Either way, when it's time to bring Evans up, they'll know when. I'd love to see Evans up from the get go, and stay there, but like I said, I think he needs more seasoning in the field, especially at third. Perhaps Evans becomes a Mark DeRosa type player, a guy who plays numerous positions, but hits well enough to play everyday. What if Delgado has another big season, which I think he will, I don't see the Mets letting him go. So, Evans value may be his bat being plugged in wherever General Manuel needs it. Besides, Tatis can't go on forever.

Damn, I can't wait for this season to start already. I truly believe the Mets are in store for a special year. With General Manuel at the helm, and everybody healthy and ready to go, I believe strongly in my gut that this will be a special year. And I just can't wait to get started.

I can't see Evans making the team over Marlon Anderson. Anderson is a veteran and has a history of being a good pinch hitter (even though he was not good last year). Evans time would be better spent in AAA playing everyday. Also, Anderson has a bit more versatility in the number of positions he can play. There is some value there when you talk about giving various guys a rest from time to time.

I like Evans alot, but I think he needs another year in the Minors to work on his swing. It's still very raw. I think Marlon may have something left, but he needs to continue to get in shape in AAA. Reed and Kielty have pretty much had the best work in ST, so I'd give them both the shot at being the utility/pinch hitters off the bench. Plus, Kielty has true power off the bench, something Marlon doesn't, and Evans isn't ready for/really suited for.

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