For informed Mets fans this has been a pleasantly surprising off-season. The front office was active, ownership opened the checkbook and the team filled all of its most glaring holes. Now, midway through spring training, the coaches and executives are evaluating talent to finalize what should be a solid 25-man roster entering the season.
Of course, we already know for certain that the team that takes the field on March 29 will not be the same team that trots out of the dugout on May 1, let alone during the dog days of summer and hopefully a pennant race. Michael Conforto will be back. T.J. Rivera will be back. Heck, fingers and toes crossed, David Wright may even be back at some point. Some players who may start the year in AAA will force themselves onto the roster and some who make the initial cut may fall on their faces – literally or figuratively – and get Wally Pipped.
The roster will be fluid all season, probably even more so than in previous years with new skipper Mickey Callaway‘s plan to shuttle relievers back and forth to keep the bullpen fresh. So while it’s a fun exercise to debate who will make the opening day roster, in many ways that’s less important than who makes the 40 man roster. Having quality, Major League ready talent stashed in Las Vegas will give Callaway and his coaching staff the flexibility they need to keep this team firing on all cylinders through injuries, slumps and dead arms.
As it stands now, it looks like we’ll have some valuable players to call upon when needed, including a starting pitcher or two who would make most teams rotations out of spring training and infielders trying to make the leap like Dominic Smith, Gavin Cecchini, and even Luis Guillorme. There will also be a few relievers with upside who we already got to see on the hill last September with varying results. Tomas Nido gives us an important emergency third catcher, as does the veteran Jose Lobaton, who has not been guaranteed a roster spot. The same goes for outfielder Matt den Dekker and pitcher A.J. Griffin.
We snicker when the Mets make signings like that, but they serve as injury insurance. For instance, you begin the season with five outfielders, so if one gets hurt, yes you have backups, but who moves up to take the now open reserve spot. Injuries trickle down and multiple injuries compound like interest.
There’s been a lot of discussion about trading away depth, including Gold Glover Juan Lagares. Given the lack of a clear path to playing time it may be hard to justify Lagares’ salary, but he’s an injury away from starting, not to mention our best defensive outfielder hands down.
If we’re in win now mode, this is the type of foolish penny pinching that could really come back to bite us. Let’s say we trade him. With Conforto beginning the season on the DL, we’d have a starting outfield of injury prone Yoenis Cespedes, not entirely proven Brandon Nimmo, and Jay Bruce. Guess who the fourth outfielder becomes? den Dekker. And beyond that? *Crickets chirping* Kevin Kaczmarski? Zach Borenstein? It’s like that scene in Major League. Yes, Conforto wil be back soon, but he’s coming off a serious shoulder injury and what if Cespedes pulls a hamstring muscle in the April cold?
If a month or two from now Conforto and the rest of the outfielders are healthy and a rival GM calls with a good offer for Lagares, sure it’s worth considering, but right now, dealing him away for the sake of saving money could be a costly mistake. Contending teams don’t put themselves in a precarious position like that. But still, couldn’t we find a cheaper reserve outfielder than Lagares? No. Ready for the tantalizing list of still available free agent outfielders? Jayson Werth, Jose Bautista, Matt Holliday, Seth Smith, Frankilin Gutierrez, Andre Ethier and Melky Cabrera. The last guy mentioned is 33, still pretty good, and wouldn’t dream of signing on to be a fifth outfielder. The other guys could get together and form an old-timers game.
A smarter idea would be to add depth, not strip this team of flexibility and security. Other than Alex Cobb and Greg Holland, the free agency aisle has been picked pretty bare, but there will be DFAs and minor trades coming as teams solidify their rosters. Maybe the Mets could trade from an area of depth to flesh out a thinner area. Surely Hansel Robles‘s power arm or Rafael Montero‘s former prospect status will entice someone to part with a AAAA outfielder. After all, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.