The perception among many is that Terry Collins prefers to play his veterans as much as possible. However, we don’t know if that’s because of a veteran fetish or if in the past five years he’s had so much uncertainty throughout the lineup that anyone who was healthy and halfway good, and yes, of course, a veteran, was going to play. It’s an important difference to the guys who make up the 2016 bench, as all have experience, are not on the downside of their careers and are not going to be happy with a few pinch-hitting appearances and a once-a-month start.
Let’s go back and look at the non-catcher position players for the Mets since Collins came aboard in 2011. We’ll establish which guys were expected to play a lot and see if they did play as much as hoped and if not, why they fell short. The Opening Day lineup will be our jumping off point.
Opening Day – Ike Davis, Brad Emaus, David Wright, Jose Reyes, Willie Harris, Angel Pagan, Carlos Beltran
Expected to play 130+ – Davis, Wright, Pagan
Fingers Crossed – Reyes, Beltran, Jason Bay
Up in the air – 2B
Results – Davis got off to a great start and then got hurt, 2B was a revolving door all year, Wright missed 2+ months with a stress fracture in his back, Reyes was dogged by hamstring injuries, Bay started the year on the DL, Pagan came down with a rib injury, Beltran was traded.
Recap – Davis, Wright, Reyes, Bay, Pagan and Beltran essentially played full-time when they were healthy. But five of them saw DL time and the sixth was traded.
Opening Day – Davis, Daniel Murphy, Wright, Ruben Tejada, Bay, Andres Torres, Lucas Duda
Expected to play 130+ – Davis, Tejada, Torres, Duda
Fingers Crossed – Murphy, Wright, Bay
Results – Davis, Murphy and Wright all played 156 games and Torres played 132. Tejada had an injured quad and Bay had another rib injury. Duda was sent to the minors for poor play.
Recap – Nowhere near the injury problems as the previous year and we can see the veterans played, even Davis who might have been the worst player in the majors the first two months or so of the season.
Opening Day – Davis, Murphy, Wright, Tejada, Duda, Collin Cowgill, Marlon Byrd
Expected to play 130+ – Davis, Murphy, Wright, Tejada
Fingers Crossed – Duda, Cowgill, Byrd
Results – Murphy was the only one to play full-time and he appeared in 161 games. Davis stunk again and went to the minors. Wright was sidelined with a hamstring injury, Tejada showed up to camp out of shape, didn’t play well and was sent to the minors, Duda also was sent to Triple-A and Cowgill barely got a shot. Byrd played well and was on pace to play 130+ but was traded.
Recap – No one anticipated three guys going to the minors. Davis, Wright and Byrd all played a lot when eligible.
Opening Day – Davis, Eric Young, Wright, Tejada, Andrew Brown, Juan Lagares, Curtis Granderson
Expected to play 130+ – Murphy, Granderson
Fingers Crossed – Wright, Tejada, Lagares
Revolving Door – 1B, LF
Results – Duda and Granderson both topped 150 games, Murphy had 143 and Wright played 134. Tejada didn’t play particularly well and was replaced down the stretch by Wilmer Flores. Left field was a revolving door with no one playing more than 73 games there. Lagares went on the DL in April with a pulled hamstring and again in June with a strained muscle on his right side. And to top it off, his season ended early with an elbow injury.
Recap – Four guys played a lot and a fifth one would have if he wasn’t constantly injured. First base was a question mark coming into the year but Duda took over and played virtually every day. Left field and shortstop were the big problems, with injury and poor performance both playing roles.
Opening Day – Duda, Murphy, Wright, Flores, Cuddyer, Lagares, Granderson
Expected to play 130+ – Duda, Murphy, Lagares, Granderson
Fingers Crossed – Wright, Flores, Cuddyer
Results – Granderson played 157 games and Lagares saw action in 143. Duda, Murphy and Flores all topped 130 games. Wright missed most of the year with back trouble. Cuddyer was sidelined with a sore knee and was largely ineffective when he played.
Recap – Wright played the rare times he was healthy and Cuddyer played more than he should have.
So, what does that mean in 2016 for Flores, Tejada, Lagares and Alejandro De Aza? Let’s break it down by position:
1B – Duda missed some time last year with an injury but since returning from the minors in late August of 2013, he’s played nearly every day when healthy.
2B – There’s good reason to platoon newcomer Neil Walker but the Mets have given no indication that’s on the table. Walker played 151 games last year and has not played fewer than 129 the past five seasons.
3B – Wright’s the most likely one to land on the DL. Yet, Collins has played him extensively whenever he could. If he manages to stay healthy, do you think he’ll get regular days off after April? Beltran in 2011 had huge injury concerns but after April, Collins rarely gave him a day off until he was traded.
SS – In the past five years, Asdrubal Cabrera has not played fewer than 136 games in a season.
LF – There’s talk that Michael Conforto is not assured of a full-time job. This would be crazy talk for most teams but Conforto only has 56 games in the majors so we should not rule it out.
CF – Yoenis Cespedes will play if he’s healthy
RF – Granderson has played 155 and 157 games the past two years for Collins.
It makes sense for Lagares to get some playing time spotting Granderson or Conforto versus LHP and also to be a late-inning defensive replacement. Barring injury, De Aza seems destined for pinch-hitting duty and a handful of starts.
The infield is a little harder to predict. There’s talk about Flores being the primary backup at all four positions. My take is that Tejada will get the majority of games at shortstop that Cabrera does not start. At second base, it could be that Flores and Tejada will split the reserve time, based on who needs playing time and/or who happens to be hot.
Another wildcard is that both catchers are expected to see time at other positions during Spring Training. The most likely spot would be first base. If either player seems adept at the position, they could get playing time there during the regular season. Which means that Flores’ best shot at playing time may indeed be third base.
Finally, let’s look at the playing time for Baseball-Reference’s top two non-catcher reserves since Collins took over:
2015: Tejada 407 PA, Cespedes 249 PA
2014: Chris Young 287 PA, Flores 274 PA
2013: Duda 384 PA, Tejada 227
2012: Hairston 398 PA, Nieuwenhuis 314 PA
2011: Tejada 376 PA, Duda 347 PA
Barring injury, Flores and Lagares seem likely to be the top two reserves but it’s up for debate which one would get more playing time. In three of the past five years, the second reserve saw fewer than 300 PA.
The Mets have veterans at six of the seven non-catcher positions and the non-veteran Conforto may be their second-best offensive player. Six of the seven starters come into the year without an injury red flag and the one guy who is a question mark has played previously with a broken bone in his back. On the surface, there does not seem to be a ton of playing time for the reserves. But we all know injuries happen, especially to the Mets.