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.