The 25th Man
According to John Delcos, the Mets will be deciding on the final roster at some point today.
With a slew of cuts yesterday — a group that included Ben Johnson and Lino Urdaneta — combined by the Aaron Sele and Joe Smith both being told they’ve made the team, there isn’t much fat left to cut. The heads on the block are Ambiorix Burgos, Chan Ho Park, Jon Adkins, and Lastings Milledge.
Why Milledge is part of the conversation is mind boggling. Yes, he had a fine spring training, but it’s clear that the decision has been made to keep Shawn Green in right field — at least to start the season. All along, Omar Minaya has insisted that Milledge will play every day — if not in the bigs, then in AAA. So putting him on the Opening Day roster goes against that, as he’ll be sitting in the Mets dugout watching Moises Alou and Shawn Green flank Carlos Beltran in the outfield. With veterans Damion Easley and Julio Franco entrenched on the bench, Milledge is the third righthanded bat available as a pinch hitter. And as far as outfield reserves go, it’s hard to imagine Milledge being put into a game for defensive purposes — particularly with the much more capable Endy Chavez and David Newhan available. What would be his purpose in the first two weeks of the season? To pinch run in the unlikely event Julio Franco strokes a pinch base hit?
The most burning question of the last week remains unanswered: who will pick up the slack in the bullpen with Duaner Sanchez out for the season. Burgos, Park, and Adkins are the candidates, and none of the three has risen to the occasion and definitively earned a roster spot. In fact, after Smith, the only reliever who really took the bull by the horns was Urdaneta — but he was sent down yesterday. These three enigmas remain on the roster not because they did so well, but because they haven’t met expectations — and the Mets are giving each every opportunity to reach them.
After throwing 100-MPH bullets in the first week of camp, Burgos has kept everyone waiting. Willie Randolph, Omar Minaya, Mets fans, sportswriters, bloggers — all of us are waiting for Burgos to start blowing away hitters and step right into the setup role left by Sanchez. However, his electric stuff must be unplugged when he gets into game situations, as his battery-powered fastballs have been launched over Florida fences at an alarming rate.
On the other hand, Jon Adkins came into came as a nondescript piece of the deal that brought Ben Johnson and summoned Royce Ring and Heath Bell to San Diego. Adkins was an integral part of a very strong Padre bullpen last year, appearing in 55 games and performing admirably — 3.98 ERA and 1.38 WHIP. Not overwhelming numbers, for sure, but serviceable. At the time of the trade, it looked like a smart deal for the Mets, as he appeared to be a quality Major League arm who could step in and provide depth. Unfortunately, this spring he instead proved to be a quality Major League batting practice pitcher. Every Mets fan who criticized Heath Bell for having a fastball that was too straight, might reconsider their assessment after witnessing Adkins for five weeks of spring training games.
Chan Ho Park arrived in spring training expecting to earn the fifth starter’s spot. He didn’t count on having to actually perform, and as a result, Mike Pelfrey stole the job. To make matters worse, when told his best chance to make the team would be in relief, Park responded selfishly at first — a big no-no on Willie Randolph’s squad. Granted, he quickly did an about-face, but the damage was done. He made it clear he was not happy, and the Mets already have one reliever who wants to be a starter (Aaron Heilman), and don’t need the nuisance of another one — especially one who at this stage in his career is only of borderline ability and should be kissing the ground Omar Minaya walks on for giving him what could be his last legitimate opportunity to latch on to a Major League club.
The question is, which of two of these three arms should go north on Sunday? And you have to bring two, because the audition is not complete. The Mets need to see more meaningful innings from the candidates, and if those innings have to happen in the first two weeks of the regular season then so be it. The only reason Adkins has made it this far is because he is out of options, and would have to pass through waivers before being sent down. It also would hurt Mets’ brass a bit to see Heath Bell make the Padre roster, while both Johnson and Adkins are in AAA. Similarly, Park would have to be released, and there is belief among Mets officials that he has value — both as a spot starter when someone goes down, and as trade bait. Finally, there is the excitement around Burgos’ arm, and the dreaming of his fastballs going by Major League hitters right next to a dancing sugar plum fairy.
If the Mets believe that Rick Peterson can develop Ambiorix Burgos at the big league level as quickly as he built up Jorge Julio last year, then there’s no question about one of the spots. Then the question is Park or Adkins? With Adkins performing so miserably this spring, my guess is that he’d pass through waivers fairly easily and the Mets would be able to retain him in New Orleans. He’s 29 years old, and other than last year, had never shown to be much more than ordinary at the big league level. If Jim Duquette wants to pick him, so be it. That means Park stays with the club to continue his tryout for the next two weeks, at least. The only problem with that scenario is Park’s contract, which stipulates that he make $600,000 if he makes the Opening Day roster. That’s a pretty expensive audition, especially if he continues to allow the long ball when the season starts, and the Mets end up releasing him outright when Pelfrey comes up.
Tough call, from all angles. My gut tells me that Burgos and Milledge will be added to the roster, Adkins will be waived, and Park released. And two months from now, when Guillermo Mota, Juan Padilla and Dave Williams are about to return, Burgos is throwing bullets, and both Lino Urdaneta and Marcos Carvajal are knocking on the door, the attention paid to this decision will seem silly.