Barring any last minute moves by our nimble general manager, the Mets roster appears ready to go ahead of tomorrow’s first spring training game. All but the last spot on the bench and two spots in the bullpen are pretty locked up, but injuries always happen in spring training as we were reminded waiting on the MRI results on Jed Lowrie‘s balky knee (thankfully, it’s not serious). Opening day is just 34 days away. As if that’s not exciting enough, the likely pitching match-up will be Jacob deGrom vs. Max Scherzer. Stop squealing.
Following is what the roster could look like on March 28. Bold names are virtual locks. The remaining few are best guesses. A “*” indicates a player not currently on the 40-man roster.
No mystery here. Wheeler and Matz might switch places but splitting up the two lefties makes good sense. Vargas or Matz can be easily replaced by Seth Lugo if either struggles or gets injured. The key to this team’s success, more than anything else, is keeping the big three healthy. If we get 99 starts out of that trio, we’re going to the playoffs.
- Brandon Nimmo – CF
- Jed Lowrie – 3B
- Robinson Cano – 2B
- Wilson Ramos – C
- Michael Conforto – RF
- Todd Frazier – 1B
- Jeff McNeil – LF
- Amed Rosario – SS
Nice balance of lefties and righties. Some good on-base guys at the top and a lot of professional hitters. Not a ton of speed and, unless a certain rookie comes on strong, there’s no 40- home run bat. This should be a good enough lineup. The order might vary, but these will likely be the eight names we’ll see in the early season lineup, at least versus right-handed pitchers. The only question is if McNeil proves he can play the outfield. If that experiment doesn’t pan out, we could see Juan Lagares in center field on opening day. He could wind up in a quasi-platoon, playing center field against lefties, pushing one of the three lefty hitters to the bench. First baseman of the future Peter Alonso* will likely crack this lineup two or three weeks into the season. If everyone’s healthy (haha) that could push Frazier to the bench or to third base, making Lowrie a super utility player who rotates around the infield. If Alonso gets off to a strong enough start, Frazier, in the last year of his contract, could become trade bait.
The bench will look a lot more formidable when Alonso joins the team and pushes Frazier to the bench. A midsummer Cespedes return could put McNeil there as well. d’Arnaud and Lagares are guaranteed opening day roster spots as much due to their inflated salaries as their lack of minor league options. Broxton will most certainly make the team but he’ll either need to outhit Lagares or wait for an injury to see playing time. Davis is out of options and can play four positions so he’s a pretty safe bet to make the team. The last bench spot is a tough call. With versatile guys like Davis, Lowrie and McNeil on the roster, the Mets have the luxury of going with a four-man bench when needed, but they’ll likely go with five to start the season and the likely pick is an infielder.
The Mets have a ton of experienced infield options in camp, including Dominic Smith, T.J . Rivera, Adeiny Hechavarria*, Danny Espinosa*, Luis Guillorme, Dilson Herrera*, and Gavin Cecchini*. The last four names really don’t have a realistic shot to make the big league club, but will be available for promotion from AAA when injuries hit. If Smith has a strong spring, he could be kept on the roster to platoon with Frazier at first base. Smith has options remaining but could also be trade bait. Rivera, as you may recall from two seasons ago, can hit and play three positions. If the team is comfortable with the idea of Lowrie playing shortstop in a pinch, Rivera could be the pick. If it’s Smith, then either Lowrie or McNeil would have to serve as Cano’s backup. Hechavarria is the best shortstop option but the Mets may resist putting him on the roster right away as his contract calls for $3 million if he makes the team. A strong case can be made for Smith, Rivera or Hechavarria, but if Smith has a good spring, he could continue to platoon with Alonso to ease him in. This could also be a way to showcase him for a potential trade.
In case one of the outfielders gets injured, seasoned veterans Rajai Davis* and Gregor Blanco* are in camp and likely to start the season in AAA as insurance. Tim Tebow* and Rymer Liriano* will be there as well.
Also starting the season in AAA will be our reserve catchers Devin Mesoraco* and Tomas Nido. Given the injury histories of the two guys ahead of them on the depth chart, it’s safe to say we’ll be seeing at least one of them at Citi Field before long.
The top five is a nice looking group. Hard to remember having a back end looking that strong. The late innings are going to be a lot more fun to watch this season. There’s a lot of competition for those last two spots. Luis Avillan* and Daniel Zamora may compete to be the second lefty if the front office deems that necessary. If not, there’s no shortage of hard throwing righties to vie for a spot. The long list includes Jacob Rhame, Drew Smith, Tyler Bashlor, Drew Gagnon, Franklin Kilome, Eric Hanhold and, oh yeah, Paul Sewald. The last spot may be reserved for a long-man/spot starter. While there are other options here like Hector Santiago*, Corey Oswalt, Chris Flexen, Walker Lockett and David Peterson*, Dowdy has a leg up on the competition as a Rule 5 pick up who can’t be sent down to the minors. Many of those other names will begin the season in AAA Syracuse but will see time on the big league roster as tired and injured arms need replacing. Having our AAA affiliate in the same time zone will make the bullpen shuttle more efficient.
There’s no telling when Cespedes will return, but it’s safe to say we won’t see him until at least July. As for how his reemergence might impact the roster, that’s a nice problem to have and a topic for another day. Meanwhile, expect him to get moved off the active roster to the 60-day injured list to create some roster flexibility. Hopefully, Cespedes doesn’t find too much company on that list.
A lot can happen in the next 34 days. Injuries, free agent signings, trades, and, of course, spring training competition. It will be fun to see how this shakes out and it all starts tomorrow down in sunny Florida.