New York Mets' Spring Training To-Do List
Pitchers and catchers reported on February 15 for the New York Mets, signaling the glorious news that the 2014 season is officially underway.
After five straight seasons of losing baseball in Flushing, the mission for this year’s squad is simple: Post a winning record.
Acquiring players like Curtis Granderson and Bartolo Colon brings some optimism. These signings are the most significant ones of Sandy Alderson’s tenure as general manager.
It’s nice to hear a little buzz coming out of Port St. Lucie with these acquisitions and a lot of exciting young players in camp. Despite that, uncertainty remains at several spots on the roster.
The decisions made prior to starting the year against the Washington Nationals could change the trajectory of the Mets’ season significantly.
Here is a to-do list for Terry Collins, his coaching staff and the front office to work off during spring training.
Player statistics sourced from Baseball-Reference.
Determine Who Will Be the Starting First Baseman
Alderson tried his best to diffuse the first base situation this winter by attempting to trade Ike Davis. He couldn’t find the desired return in a potential swap, so both Davis and Lucas Duda will be competing for time at first.
Though Alderson openly shopped him, Davis currently provides more upside with power and defense than his fellow first baseman. Duda hasn’t put together a season like Davis’ 2012 (32 home runs, 90 RBI), but his .342 career on-base percentage is likely why the organization is still holding on to him.
If Davis wins, Duda could find himself in Triple-A Las Vegas or on the bench in the majors as a part-time outfielder. If Duda is the victor, it could motivate the Mets to quickly trade Davis prior to Opening Day.
A report by Anthony Rieber of Newsday implies New York is going to give Davis every chance to win this job, giving him 80-100 at-bats this spring instead of the normal 50-60.
Terry Collins is already impressed with what he’s seen from him, according to MetsBlog:
I’ve been very impressed by Ike. His bat is coming through the zone better. He really looks better.
If Duda plans on beating out Davis, it looks like he’ll have his work cut out for him.
Determine Who Will Be the Fifth Starter
Jonathon Niese, Bartolo Colon, Zack Wheeler and Dillon Gee occupy four of the five starting rotation spots.
The final spot will be determined by an open competition. Prospects Jacob deGrom and Rafael Montero are aiming to grab it, but it will likely come down to Jenrry Mejia, John Lannan and Daisuke Matsuzaka.
The Mets want Mejia to make the team but also want him to earn it from the two veterans. He’s already on the 40-man roster and showed a glimpse of his potential last year with a 1-2 record, 2.30 ERA, 1.17 WHIP and just four walks allowed in 27.1 innings pitched.
With regard to the last spot in the starting rotation, Rising Apple provided a quote from Terry Collins during his first official press conference of 2014:
I have no problem (going with a young guy)...we’re gonna take the best guy who’s pitching the best. I always hate to number guys – who can make us the most successful? We’ve got some very good candidates, starting with Jenrry Mejia who looks 100 percent.
While Mejia must still earn his keep and show his health in Port St. Lucie, Jared Diamond of The Wall Street Journal pointed out something interesting on Twitter. The back wall of the Mets clubhouse has five lockers. They’re occupied by Wheeler, Niese, Colon, Gee and Mejia.
Furthermore, Mejia’s locker is adjacent to Colon’s. That alone should show the Mets’ preference before the competition even starts.
Find a Veteran Reliever to Set Up Bobby Parnell
The Mets bullpen will consist of many young, hard-throwing pitchers. Alderson spent most of the winter looking for a veteran with closing experience to fill LaTroy Hawkins’ role from last season.
Prior pursuits of Grant Balfour and Fernando Rodney fell short, leading to minor league agreements with Kyle Farnsworth and Jose Valverde, including big league camp invites.
Both have closing experience, but Valverde has been in that role more, boasting 286 career saves in his 11-year career. Despite each of these signings, Collins told ESPN New York that Bobby Parnell is his closer.
The veterans will be competing against one another to become the setup man. Both are looking for a revival after subpar seasons. Farnsworth posted a 4.70 ERA and 1.38 WHIP last year, while Valverde put together a 5.59 ERA and 1.24 WHIP.
Adam Rubin of ESPN New York reports that both are expected to make the Opening Day roster, barring poor performances this spring.
It would be shocking to see Farnsworth and Valverde head north. Alderson has stated multiple times he wants a veteran presence in the pen but doesn’t want to block an opportunity for younger players, according to another report from Rubin.
Farnsworth and Valverde have opt-outs toward the end of March if they’re not assured an Opening Day roster spot. Having the opt-out this early in the year leads me to believe the Mets will take whoever performs better, allowing the other to walk and find an opportunity with another organization.
Figure Out the Starting Outfield
Curtis Granderson is the only outfielder guaranteed to be penciled into the Mets lineup every day. He will be spending his time in either left or right field.
There are over seven million reasons to award Chris Young one of the remaining two starting spots. Unless he falls off the face of the Earth, he will also be a starter to begin the season. It remains to be determined whether he will be in the corner outfield spot not occupied by Granderson or in center field.
Young’s positioning will depend on what happens with Juan Lagares and Eric Young Jr. The last open position in the outfield will be handed to the player who performs better offensively. Both Lagares and Young will be trying to get on base more often to prove their value.
In a previous article for Bleacher Report, I detailed why I think Lagares will win this competition and be the team’s Opening Day center fielder. He’s shown the ability to adjust to higher levels of competition. That, plus his superb defense, gives him the early lead.
Terry Collins hasn’t been shy about his preference to have Young on the field regularly. The manager likes what he can provide with his speed, leaving him as the best option to answer the next question on this to-do list.
Find a Leadoff Hitter
The top spot in the Mets lineup has sparked quite a debate this winter. Once Alderson inked Granderson and Young to free-agent deals, it looked as though Eric Young Jr. was the odd man out.
He apparently has a leg up with regard to this competition, according to his manager. In his first official press conference of the season, Collins shared his thoughts, courtesy of MetsBlog:
As we sit here today, Eric Young is the guy you want to see at the top of the lineup. We know what happens when he gets on, we score runs.
Young led the National League with 46 stolen bases last season and was a Gold Glove finalist in the outfield. However, his .310 on-base percentage between the Mets and Colorado Rockies in 148 games played isn’t optimal at the top of the order.
There’s no question that New York’s lineup became more dynamic with Young at leadoff. He provided a threat of speed that hadn’t been around since Jose Reyes was in Flushing. He’ll still have to show a marked improvement at the plate to justify penciling him into the lineup regularly. As we all know, speed is good, but it can’t help a player get to first base.
Collins mentioned that if Young isn’t the answer, Chris Young or Ruben Tejada could find himself setting the table with Daniel Murphy at the top of the order.
Figure Out If Ruben Tejada Is Ready to Be the Starting Shortstop
The Stephen Drew saga continues, as the free-agent shortstop has yet to sign a contract. At this point in the year, the Mets are the best—and perhaps only—option for the Scott Boras client.
Looking at his 2013 performance compared to Ruben Tejada’s, Drew would provide an immediate boost to the lineup while also bringing solid defense up the middle.
CBS New York reports that if the Mets were to sign Drew, it would need to be “in the right circumstances.” That could only mean they want him for the amount they’re willing to offer, which is all but certain to be below the $14.1 million qualifying offer he rejected from the Boston Red Sox.
There have been plenty of rumors surrounding Drew and the Mets, but the best option in camp is Tejada. He spent two separate stints at a fitness and nutrition camp in Michigan this winter and has “rededicated” himself, according to a report in the New York Post.
Despite his offseason training, Tejada still must prove to the coaching staff he’s worthy of being the starting shortstop.
Wilmer Flores was at the same camp as Tejada this winter and has earned the right to get reps at shortstop, according to Mets Merized Online. Wilfredo Tovar and Omar Quintanilla will get their chance at the position, as well.
The optimism in Port St. Lucie will either continue or subside as these questions are answered over the coming weeks. The amount of position battles set to happen will lead to interesting storylines throughout spring training.
Matt’s Mets opinions have been featured on MLB Trade Rumors, Yahoo! Sports, MetsBlog, Amazin’ Avenue and Mets Merized Online. To keep up with Matt, you can follow him on Twitter.