Spring training is in full swing and a number of issues and concerns are on the table as well as some nice surprises and positive trends that have emerged early on. Let’s take a look at the pleasant problems the Mets are facing and what they might do about the more serious concerns and questions that still need to be addressed.
The Good Stuff
Some early indications have shown that David Wright’s approach at the plate may be taking a change for the better compared to last season. He has already hit 2 home runs in 13 AB’s and has only struck out once. It looks like the work that he did with Howard Johnson during the winter appears to be bearing fruit. Granted, it’s spring training, the pitching is not major league-ready and Tradition Field is not CitiField, but these are still good signs that he is driving the ball.
Prospects Ike Davis and Fernando Martinez have been impressive batting .583 and .526 respectively while hitting 2 home runs apiece. The mildly disappointing part is that both players will probably not make the opening day team and will be sent to triple A. It’s a shame because Davis will no doubt be the first basemen of the future but the Mets will be more inclined to give Daniel Murphy the opportunity to fail or succeed and allow Davis more time to ripen.
Martinez, on the other hand, is close if not already major league ready and with Carlos Beltran on the mend, it would be a great time for the Mets to put him out there and see what he could do. Unfortunately, the small financial commitment the Mets have made to Gary Matthews Jr. and his experience puts him ahead of Martinez to make the team along with Angel Pagan. If the Mets could move Matthews this spring (easier to do since it’s on the Los Angeles Angels’ dime), Martinez could share the centerfield duties with Pagan until Beltran is healthy. But this is a transaction that is doubtful to happen and Martinez will probably be one of the last players cut come opening day.
The Concerning Stuff
Jose Reyes has been diagnoses with Graves’ disease and while this is treatable, it does throw a kink in the schedule for him to make the opening day roster. The timetable for his return is vague (8 weeks?) as the media relations department for the Mets indicated that “Jose’s treatment plan is to rest, refrain from athletic activity and make changes in his diet”. Mets’ Medical Director Dr. David Alchek is going to monitor Reyes’ blood levels through regular tests and once his thyroid levels are back to normal, he will be cleared to get back out on the field. So it appears that the first game of the season probably feature Pagan/Matthews in center and Alex Cora/Ruben Tejada at short. Not exactly substantial replacement players for Beltran and Reyes. Here’s a quick look at these players Runs Above Replacement (RAR) player to get an idea what is lost without Beltran and Reyes in the lineup.
Keep in mind that Reyes was out most of the year but Pagan was very productive in his limited role. It’s easy to see that the other players listed above really don’t hold up to the contributions that Reyes and Beltran make. Let’s hope that the plan and treatment for Reyes is effective so that he can back on the diamond quickly.
Another issue that has become more prominent is the 8th inning setup role and who will hand the 9th over to Francisco Rodriguez. Kelvim Escobar, who was initially penciled in as the guy, still has not been able to resume any type of baseball duties that would even remotely make him a candidate for the job. So who do the Mets turn to to fulfill the spot? I’ll provide you with small list of possibilities for the role and they are Bobby Parnell, Ryota Igarashi, Hisanori Takahashi and Jenrry Mejia. The most intriguing choice of the 4 is Mejia. Mejia has been practically unhittable in the games he has pitched so far but he is a raw talent and throwing him into 8th inning pressure situation may not be the best introduction to the big leagues. I suspect that Mejia, despite his impressive outings, will find himself on the same flight to Buffalo with Davis and Martinez when spring training ends. But Manuel is strongly considering Mejia as an option and if he continues to dominate the hitters he has faced, he would be difficult to deny him a spot in the bullpen.
Igarashi and Takahashi are also interesting choices with quite a bit of baseball experience just not in the Major Leagues. It’s hard to know how the Japanese stats would translate to MLB but some analysis suggests that you can usually expect around a 30% increase in ERA and 15% decrease in strikeouts and interestingly enough a 5% decrease in walks (I guess Japanese players are far more patient). This would mean that based upon last year’s statistics in Japan, Igarashi would project to have a 5.40 ERA, 6.1 K/9 and 2.3 BB/9. Takahashi wouldn’t fair any better with a 5.41 ERA, 5.7 K/9 and 2.3 BB/9. Obviously, this formula is speculation and I would venture to say that both pitchers would perform better than that but it appears that the Japanese imports may not be the best choices initially for the 8th inning until some consistency is established with big league hitting.
Parnell made 30 appearances last year in the 8th inning and had good success keeping hitters to a .213 BA in that frame. The problem with Parnell is that he hasn’t been able to harness that 96 mph fastball and bases on balls has been his undoing last year allowing 4.7 BB/9. One can only hope that experience brings improvement and we see more command over his pitches to be that setup guy.
Certainly, this is an open issue that will more than likely remain open until the season starts and more probable into the season as Jerry Manuel may try out different pitchers to handle the 8th. Manuel may mix and match and experiment looking for the right combination. After all, we know how Manuel likes to experiment. However, the sooner roles are defined for the pitchers, the better. It’s always beneficial when a pitcher knows his role so he can prepare both mentally and physically to enter the game at his designated time. But with too many unclear choices, it will probably be a case of trial by error.
So let’s hear what you think. Is David Wright’s home runs a good sign of things to come or do you think he will be psyched out by the cavernous gaps and high walls of CitiField? Would you have Martinez and/or Davis make the opening day roster and finally, who would you like to see be the 8th inning setup guy? Parnell? Mejia? Or some other choice? The phone lines are open. Let’s hear from you.