Jerry Manuel all but punched Fernando Martinez’s ticket to the minors when he met with reporters in Florida yesterday, a decision that will surely cause a stir among the Mets' frustrated and disenchanted fan base.
However, despite the many blunders this organization has experienced over the course of Minaya’s tenure at the helm, this is one move that makes a lot of sense for a number of reasons.
He’s Not Quite Ready
The case for Martinez being on the Opening Day roster is a very legitimate one.
He has been absolutely destroying the ball so far this spring (hitting .538 with two doubles, two triples, three homers and 10 RBI). This success at the plate also stretches further back than just his nine Grapefruit League games, as he was also named MVP of the Caribbean Series this past fall, where he hit .348 with two homers while leading the DR to a title.
Now, it’s possible that this short stretch of sustained success, albeit not against major-league pitching, is a sign that he is truly coming into his own. If that is the case, then he should continue to rake in Buffalo and quickly earn his ticket back to Citi Field, where his confidence would remain sky high.
With Jose Reyes out, Martinez is also viewed by many as the potential spark this team needs to stay competitive until they are 100 percent healthy. However, it is a little more complicated than that.
With his recent success, it is easy to forget Martinez’s time in the big leagues last year when the team desperately needed him to step up. Before getting injured (he is a Met, after all) he looked every bit of the overmatched 20-year-old kid that he was, hitting below .200 and often looking shaky in the field.
This is not to say that his rare talent was not sporadically displayed through bright spots both at the plate and in the field; however, at the end of the day it was clear that he was not ready to be an everyday major leaguer.
This season is the Alamo for Manuel and GM Omar Minaya, and they know they have to put the right team together from Day One in order to put themselves in a position to make legit run at the Phillies.
The Mets Already Have Decent Options in Center
Unless the Mets unload Gary Matthews, a rumor that has surfaced on more than one occasion, they already have two backup center fielders on their roster. Pagan, while clearly not an everyday player, is a very nice fill-in guy. He was one of the few guys that stepped up last year and wound up hitting .300 for the season.
However, there is a reason why this performance did not earn him a starting job elsewhere and why the Mets felt they needed to bring in Matthews Jr. for support; he is too mistake-prone to be an everyday guy on a team looking to contend for a pennant.
To go a little further with this, it is safe to say that, with Reyes’ thyroid problem and the questions surrounding Daniel Murphy’s competency at first base, the bench is going to be extremely important if the Mets are going to have a good April. A fact that even further casts Martinez off into the International League.
Martinez’s Trade Value Is As Important As Ever
The Mets are locked into their three current outfielders for the foreseeable future, and with good reason. Beltran is arguably as good of an all-around center fielder as there is in the game and one of the longest-tenured players in the Mets’ clubhouse.
And despite the fact that most scouts see Martinez and his plus power potential as a corner outfielder down the road, neither of those positions will likely be challenged for some time either, as both Jason Bay and Jeff Franceour bring a great deal to both the locker room and the field.
Part of the reason I didn’t follow the majority of Mets fans in claiming the coming of the apocalypse during this offseason was that I was comfortable with this team waiting until the trade deadline to acquire a starting pitcher.
John Lackey’s health issues, position in the market, and subsequent inflated salary demands made him a less attractive option for the Mets, who clearly feel they can stay afloat until the league’s perennial “sellers” begin to make players available.
The price paid this offseason for second-tier starters was also unusually steep, and, again, I think the Mets, in the long run, made a smart move here by not succumbing to pressure and doubts about their staff.
However, given all that is at stake this season (Minaya and Manuel’s jobs as well as Mets fans’ sanity) I would have to imagine that they are planning on taking advantage of this recent farm system revival and being very aggressive in the trade market.
This is where bringing Martinez along slowly makes even more sense. If he is rushed to the majors and plays like he did last season until Beltran returns, it does nothing for his trade value. However, if he can manage to stay healthy and show off the five-tool talent that he is capable of while primarily in Triple-A, he would be very attractive as a young, major league-ready outfielder with seemingly limitless potential.
This is a Mets team that a year ago was picked by many to contend for the World Series. Since then, Minaya and Co. have kept the same pitching staff and upgraded both corner outfield spots.
It is not unreasonable to think that, with a little bit of luck in the health department, this team could be a trade or two away at the deadline from being back in the mix of National League heavyweights.