With just 17 days to go until opening day, the Mets coaching staff and front office are busy making their final judgments before finalizing the 25-man roster for opening day. For the first time in years, Port St. Lucie has seen very little competition. The starting lineup and rotation are virtually set in stone, unless there is an injury between now and April 3. The bench and bullpen are another matter.
Recent reports indicate that shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera will be healthy and ready to go come April 3. If that’s indeed the case, the opening day lineup will likely look like this:
They’ll be facing a righty on opening day as Kansas City’s two best returning starters are Yordano Ventura and Edinson Volquez. In games against lefty starters, Juan Lagares and Wilmer Flores will likely sub in – Lagares for either Conforto or Granderson, with Cespedes shifting to left field, and Flores for either Walker or Cabrera. Flores will also see plenty of time filling in for Wright, but not against lefties, unless the captain is injured. Both Flores and Lagares will see pinch hitting duty and Lagares will also see some time as a late-inning defensive replacement. They’ll be the two most used players off the bench, but which three join them is still being worked out.
Kevin Plawecki is the second best catcher in the organization, but there have been discussions about letting him start the year in AAA Las Vegas to get regular playing time. If that’s the case, Johnny Monell, who is in camp but not currently on the 40-man roster, could begin the season as d’Arnaud’s backup. The Mets have reportedly also been talking to other teams about trading for a veteran backstop.
As of right now, Alejandro De Aza is slated to enter the season as the fifth outfielder and the lone lefty off the bench. He can play all three outfield positions, though not particularly well in center, provides a decent bat and slightly better than average speed on the bases. This would make for a good fit if he weren’t set to earn $5.7 million for the season. For that reason, the Mets are open to trading him, but finding a taker at that salary won’t be easy, so figure on De Aza opening the season on the Mets’ roster.
The last spot on the bench, reserved for another backup infielder, is now wide open as the six-year Mets veteran Ruben Tejada was released. The obvious in-house candidates include Matt Reynolds, primarily a shortstop, and Eric Campbell, a versatile position player who struggled at the plate last season. Reynolds also struggled with his hitting last season, but in AAA. Either player is fine in limited duty, but if there’s an injury early in the season, the Mets might be forced to make a trade. Later in the season, shortstop prospect Gavin Cecchini might be ready for his first trip to the show.
The safe bet is that the opening day bench will look like this:
IF Wilmer Flores
OF Juan Lagares
C Johnny Monell
OF Alejandro De Aza
IF Matt Reynolds
The starting rotation was set in late 2015 when Bartolo Colon resigned to fill in the fifth spot until July when Zack Wheeler is expected to rejoin the team. Matt Harvey has officially gotten the nod for opening day and Jacob deGrom, whose wife is due with a baby while the team is in Kansas City to open the season, will likely be held back until at least the third game. No surprises here:
The backend of the bullpen is equally set in stone with Jeurys Familia returning as closer. His primary setup men will be Addison Reed and Antonio Bastardo with Hansel Robles returning to middle relief and Jerry Blevins as the requisite LOOGY. That leaves two open spots, one for another middle reliever and one for a long man. Logan Verrett, more suited to starting, has options remaining and will likely begin the season in Las Vegas. However, if a starter gets injured, he’ll likely be the first call up. Lefty Sean Gilmartin who can pitch multiple innings in relief or give us a solid five as a starter, should get the nod as the long man.
The last spot is pretty much down to the righties, Erik Goeddel, who had a solid season last year with the Mets, and the former Milwaukee closer turned comeback candidate Jim Henderson. Goeddel proved himself a reliable middle inning option, but he’s been nursing a lat injury. Henderson has looked good so far and has seemingly rediscovered his fastball. This may be the toughest call. If Goeddel is healthy, Henderson can be sent to Las Vegas, if he accepts, as he is on a minor league contract. Here’s what the opening day bullpen may look like:
RHP Jeurys Familia
RHP Addison Reed
LHP Antonio Bastardo
RHP Hansel Robles
LHP Jerry Blevins
RHP Erik Goeddel
LHP Sean Gilmartin
The roster will be fluid and not just because of injuries. Goeddel and Gilmartin could easily trade places with Verrett and Henderson should they struggle early on. The same is true for Reynolds, Campbell and Monell. The good news is that the core 20 players are set and we’re just talking about secondary backups. The bad news is that some of these secondary backups are marginal players who are just an injury away from being pushed into a role they may be ill-equipped to handle.