Matt Himelfarb Evaluates Mets Final Roster Spots

NOTE: this is a post by Matt Himelfarb; please direct your comments to him.

With Pedro Beato now a lock to make the big league club, Jason Isringhausen, Manny Acosta, and Blaine Boyer are left to fight it out for the final bullpen spot.

The cold, calculating,  pocket-protector-perfectionist in me says the Mets should let Izzy walk, despite his well documented Disney-worthy resurrection this spring. Why fans and beat writers alike are so overcome with nostalgia for an overrated former closer who last pitched for the Mets almost 15 years ago is beyond me. All I see is an injury risk offering little upside, and a man who hopes his Jimmy Morris impression will net him a 15-year pension (Izzy has a little over 14 years of service time) on top of the $56 million he’s already pocketed over his career. Sorry to rain on the parade of the emotionally-driven, ignorant members of boobus Americanus, but Acosta has at least some upside and a clean medical record going for him.

At the end of the day, though, whomever the Mets pick as their 7th man in the bullpen probably won’t be their downfall.  Perhaps the difference between Acosta, Boyer, and Izzy is so negligible that appeasing a disgruntled fan base might as well take precedent over small statistical differences. After all, considering the turnover rate of most major league bullpens throughout the season, ten to one most of us won’t even remember this debacle come July.  As I have discussed before, I like Acosta, but I’m not going to lose any sleep if Izzy or Boyer gets the nod over him.

The bench situation, meanwhile, is somewhat more compelling. In addition to Mike Nickeas and Chin Lung Hu, who, as expected, make the team’s five-man bench out of positional necessity, Scott Hairston and Willie Harris are, rightly so, almost guaranteed to make the big club as well.

Hairston has an inconsistent Major League track record, but he’s played in some bad hitters parks (Oakland and San Diego) the last several years, and his struggles last year can likely be attributed to bad luck (.241 BABIP vs. .278 career). Plus, he’s torn the cover off the ball this spring, and has played excellent defensively. In many respects, he’s a poor man’s Angel Pagan. Bill James projects him to hit .259/.323/.477. I’m not sure if he’ll hit that well, but it’s not much of a stretch to think he will, either.

Willie Harris is basically a left-handed version of Hairston, with a little less power and more walks. Like Hairston, Harris was the victim of same pretty bad luck last season (.199 BABIP vs. .281 career). Harris’ range may have diminished somewhat recently, as he’ll be 33 in June, but I’d still much rather take my chances with him in the outfield than Evans or Murphy.

I know some people have argued the Mets should have approached this decision with more of an eye toward the future- i.e. keep Evans and Murphy over Hairston and Harris. At the end of the day, however, Hairston and Harris are flat out better ballplayers, and Evans and Murphy offer only so much upside.

So, the final spot comes down to either Evans or Murphy, with Murphy appearing to be the odds-on favorite. I’m inclined to agree with this sentiment, but I think an argument can be made for Evans.

For one, If Murphy is the backup second baseman, unless Jose Reyes gets hurt, I don’t see how Chin Lung Hu will get any playing time at all, aside from maybe being a late-inning defensive replacement for Brad Emaus and a last-resort pinch hitter. Now, maybe that’s not such a bad thing, considering Hu is such an awful hitter. Snarkiness aside, however, if Hu’s on the team, the Mets are going to have to find him at-bats somehow, and I’m not sure how he fits into the picture there.

Second, it leaves the Mets without a right-handed complement to Ike Davis. I’m not too concerned by this, especially since the Mets are unlikely to be competitive in 2011, since Davis will only learn to hit southpaws if he is exposed to them. Still, it would be nice to have occasionally.

Last but not least, Evans is out of options — meaning if he doesn’t make the big league club, he’ll have to pass through waivers, where he’ll almost certainly be claimed by someone. Murphy, meanwhile, can be sent to the minors. If there’s any hope that Murphy can still improve defensively, you’d like to see him playing every day at Buffalo.

So what it boils down to, really, is if you prefer:

A) Murphy’s left-handed bat off the bench, occasionally spotting Brad Emaus against righties

B) Evans right-handed bat off the bench, occasionally spotting Ike Davis against lefties.

I guess the Mets mostly prefer option A, as Emaus is still a question mark at the plate until he proves otherwise, and any further attempts to develop Murphy into an everyday second baseman are probably futile.

Of course, all of this is contingent upon whether Beltran is healthy for Opening Day. If not, maybe the Mets take a more long-term approach to the situation- i.e. platooning either Lucas Duda or Murphy with Evans.

Matt is a high school student in New Jersey and avid Mets fan. He occasionally updates his blog at: