The 25th Man
Omar Minaya has surprised us before, and in the past has made some outstanding trades as late as January. In fact, it was January 2006 that Minaya acquired Duaner Sanchez and John Maine in two separate deals.
However, assuming the Mets do not make any trades between now and spring training, this is what the 25-man roster looks like:
1. Pedro Martinez
2. Orlando Hernandez
3. John Maine
4. Oliver Perez
6. Aaron Heilman
7. Billy Wagner
8. Pedro Feliciano
9. Scott Schoeneweis
10. Jorge Sosa
11. Joe Smith
12. Duaner Sanchez?
13. Brian Schneider
14. Ramon Castro
15. Carlos Delgado
16. Luis Castillo
17. Jose Reyes
18. David Wright
19. Damion Easley
20. Carlos Beltran
21. Moises Alou
22. Ryan Church
23. Endy Chavez
24. Marlon Anderson
I don’t think there is any argument about the starting position players — all eight are pretty much set, barring injury. And though there may be some arguments, proposals, and ideas about moving Orlando Hernandez into the bullpen, I’m 99.9% sure that the Mets will see El Duque as a member of the starting rotation when pitchers and catchers report in mid-February. The big question — as it was in 2007 — will be who is the #5 starter. Mike Pelfrey? Phil Humber? Kevin Mulvey? Someone else? Pelfrey likely is the frontrunner, unless the Mets sign someone such as Livan Hernandez or one of the other veteran arms still on the market.
The bullpen, however, is less set. Wagner, Heilman, and Feliciano almost certainly own spots, and we’ll presume that Schoeneweis has one too based on his guaranteed contract. If Sanchez is healthy, he would take a spot. The last two openings, right now, are up for grabs, with Joe Smith the frontrunner for one of them, and Jorge Sosa the leading candidate to take the other.
Regardless of how the pitching staff shakes out, there most likely will be at minimum 12 roster spots slotted for pitching, leaving 13 for position players. Eight of those are the everyday starters. Four of the five bench spots will go to veterans Castro, Easley, Anderson, and Chavez.
So who is the 25th man?
We’d like to think it will be either Ruben Gotay or Carlos Gomez, but there’s a very good chance it is neither. While Gotay played very well last year — particularly in the first half — the fact that he doesn’t hit well from the right side and the presence of Damion Easley seriously hinder his chances. Had Easley not been retained, Gotay would have been the no-brainer as all-around utilityman. But we’ll have to suffer through a year of watching Easley’s slow bat drag through to a .235 average before Wille Randolph realizes 2007 was a fluke.
Gomez has an outside shot at winning a spot because he hits from the right side, but if the Mets are looking out for his best interests, they’ll likely want him to be playing every day in AAA than once a week in MLB. Gomez needs to develop his bat, and it’s hard to do that sitting on the bench all the time.
So who will be the 25th man?
Originally, I had thought Ben Johnson had an outside chance, but he was non-tendered and there hasn’t been any word of the Mets re-signing him. I would think that the last roster spot would go to a guy who can hit from the right side, or switch-hit, since Randolph is wary of using Ramon Castro as a pinch-hitter (as there is no “emergency catcher” on the roster). Further, I would think that the ideal guy would also have the ability to play both the outfield and first base, so that he could give Carlos Delgado and Ryan Church a breather now and then. Yes, I now that the current Company Line is that Damion Easley is that guy. Unfortunately, Easley is neither a first baseman nor an outfielder, but rather a guy who was put into those positions. (It’s kind of like calling Eli Marrero a centerfielder simply because Randolph once started him there.) In a perfect world, the Mets would find a player who can switch-hit and play the outfield, first base, and catcher — but then, wouldn’t every team like to have a guy with that flexibility?
Last year, the closest thing to the ideal 25th man the Mets had was either Julio Franco or Jeff Conine. By May it was apparent that Franco was a poisonous waste of space, but Conine might have been a nice bench guy if only he’d approached his career .285 average. As long as it’s true that Ryan Church is the everyday rightfielder — which means it makes sense for Carlos Gomez to spend some time in AAA — the Mets probably should find another Conine-type of guy. In other words, a solid, veteran, righthanded hitter who has postseason experience, can handle a bench role, can play the outfield and the corners, and is a positive clubhouse presence.
Unfortunately, there aren’t too many of those guys available — at least, not on the free-agent market. Here’s who I see as potential 25th men, and no, they don’t necessarily have all of the desired traits.
Robert Fick – can catch, play 1B, and the outfield. However, he’s a lefthanded hitter, and ideally we’re looking for a RH. Having him around, though, frees Ramon Castro to be used as a pinch-hitter.
Mike Sweeney – the best pure righthanded hitter currently available on the free agent market. However, he’s also arguably the most fragile, and has never been a part-time player. He probably is better suited to signing with an AL team to be a DH, but we can discuss him here because we’re throwing out all possibilities. He has no experience in the outfield, but he came up as a catcher and would have no problem being an “emergency” catcher if asked. If he can handle a bench role, he’d be a fantastic bat off the bench — and perhaps push Delgado into performing at first base.
Tony Clark – Like Sweeney, he’s not an outfielder, though I vaguely remember him lurching around leftfield once or twice back in 2003 for the Mets. He is, however, a switch-hitter, has played for the Mets before, and has been successful coming off the bench. Clark’s limited skillset makes him look a lot like Julio Franco, except that he puts a ball over the fence once about every 12-14 at-bats (while Franco put the ball just over the second baseman’s head at the same rate). By all accounts he’s a leader in the clubhouse as well.
Reggie Sanders – a solid big-league hitter and something of a good luck charm, as Sanders seems to appear in the World Series every other year — always in a different uniform. At age 40, he knows he’s no longer a starter nor a $5M player, and he would be an ideal RH bat off the bench, to occasionally spell Church in RF, and fill the DH role in interleague play. The one negative is he can’t play first base.
Preston Wilson – another player limited in the positions he can play, and his skills have eroded greatly in the past few years. Wouldn’t it be nice to see him back in a Mets uniform, though, if for nothing more than nostalgia?
Mike Piazza – OK, we know he’s not coming back. Oh, and that’s right, he can’t play first base — despite playing the position from little league through college. Imagine if he wasn’t such skirt about playing first base, though? He might still be a Met, for all we know. At the least, he wouldn’t be looking to finish his career in Japan.
Mark Bellhorn – next to Sweeney, this is my favorite choice. Bellhorn is a switch-hitter with pop who takes a lot of pitches. I like guys who take pitches and wear out the opposition. Generally speaking, he either strikes out, walks, or raps an extra-base hit. He has played every position on the diamond except catcher. He’s a tough s-o-b who plays with some fire — i.e., he will break up the double play and barrel over a catcher when necessary. He’s also fundamentally sound — he can drop a bunt when called upon, for example. Maybe the best part is that Bellhorn would not require a Major League contract, and would not be considered to be someone blocking the way of a Gotay or Gomez. Rather, he’d be like David Newhan was last year — a guy who can be shuttled back and forth between the bigs and the minors as necessary.
In the end, if the 25th man is not Gotay or Gomez, I’d hope it would be someone who, like Bellhorn, would not interfere with roster flexibility. We learned from the Julio Franco fiasco what happens when an immovable object is not performing but taking up one of those precious few bench spots.
Any other ideas out there? Post your ideas in the comments.