There’s safety in doing things the way every other team does things. Sometimes this is smart percentage baseball at work and other times it’s done for no other reason than to avoid second guessing. How many times did we hear, “Terry Collins made all of the right moves; his players just didn’t execute?” Pay no attention that the alleged right move was brining Robert Carson or someone similar into the game.
Back in the early 70s, most teams carried either nine or 10 pitchers at a time. These days the number is 12 or 13. Are those the ideal numbers? For some teams, sure. It’s highly unlikely that’s the optimum number for all 30 teams, though. Be that as it may, the default assumption is that a team is going to carry 13 hitters and 12 pitchers, with the hitters nearly always breaking down into the following groups: two hitters, six infielders and five outfielders.
Right now the Mets seem to have a glut of infielders while still having nobody you’d really want to see at shortstop if Amed Rosario came up with a sprained ankle and needed four or five days off to recover. A reasonable question to ask right now is if Brodie Van Wagenen will construct his roster in the typical way or will he be willing to rock the boat and do something out of the norm.
Here are the 10 definites:
And here are the contenders for the final three spots:
Because of the time that they missed last season, it seems unlikely that Cecchini and Rivera are serious options to make the Opening Day roster, given the options available. The prudent thing would be to let them get at-bats in Triple-A and let them work back into game-ready condition for the majors. So, let’s look at the rest of them individually.
Alonso would not be in the discussion for an Opening Day assignment with any other team. Instead, they would hold him in the minors for two or three weeks to get the extra year of control. But at the very least, the Mets have talked about not doing that with Alonso. But it’s one thing to give lip service to the idea and another to actually do it.
J.D. Davis seems like a reasonable backup corner infield option. Plus he carries the reputation of being a guy to hit LHP, which is not really a strength of the current team. Unfortunately there’s the issue where he’s hit very well in the Pacific Coast League but not so well in the majors. Could be that’s nothing more than a sample size issue. Or it could be that he’s merely a Quad-A hitter.
Rajai Davis seemed like he had a good chance to make the team when he signed a minor league deal back in December. But his chances took a major hit when the club traded for Broxton. Still, he’s capable of playing all three outfield slots and lifetime his OPS is 100 points higher against LHP, two things that still work in his favor.
Guillorme had the misfortune of being cast as a defensive star and then having to play a lot in the majors at third base, a position he had all of 17 innings of experience. It didn’t go well. But if the club decides to carry a competent backup shortstop, Guillorme is clearly the guy right now. Last year, Mickey Callaway opted to give Rosario multiple days off in a row. Will he do that again in 2019? Guillorme’s case likely depends on that being answered yes.
McNeill is the guy on the contender’s list most likely to make the roster. Still, it’s hard to see where exactly he fits. Do they carry him as the traditional backup middle infielder? Is he part of a platoon at one of the infield corners with Frazier? Is he considered an outfielder now? Or does the club decide it wants him to get regular playing time in the minors? He does have options remaining.
Meanwhile, Nido has the least chance of any of the contenders to make the roster out of Spring Training. His hope, however slight, is that Noah Syndergaard and Ramos don’t click in Spring Training. Nido had great results last year working with Syndergaard. It would be a bold move to break camp with three catchers. We know Sandy Alderson wouldn’t have done it. Is it possibly the bold move that Van Wagenen would consider?
Which brings us to Smith. It seems the last thing the club needs is a lefty-hitting first baseman with unknown power. Or a defensively challenged corner outfielder. On the flip side, is there any advantage of having Smith spend a third summer in Triple-A? He feels like the guy who can win a spot on the roster with a strong Grapefruit League season. If Frazier is the first baseman, do you really need J.D. Davis on the roster?
Assuming no further moves – perhaps not the most-likely scenario – my expectation is that the Mets would come north with both Davises and McNeil. The lineup becomes a question mark, with the only knowns in the infield is that Cano, Lowrie and Rosario play somewhere every day. Maybe it’s those three with some kind of Frazier/McNeil time share. Or maybe J.D. Davis gets in the lineup against southpaws. In the outfield, it’s Conforto and Nimmo in the corners with Broxton and Lagares fighting it out for center field.
If it were up to me, my decision would be to use Spring Training to give McNeil a crash course in the outfield to see if he could be the starting left fielder. His bat seems real to me, one that they should strive to get in the lineup as often as possible. And with the Lowrie signing, that position is clearly in the outfield.
It’s a gamble on multiple fronts. But the upside is what makes the gamble worthwhile to me. And if by mid-May McNeil’s turned back into a pumpkin or proven completely inept in the outfield, it’s easy enough to make a change with all of the depth that Van Wagenen has assembled.
Gambling on McNeil in this role makes it more difficult to gamble on Alonso as a starter in April or to gamble on carrying three catchers. It also makes defensive stability elsewhere more important. So, my other two backups would be Guillorme and Smith, as Smith has the most experience at first base and at least arrived with a good defensive reputation.
One lineup could be:
CF – Nimmo
3B – Lowrie
RF – Conforto
C – Ramos
2B – Cano
1B – Frazier
LF – McNeil
SS – Rosario
Ideally, Ramos isn’t your cleanup hitter. It would be nice if Yoenis Cespedes could come back at some point this year to fill that role. Or maybe Alonso comes in at first base at some point and proves capable of delivering the long ball on a regular basis and can slot there. Plus McNeil seems like a guy you’d like to hit earlier in the lineup, if his 2018 production in both the minors and majors is real. And if Rosario’s hitting the last two months of the season is what he’s ready to deliver, he probably shouldn’t bat eighth. Additionally, should Frazier be hitting that high in the order? His willingness to take a walk might make him the ideal eighth hitter.
The one clear takeaway is that there are a lot of options available to the club right now. Those options include who makes the 25-man roster, who starts where and what the lineup configuration is. Competition is good. Now it’s up to Callaway and Van Wagenen to make decisions based on what will allow the team to win the most games, not feed conventional baseball wisdom or the egos of guys who may not be the player they were three years ago.