Barring any Spring Training trade (ha!) or injury, the Mets’ 2015 Opening Day roster is pretty much set. There’s the usual battles for roster spots 23-25 but hopefully those are among players who have already seen time in the majors last year with the Mets. We all hope that the days of an NRI like Blaine Boyer coming to camp and winning a job with 10 good innings of Grapefruit League results are over.
The biggest battle may be for the team’s fifth outfielder spot, with the likely combatants being Matt den Dekker, Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Cesar Puello. The signing of John Mayberry Jr. likely killed any chance of Puello making the club out of Spring Training, as the team no longer is desperate for a righty bat off the bench. Plus, it doesn’t seem like the organization is exactly enamored with Puello’s play, either. Instead, the biggest question with Puello seems to be if he’ll clear waivers or not.
Which brings us to den Dekker and Nieuwenhuis. The former has a strong defensive reputation and last year overhauled his approach to become an ideal leadoff hitter. The latter also has a solid defensive reputation and last year turned in an impressive .223 ISO. Both have their backers and with Nieuwennhis out of options, it seems an easy call of which one to pick.
But these are the Mets – the team that went long stretches the past few years without a backup shortstop to carry an extra outfielder. Why should the default assumption be that this team, with an excess of outfielders, will look to feature a traditional bench for the start of the season?
It should surprise none of us if the Mets open the year with six outfielders and five infielders and this year it makes sense on both sides of the equation. While it was insane to break camp with no backup shortstop in 2014, especially when news leaked later how management was unhappy with Ruben Tejada, there’s no such problem with going an infielder short in 2015.
First off, the one reserve would be Tejada, who can handle both middle infield spots. The plan appears to be having OF Michael Cuddyer serve as the team’s backup 1B, moving to the position when a tough lefty is on the hill for the opposing team. Daniel Murphy also has plenty of experience at 1B. Both Wilmer Flores and Tejada can play second and Flores and Murphy both have MLB experience at 3B. Shoot, even Cuddyer has stood at the position a few times in the majors.
If the Mets went with a traditional bench, Eric Campbell would be the backup corner infielder. Campbell had virtually no hype this time last year but came on to produce a solid season, with a .680 OPS while playing all over the field. But after a hot start, Campbell was not very impressive. After the All-Star break, he posted a .500 OPS with a 26.8 K% in 97 PA. And while Campbell was a good PH last year, Mayberry was better, with a 1.371 OPS as a PH, including 4 HR.
One other factor to consider is that like den Dekker, Campbell still has multiple options remaining.
If the Mets go with six outfielders, they have Mayberry to be the righty bat/primary PH, den Dekker as the late-inning defensive guy and Nieuwenhuis to give a HR threat from the left side of the plate. It’s possible that the Mayberry signing signals the end of not only Puello’s chances of making the roster, but Campbell’s, too.
The only edge Campbell has is his ability to play some in the infield. But the versatility of four of the five infielders already on the Mets reduces the value of this skill. Campbell’s best chance of making the roster may be a desire of the Mets to see den Dekker get regular playing time. But at age 27, with nearly 2,000 minor league PA already under his belt, do the Mets see den Dekker as someone who still would benefit from this additional seasoning?
It may be that the final bench spot comes down to who has the better Spring between Campbell and den Dekker.