Mets MLB.com beat writer Anthony DiComo, on his Mets Cetera blog, has up a projected Opening Day roster. DiComo notes, “this is an exercise in futility: we will only consider players who are currently under team control, even though the Mets are likely to add at least one starting pitcher, reliever and perhaps outfielder before Opening Day.”
If you understand the restraints, it’s not futile at all. Let’s examine his list, specifically his bench. DiComo’s reserves are: Andrew Brown, Collin Cowgill, Brandon Hicks, Anthony Recker and Justin Turner. Conspicuous by his absence is Jordany Valdespin.
Now, I am not a Valdespin fan. I did not include him in my 2012 Top Prospects list and I advocated trading him in the middle of his pinch-hitting exploits last year. My belief is that his OBP and so-so defense will prevent him from ever being a useful MLB regular.
But there’s a difference between useful MLB regular and useful bench player. Valdepin has his weaknesses but he also has strengths. He can play in both the infield and outfield, he has some power and he has some speed. And we know he is not going to crumble in big moments with the game on the line. Would you want any of the five guys listed by DiComo above at the plate in the ninth inning with a team’s closer in the game more than you would want Valdespin?
As righty-hitting outfielders likely in a platoon role with the proposed starters, Brown and Cowgill deserve spots in this exercise. And Recker makes it as the backup catcher. So it comes down to battling Hicks and Turner for a backup infielder spot. Let’s focus on those two and Valdespin.
Pros – Can play all four infield positions, hit 36 HR the past two years in Triple-A
Cons – Has a .493 lifetime OPS in the majors and was released by the A’s last season
Pros – Had a terrific hot streak when first called up in 2011, has a solid 15.72 OBI% (RBI man!)
Cons – Lousy defensive player; BB% just as bad as Valdespin’s last year
Pros – Would be only lefty on bench, .893 OPS as pinch-hitter last year
Cons – Attitude questions, defense not a strength
There are those that suggest that Valdespin would be better off in Triple-A playing every day. Perhaps that’s still true, but my belief is that Valdespin already is what he’s going to be – a useful bench player. So, we should evaluate him on that basis. Are his combination of strengths and weaknesses as a bench player more of a net plus than Hicks or Turner?
It remains to be seen what the Mets have in Hicks. It’s hard to look at his minor league numbers and not be intrigued. Yet the team that had him and saw him up close and personal decided to release him. Now, that’s not the final word by any means but it has to count for something.
Hicks should be one of the guys to get the most playing time in Spring Training. The Mets have to see for themselves what they have and how much he can help. Can he be a solid defensive middle infielder? Can he do better at the infield corners than Turner? And can he produce better with the bat than what he has done so far in his 98 PA in the majors?
In my mind, among these three players, it should be Hicks and Turner battling for the other backup infielder spot along with Valdespin. While he is exposed as an everyday player, Valdespin fits in nicely as a backup. You need a HR off the bench/? He can do that. You need a SB from a PR? He can get you one. You need to make a defensive switch and move an OF to the bench? He can fake it out there, just like he can at 2B and SS.
Valdespin offers a package greater in its breadth than either Hicks or Turner. While he does not have any one skill that would stamp him as a starter, his ability to contribute in multiple ways is an ideal thing for a five-man bench. To me the big question with Valdespin is if he can be happy in a role where he maxes out at 200 PA a year. We heard so much about his attitude problems while in the minors – and again this year in Winter Ball – that it needs to be considered.
Of course, when it comes to bench players, we also need to factor Omar Qunitanilla in the discussion, too.