Previewing Mets position battles
Every Major League team has a few position battles in Spring Training, and the Mets are no exception. We’ll have plenty more on these over the next few weeks on Mets.com, but for now, a quick look at what to watch for come spring:
For the first time in 13 seasons, Beltran will walk into camp without a firm grip on the starting center field job. Missing the majority of last season with right knee issues, Beltran watched as his countryman stepped in and established himself as a legitimate everyday center fielder. Upon Beltran’s return, Pagan shifted to right — but there was no doubt that he remained the better player both at the plate and in the field.
Another offseason of rehabilitation should have Beltran and his knee in better shape come spring. But at 33 years old, can he still be an elite defensive center fielder? The Mets may be better served putting Pagan in center, considering the impressive quickness and glovework he displayed last season. But Beltran’s value would be higher at his natural position, so if the Mets really do intend to trade him before his seven-year contract expires after the season, they may give Beltran the outfield edge.
All that’s clear right now is that whoever loses this battle will start in right field. And whoever wins will be entrenched in center regardless of injuries, slumps and overall results.
2. SECOND BASE
The contenders: Luis Castillo, Brad Emaus, Daniel Murphy
The edge: Emaus
For the sake of this exercise, we’ll ignore Justin Turner, Luis Hernandez and Chin-lung Hu, all of whom are effectively competing for bench spots. The real battle here is between Murphy, who has spent much of the last year attempting to prove his defensive prowess at second base, and Emaus, a Rule 5 pick from the Blue Jays. Emaus’ Rule 5 status gives him an early edge in this battle because if he does not make the team, the Mets would need to offer him back to the Jays for $25,000. In addition, Emaus would provide a right-handed bat at the bottom of a lineup that already includes lefties Ike Davis and Josh Thole. And his presence at second would allow the Mets to keep Murphy stashed on the bench, where he could serve as a sort of super-sub at first base, second, third and left field.
That’s a pretty significant edge for Murphy to overcome. But the Mets remain hopeful regarding Murphy’s offensive ceiling. If he outperforms Emaus with the bat in Spring Training, the job could (and should) be his.
As for Castillo, there’s really only one scenario in which he makes the team: he rakes in Spring Training while the other two falter. Otherwise, the Mets know, they’d be better served to cut him and the $6 million remaining on his contract.
The contenders: Taylor Tankersley, Taylor Buchholz, Ryota Igarashi, Pedro Beato, Manny Acosta, Pat Misch, Oliver Perez
The edge: Tankersley, Buchholz, Beato, Acosta
Of what appears to be a total of seven spots in the bullpen, only Francisco Rodriguez, Bobby Parnell and D.J. Carrasco will head into camp with guaranteed roles. Tankersley, the strongest lefty candidate, is on a non-guaranteed Minor League deal but should make the team. Buchholz, barring a poor spring performance, should as well.
That leaves two spots for Beato, Acosta, Igarashi, Misch and Perez — and it’s truly impossible to handicap this battle without seeing them perform on spring. On paper, Beato has an edge due to his Rule 5 status. Igarashi is owed $1.75 million this season, providing the Mets with some incentive to give him innings. But he has also cleared waivers and was outrighted to Triple-A Buffalo, meaning the Mets won’t risk losing him if he doesn’t make the team.
The Mets like — but don’t love — Acosta as a middle-innings guy, so they’re pleased he missed the arbitration cutoff by a relatively slim margin. But that won’t guarantee him a job — he’ll have to earn it. Misch will make the team only if manager Terry Collins deems it necessary to keep a long man. And Perez? Not likely.
It’s possible also that a Minor Leaguer could surprise in Spring Training and make the team. But right now, with a little less than a month to go before pitchers and catchers report to Port St. Lucie, Beato and Acosta appear to be the early favorites to round out the bullpen.
—–Follow along on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo.