With a week before the start of the regular season, the Mets apparently have three spots on their Opening Day roster up for grabs. There are two reliever openings and one bench spot available. The good news is that there are several good options for the back of the bullpen. The not-so-hot news is that there’s really not a fantastic choice for the final bench bat.

The Mets’ bullpen last year was a train wreck. The injury to Edwin Diaz gets the most press but before dealing David Robertson, Buck Showalter did a very good job of balancing his three good relievers. The loss of Diaz didn’t really hurt in the ninth inning. Instead, it was the earlier innings where the Mets felt the loss, as pitchers had to move up to fill in the slack for their missing closer.

The real issue with the bullpen was the decision by the former GM to hoard relievers with options, rather than ones with talent. It was a defensible strategy for a low-budget team but one that was just crazy for a team that spent as much money as the 2023 Mets. And while the strategy didn’t make sense, it turned out worse than anyone could have expected, as not one of the players considered as an option reliever turned in even a half-decent season.

David Stearns did a much better job assembling bodies for the 2024 pen. Now the issue is who makes the team and which relievers out of options get exposed to waivers. It’s a good problem to have. Right away we heard that six spots were filled. And that seemed a touch questionable to me, as the MLB results for Jorge Lopez and Drew Smith were nothing about which to get excited.

But both of those guys have had strong camps, so even if they were on the bubble, they likely would have gone north with the club. By now you probably know the names of the players with the best shots of making the club.

Phil Bickford
Yohan Ramirez
Sean Reid-Foley
Michael Tonkin

All four of these guys will have to be exposed to waivers if they don’t make the 26-man roster. The other wild card is that Reid-Foley is nursing an injury. Ordinarily, you might think the Mets would put him on the IL but after what happened with the last GM, they’ll probably be very hesitant to do that with anyone who’s not seriously hurt.

My opinion is that the best pitcher of the bunch is Ramirez. If the choice was up to me, it would be Ramirez and Reid-Foley. But as Stearns was the one who picked up Tonkin, he might get the call. Bickford impresses with his bulldog attitude on the mound. But in my mind, he’s running fourth in this competition.

My hope is that the two players who lose out in this competition remain in the Mets’ organization. But even if both are picked up by other teams, the Mets will still have several decent relief options hanging around in Syracuse. Among others, there will be Shintaro Fujinami, Grant Hartwig and Nate Lavender. Bottom line, the 2024 pen should be significantly better than the 2023 version.

Which brings us to the last bench bat.

DJ Stewart came to camp as the prohibitive favorite based on what he did in the majors after the All-Star break last year. But Stewart ended 2023 with a power outage, one that has continued this year in Grapefruit League games. After Wednesday’s 0-3 with a walk, Stewart now has 1 XBH in 40 PA, following up on his 1 XBH in his final 54 PA of ’23. While Stewart is willing to play the OF, his value comes from his bat, specifically his power.

The question the Mets have to ask themselves is how much value do they place on having five outfielders on the roster. Stearns has made a point of improving the defense and will he be open to carrying a guy who was a negative fielder by every advanced metric, in the hope for power off the bench? UZR had the worst numbers for Stewart, with a (-6.2) in 362 innings, which translates to a (-21.6) in UZR/150. While the other systems were only about one-third as bad, that’s, well, still bad.

Confounding the issue is that the Mets have questions about two of their three presumptive starters in the outfield. Harrison Bader has had injury problems. And there’s a serious question if he can hit RHP. Meanwhile, Starling Marte typically misses a month every year, was horrible in ’23 and has had no results here in Florida. In a perfect world, the Mets would carry five outfielders.

The other two challengers to Stewart’s roster spot are infielders. Ji Man Choi is a 1B/DH who was terrible last year. But he offers the promise of power, three times reaching double digits in homers, including a career-best 19 in 2019. He’s been a bit better than Stewart this Spring but that’s damning with faint praise. Choi has a .679 OPS in 37 PA.

The other contender is Zack Short, who’s capable of playing just about anywhere. But the Mets already have that with Joey Wendle. Unlike Wendle, Short has never really hit in the majors. Yet he’s having the best offensive season of the three guys vying for the final spot, with a 115 wRC+, thanks to a .281 AVG and a .395 OBP.

Stewart has an option remaining. Choi signed a minor league deal but has an opt out. Short is out of options. My guess is that Stewart gets sent to the minors but it’s a coin flip who gets the final spot. We’ll get to see what Stearns values more – Choi’s power potential or Short’s defense and position versatility. Gun to my head, Short gets my vote but they’ll be no complaining if it’s Choi, instead.

18 comments on “Who gets the last three spots on the Mets’ Opening Day roster?

  • Steve_S.

    They have Taylor for the OF and McNeil as an emergency OFer if needed, with Wendle playing 2B. Or Thompson or Kohlwey could get called up. So my guess is that Choi is kept, with Stewart going down to Syracuse.

    The back-end of the bullpen is a tough call, but I will guess that Ramirez and Reid-Foley make it.

    • Metstabolism

      Like him or not, I think Gamel is in between Thompson on the depth chart. Frankly, I don’t like any of the three, and wonder if the Mets can’t get someone from the scrap heap who is better than any of those guys.

  • Dan Capwell

    As far as the bullpen goes, can someone please explain to me why Drew Smith is a lock? Haven’t we seen enough of his failures to know what they have in him? IMHO Ramirez, R-F, and Tonkin are all better options.

    The bench after Taylor is worrisome. Narvaez is an even worse version of Rene Rivera, than Rivera was; Wendle looks washed up; Stewart and Choi are the same player, and neither is any good. Voight looks like a guy who should be playing in a beer league. If I’m Stearns, I’d be scouring the waiver wire this weekend to see if any available options arise.

    • Metstabolism

      Drew Smith’s service time means he cannot be optioned. If you want them to waive him as opposed to waiving someone else, that seems unlikely. The fact that they never optioned him last year when they could strongly suggests that someone (My guess is Hefner) likes him.

  • NYM6986

    Seems despite Stewart’s explosion of hitting in 2023, he unfortunately, carried forward the late season swoon into spring training and there seems to be no reason not to start him at AAA since there is an option available. In a twist on the roster subject, when all those consecutive games are being played in April, who will get sent down, so Jose Butto can join for a start or two?

  • Footballhead

    Marte really should be cut. Will he be the Cano of 2024? The Mets were willing to eat Cano’s remaining contract, they probably will also do the same with Marte. So really, we have an OF of one offensive player (Nimmo). Bader is suppose to be this year’s CF, but he really should be the teams 4th OF and late inning defensive replacement. And unless we see the McNeil of 2022 (or a reasonable facsimile), then he really isn’t an option to be in the OF. Heck, he may be the weak link in the INF.
    Choi & Stewart should also not be on the 26 man roster. Unfortunately, if McNeil does end up in the OF, then probably the Mets carry both Wendle and Short. Oh, if we can only stay at .500 with this bunch, then maybe summer/tradeline promotions and reinfircements may make the second half of the season worth watching. Miami pulled it off with 84 wins last year after all.

    • Brian Joura

      Cutting Marte is an interesting idea, something I hadn’t considered before now.

      The only thing keeping me from completely endorsing this move now is the Mets don’t really have anyone to take his place. They didn’t need Cano in 2019, much less in 2022 when they finally cut him. The Mets need Marte to do a reasonable facsimile of 2022.

      Can he do that? I’d say odds are significantly against it. But I’m not going to crucify the Mets for trying and hoping for a semi-miracle. Check that – I’m not opposed to trying him for 150 PA or so. After that, all bets are off.

      • Metstabolism

        It doesn’t need to be so “cut” and dry. If you cut him after those 150 ABs and Taylor takes over, who is the rest of your OF? Gilbert is extremely unlikely to be ready that quickly. Trayce Thompson and the others are truly scrubs. Wendle has just 18 games in the OF, and none since 2019. Short played there last year, but only 4 times. Is McNeil’s arm fit enough to make a throw from the OF? We don’t know.
        They seem intent on starting Marte. So be it. I don’t think it will be long before Taylor is taking big chunks of playing time away from him until Marte is the 4th OF.

        • Brian Joura

          Marte was 2-12 in the 2022 playoffs for a .397 OPS
          He had a .625 OPS in 341 PA last year
          He has a .346 OPS in 42 PA this Spring

          If he adds 150 more PA of crappy performance – why would you want to keep him? He gets the chance to begin the year in the majors as a starter because there’s nothing much in the system. But if he’s performing like he did last year, he’s just not worth a roster spot. I’d feel better catching lightning in a bottle from Gilbert or one of the Quad A guys or a waiver pick up. Yeah, he’s been hurt. He’s also 35 so it’s not like he’s going to magically get healthy and stay healthy.

          My hope is he rakes and makes this a moot point. But it’s foolish to pretend that he’s guaranteed to bounce back to levels he displayed in his prime. At some point, there comes a time when the fork sticking out of the back is too big to ignore. There’s an extensive list in MLB history of guys who were injured in their early-to-mid 30s and never made it back.

          We’ve seen this movie with Jason Bay. And Michael Cuddyer. And Carlos Gomez. And Yoenis Cespedes. It’s just tough to come back at an advanced baseball age from injury.

  • Woodrow

    Maybe a waive pickup or a trade for that fifth OFer.

  • Metsense

    The Mets needs are of another outfielder. Bader doesn’t hit RHP and Marte isn’t hitting all pitching . Stewart also is not hitting so he should be optioned to Syracuse . The internal option is to have Taylor the 4th outfielder and McNeil play the 5th outfielder. Short had a good spring. He can play second base and is versatile on infield positions. He should be rewarded.
    Tonkin is a successful multiple inning reliever which would be saving be bullpen in the course of the season.
    Ramirez because his health isn’t questionable.

  • Metstabolism

    Stewart really has played his way out of consideration. Choi is no hero. But standard operating procedure says we go with him first and option Stewart. If Choi flops, they can always call someone back up, be it Stewart or someone else who emerges.

    The fact that Wendle is on a major league contract really annoys me and works to the Mets detriment here. I’d rather see them keep Short, but I don’t think they will. The argument that Short has never hit in the majors is nulled by the fact that Wendle has not hit since mid-2021 and his OPS was 80 points lower than Short last year. Short is 28/29 and still in his prime, and his career/performance trajectory is still rising, while Wendle is 33 and in a hard nose-dive. Maybe last year was the one and only career year of a quad-A player and Short regresses. Or maybe he hasn’t hit that ceiling yet, and/or has a career year ahead of him. I’m willing to take the gamble. Anthony Di Como reports that the Mets scouts like Short, and so do other teams’ scouts. Does that make Stearns more interested in keeping Short? Or does Stearns waive Short in hopes of extracting something in a waiver-wire trade?
    Also worth considering is that Short’s .691 OPS against lefties last year was 50 points higher than any Mets 3B candidate from either side of the plate. While its not the standard we’re looking for, it could make for an adequate platoon pairing with Baty, if Baty can at least hit RHers.
    If the Mets had six weeks to tinker with this, I can see scenario in which Choi starts the season and plays his way out of the job, and Vientos’ 3B defense, while improved, still shows as sub-par. All of which leads them to use Vientos as the full-time DH, and Short platooning at 3rd with Baty.
    Going off of the premise that Stearns wants to keep Wendle, I would keep Short, option Stewart, and cut Choi.

    The bullpen is just a crapshoot. It’d be splitting hairs to say that any of the candidates is better enough than the others to win – and hold – the jobs. As the season goes on, there will be times when the bullpen is worn out and a fresh arm or two is brought up from the minors. Since the Mets’ relievers are all out of options, whoever wins the jobs now stand a pretty good chance of losing it again.

  • T.J.

    Whoever had J D Martinez with a final roster spot is a winner.

  • NYM6986

    Great signing. Mets needed another serious HR bat in the lineup.

    • Steve_S.

      Agree! So will Vientos be on the bench or sent to Syracuse? Then who gets the last bench spot? I like Iglesias!

      • Metstabolism

        Iglesias is truly a wizard in the field. Its a pleasure to watch him there.
        But the reality is that Iglesias, Wendle, and Short are all marginal hitters who are all likely to be unsuccessful in the big league. Picking one over the other is really just guesswork at this point. Or at best, splitting hairs.
        But Iglesias has a minor league deal. He can be sent there without any consequence. Wendle and Short would need to be waived to make room for him.

  • Metstabolism

    No shocker here but RotoWire reports that the Mets have officially informed Luke Voight that he will not be making the opening day roster. No mention of whether he will exercise his opt out.

    • Metstabolism

      Addendum: Iglesias and Nido will also not make the roster. Fujinami has been optioned.

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