The Mets are on their heels after getting swept in Atlanta even with aces R.A. Dickey and Johan Santana taking the hill. One thing that has categorized the 2012 Mets is resilience and that trait will be put to the test now, with six games against the first-place Nationals sandwiching a set with the 48-42 Dodgers. And if that isn’t enough, the Mets have to face serious roster questions, with the return of outfielders Jason Bay and Mike Baxter.
Right now the Mets’ roster is a mess. A traditional mix has 13 hitters and 12 pitchers, with the hitters broken down with two catchers, six infielders and five outfielders. Right now the Mets have 14 hitters and 11 pitchers and are carrying eight infielders and four outfielders.
Monday’s day off has allowed the team to carry one fewer pitcher but they will need to add another hurler sometime this week. Bay could be back as early as Tuesday while Baxter does not yet have a timetable (or a guarantee) for his return to the majors.
Further complicating things is that Lucas Duda is nursing a hamstring injury and has not started the past two games. The Mets sent him off for further evaluation while claiming they did not think a DL stint was likely. In past years that might have been cause for concern, with the jokesters among us claiming it meant gangrene was a possible future diagnosis.
So, let’s say Bay is ready to be activated Tuesday and Duda will be day-to-day for a few games. What will the Mets do?
Clearly they will have to make a move with an infielder. Ike Davis has broken out of his slump, so he is no longer under any consideration for a trip to Buffalo. The other starters seem set, so that leaves four players on the chopping block. Let’s look at them in alphabetical order:
Ronny Cedeno – The best fielder in the group. His bat is nothing special but his glove makes it unlikely that he will be cut.
Omar Quintanilla – Seemingly the most fungible in the group, Quintanilla held his own at shortstop in a brief trial and offers more offensive upside than Cedeno. Extremely likely to be claimed if exposed to other teams.
Justin Turner – Willing to play anywhere and a useful RHB off the bench. Can be optioned to the minors and not exposed to other teams.
Jordany Valdespin – A fan favorite who can also play the OF. Valdespin can be sent to the minors without being exposed to other clubs.
Hopefully, Sandy Alderson is working the phones to see if any of these four have trade value. Barring a last-minute deal, it appears Valdespin will be sent to the minors when Bay returns. While his ability to play the outfield is a definite plus, Valdespin needs regular at-bats and it does not do him any good to get a couple per week when he needs 20.
The real crunch will happen with the next transaction, when the Mets need to add a pitcher and drop a hitter. One could make a case for keeping (or dropping) any of the remaining three backups. It will be curious to see if Alderson thinks Turner’s bat outweighs his available option. Others might question if cutting Cedeno, a free agent acquisition, would truly have any effect on future low-cost free agent pickups.
Quintanilla is a lefty hitter, which in nearly any other organization would be a huge plus. However, the 2012 Mets are too lefty-heavy. But that doesn’t mean he should be the easy choice to go. It is never a good idea to squander assets and a guy who can play either middle infield position, hit a little and bat lefty is at the very least a trade chit.
Cedeno has done everything he was asked to do when signed with the club. He has provided major league quality defense while backing up the two middle infield positions. He’s also been very effective versus LHP, with an .852 OPS in 38 PA. Compare that to Turner, who has a .606 OPS versus southpaws this season.
Turner has been very good as a pinch-hitter, with a .348/.385/.435 line in 26 PA. Once again he has been outstanding coming through with runners on base. This year Turner has come to bat with 66 runners on base and he has driven in 14 of them, for a 21.2 OBI%. By contrast, Cedeno has come up with 48 runners on base, drove in seven for a 14.6 OBI%.
Would you rather have Turner pinch-hitting or Cedeno playing? Turner’s available option makes the decision for me.
This brings us to Baxter. If there is anyone who should not lose his job over injury, it should be the guy who willingly crashes into a wall to preserve the first no-hitter in franchise history. The fact that he had a .915 OPS and was 8-18 as a pinch-hitter makes the decision even easier. Meanwhile, Andres Torres is finally showing signs of life while Kirk Nieuwenhuis is fading.
Nieuwenhuis has a .642 OPS over his last 164 PA with a 31.1 K% in that span. Since June 16th, he’s come to the plate 60 times and 26 of those have ended in a strikeout (43.3 K%). And the sobering thing is that he has very few (none?) PA versus southpaws in that stretch.
While the infield decision is hard, this one is rather easy. Nieuwenhuis needs to go to the minors and work on making better contact, as well as getting a chance to hit versus LHP.
So, the Mets add Bay, a pitcher and Baxter over the next week or so and send Nieuwenhuis, Turner and Valdespin to the minors. Now they just have to call up the right pitcher and keep Bay on a short leash. Scott Hairston should not lose time to Bay and if anyone should platoon against RHP it should be the guy batting .222 in his last 387 ABs versus righties. Bay has 9 HR in those 387 ABs while Hairston has the same number in 246 fewer at-bats (9 HR, 141 ABs against RHP) while a member of the Mets.