Going into Spring Training, we assumed that 21 roster spots were guaranteed: those of Rod Barajas, Henry Blanco, Daniel Murphy, Luis Castillo, Jose Reyes, David Wright, Jason Bay, Angel Pagan, Jeff Francoeur, Fernando Tatis, Gary Matthews, Alex Cora, Johan Santana, Mike Pelfrey, Oliver Perez, John Maine, Francisco Rodriguez, Pedro Feliciano, Kelvim Escobar, Sean Green, and Ryota Igarashi. (I took this from a post on this site from February.)
That left 4 slots. But a few Mets went down to injuries (Kelvim Escobar, Jose Reyes, and Daniel Murphy), opening up the field a bit and leaving 7 slots for debate. I think it would be nice to take stock of those decisions...
1. 5th starter slot: Jon Niese (beats out Nelson Figueroa, Hisanori Takahashi, Fernando Nieve)
2. Backup first baseman: Mike Jacobs (beats out Chris Carter, Frank Catalanotto)
3. Murphy's roster slot: Frank Catalanotto (beats out Chris Carter)
4. Reyes' roster slot: Ruben Tejada (beats out Russ Adams)
5. Bullpen slots (3): Hisanori Takahashi, Fernando Nieve, Jenrry Mejia (beats out Raul Valdes, Nelson Figueroa, Pat Misch, Bobby Parnell, Kiko Calero)
That's basically what happened. Here's what I think:
- Before Spring Training started, I believed that Chris Carter was the correct choice--he had a solid minor league track record and could fill in at the corner OF positions. Even if their springs had been reversed--if Jacobs had hit .393/.433/.893 and Carter had hit .209/.320/.535--I probably still would have wanted Carter on the team. Carter's excellent spring training statistics are not why he should have gotten the spot. Jacobs' proven track record of bad defense and low batting averages (and associated low OBPs), and Carter's strong minor league performance, should have been enough. I think this was a bad decision, though I am skeptical that it will be of particular import as the season wears on.
- Adding insult to injury, Frank Catalanotto managed to make the team ahead of Carter, too. There really are no words for this one. He's 36 and has put up an OPS+ of 95 in back-to-back seasons. There is no reason to think that his decline won't continue, and it's possible he sees another age-related drop-off.
- Ruben Tejada was very impressive in spring, but I was much, much more swayed by Kevin Goldstein's piece at BP from a few weeks ago. Goldstein referenced the opinions of scouts that indicated that Tejada had great "baseball instincts" and probably did not have much more development to do before he could contribute in the majors, making him something of an anomaly, for a 20-year old baseball player. I believe that the Mets have made a mistake in not looking for a defensive-minded middle infielder on the trade circuit to fill this slot. Losing Murphy's range for a period of time made this even more important. But given the options, I think Tejada was an OK pick.
- That leaves the bullpen. Takahashi and Nieve were fine selections--both have good arms and could fill in multiple roles. I am aware that there was a lot of speculation that Green would wind up in AAA, but thinking in broad strokes, Green has thrown over 65 innings in the bigs during three straight seasons. It was unlikely that he would not make the roster. It certainly would have been nice to see Calero get his slot, but I'll tolerate that, particularly if the Mets don't think that Calero is ready.
So, that left Figueroa, Misch, Parnell, Calero, Valdes, and Mejia for the last roster slot. Of that group, I would have ranked them as follows:
1. Figgy - Figueroa's big advantage is his versatility. This is a team that may shuffle through 10 or 11 starters this year, what with injury risks and volatility (11 pitchers started for the Mets last year). Figgy would very ably slide in into the rotation. He has also seemed to have reached a higher level of performance, coming off his best season as a pro last year. It is possible that that would be an outlier, but there would be plenty of time to make that judgment over the course of the first few months of the season. Figgy also had no options and had basically guaranteed that he would not accept an assignment to AAA-Buffalo.
2. Calero - I don't have the background to project Calero's arm strength, but based on his track record of solid performance, he should have been in the mix. I hope he accepts an assignment to Buffalo and is the first bullpen call-up this year, but his status appears to be in limbo. He may not be able to repeat HIS particularly strong 2009, but again, I don't see the harm in bringing him up.
3. Misch - Misch's strikeout rate was frighteningly low in 2009, so I would generally stay away. Misch would be serviceable in mop-up duty, but his biggest perk is the fact that he is a lefty.
4. Parnell - Parnell was acceptable as a reliever last year (7.4 K/9), but it seems like he could stand to have some minor league development time to work on his secondary offerings. He also has options, which made this decision easier. He has one of the better arms in the system, though, and I would be very surprised if he doesn't contribute to the organization--either as a midseason call-up or as a trade chip--within the next 12 months.
5. Valdes - I know nothing about Valdes, so he was ranked here just as a matter of process of elimination. I was surprised he lasted as long as he did this spring.
6. Mejia - A lot of this has been covered quite well on this site, but I feel compelled to do it again. I would not be surprised if Mejia comes out and dominates in the bullpen as the year wears on. He has a really, really good arm. Normally, I like the idea of putting young, talented starting pitchers in the bullpen--but in July or August, not April. That's how it is done. Put aside his spring training performance--spring training statistics don't mean much at all, and because of their frequent overinterpretation, I would be happier if everyone just disregarded the numbers entirely in the spring; I think we'd be more likely to come up with accurate evaluations. Mejia has thrown 44 innings above A-ball, and they were not particularly impressive. There are also concerns about the quality of his secondary offerings, which probably could be honed by some time in AA. But the bigger issue is this:
2007 - 43.2 IP
2008 - 71.2 IP
2009 - 94.2 IP
Mejia should be slated to throw around 125-130 innings this year, as part of his development process to become a starter. With Mejia in the bullpen this year, he will probably hit 65 innings. That screws up his development as a starter pretty dramatically.
Even worse is the New York media, which seems to have some sway in the Met front office. If Mejia dominates, everyone is going to start talking about "The Next Rivera" and "K-Rod's successor." The Mets will start playing "Welcome to the Jungle" or some other great closer song when Mejia comes in to pitch in the 8th inning. The story will explode, and the Mets will lose control.
So, look at 2011. The Mets are better then with the addition of some of the younger farm talent in place of some of the older issues the Mets have now, and they seem ready to compete. The bullpen is questionable, but Mejia pitched quite well for the 82-win Mets in 2010. Are they really going to send him down to AA to stretch out to be a starter? That would take 2 years, at least.
If Mejia were to struggle as a starter--like Mariano Rivera did in 1995--then I certainly would have no issues grooming him to be a reliever. A good reliever IS valuable, undoubtedly. But it's not as valuable as a great starter. It's not certain yet, but I think the Mets have botched this one pretty badly.
So, I think out of the 7 roster slots, we can divide them as such:
The Good: Jon Niese, Ruben Tejeda, Hisanori Takahashi, Fernando Nieve
The Bad: Mike Jacobs, Frank Catalanatto
The Worse: Jenrry Mejia
But as far as I'm concerned, if the Mets had kept Figueroa and sent Mejia down to the minors, I would be satisfied (on balance). Everything else is rather small potatoes compared to that error.