Building a 25-man roster is a tricky task, one where the team has to balance a number of different factors aside from the sheer talent of its players. Ideally, talent should naturally take precedence in these decisions but often times we'll see other demands, such as contract opt-outs, option years, position versatility, organizational depth, whether a player is on or needs to soon be added to the 40-man roster, and the always popular "veteran presence", among others, take a role in the decision to bring a player north or send him packing to the minor leagues.
Trying to figure out just who will make the squad out of spring training has long been a hobby for diehard baseball fans and with more and more coverage available, we're able to better put ourselves in the team's shoes and predict with great accuracy which players will make the cut. Just like Sandy Alderson and Terry Collins will have to do over the next few weeks, I am going to try my hand at crafting the Mets' opening day roster. I've separated the players into the starting eight, bench, rotation, and bullpen, and at the bottom of each section, I wrote out my thought process with regards to each player who I think will make the team. So without further ado, here we go!
Catcher: Travis d'Arnaud
First Base: Ike Davis
Second Base: Daniel Murphy
Third Base: David Wright
Shortstop: Stephen Drew
Left Field: Chris Young
Center Field: Juan Lagares
Right Field: Curtis Granderson
We don't have to spend much time talking about the obvious pieces here. Assuming health, Wright, Granderson, Murphy, and d'Arnaud are virtual locks to be on the roster and in those positions on March 31.
On the infield, the big surprise is at shortstop, where I think Sandy Alderson will ultimately bring in an upgrade. This is just a gut feeling but I can't see the Mets going into the season with Ruben Tejada starting everyday, even with all of the talk that he's the man for the job. I have a feeling they'll make a move and I bet it'll be Drew just because I assume Sandy Alderson would prefer to not break up their pitching depth at this point. The Tigers losing Jose Iglesias and possibly getting involved will ultimately force Sandy's hand and he'll offer Drew an acceptable contract. Let's say he signs for two years with a vesting option for a third.
Ike Davis gets the job at first base, forcing Lucas Duda to Las Vegas. If both guys had been healthy and played this spring, I think there could've been a decent chance that a spring trade to a desperate team would've cropped up. Both Davis and Duda losing lots of time to injury has likely foiled that plan, though, and I think the Mets will ultimately give Davis one last shot to figure things out with Duda waiting in the wings should he falter in April.
In the outfield, I have a feeling Terry Collins genuinely likes Eric Young at the top of his lineup but I doubt the front office will let him bury Juan Lagares and his magical glove/arm on the bench. Let's not forget that Young was available to the Mets because the Rockies designated him for assignment last June. We have plenty of data that says that he doesn't get on base enough and at 28, it seems unlikely he'll substantially improve his hit tool, the biggest weakness in his game. Young's 8.3% career walk rate is perfectly acceptable, it's the .258 career average that is the killer. Lagares, meanwhile, brings an excellent glove in center field and the faint possibility of some upside with the bat. Ideally, that should be enough to win him the job over Young. With Lagares in center field, that swings Chris Young to left field, though I'd imagine Chris sees some time in center field when Lagares needs a breather.
There's really just one surprise in this group and that's the inclusion of Brown on the roster. Josh Satin seems like a virtual lock to split time at first base and Anthony Recker seems unlikely to be replaced by Juan Centeno or Taylor Teagarden. Eric Young is a useful fourth outfielder and pinch runner and Ruben Tejada serves as the up-the-middle backup to Murphy and Drew, hopefully getting some starts against tough lefties.
With a need for one more bench player, I looked at guys in camp and had trouble trying to decide who they could go with here. Personally, the guy I would choose would be one with some thump and they could probably use another lefty if we're being picky. Lucas Duda would fit that description but at the same time, we know he can't play the outfield, making him strictly a pinch hitter and extra first baseman. Plus, you probably want him playing everyday somewhere as insurance for Ike and Duda breathing down Davis' neck on the bench seems like an unwanted distraction.
Anthony Seratelli is in camp and has shown great versatility in the field along with a strong on base percentage at the plate in the minors. On the flip side, the 31 year old isn't on the 40-man roster and hasn't hit at all in camp. Further, his ability to play the middle infield, one of his strengths, is superfluous with Tejada on the bench, so you'd probably prefer more of a bat from this spot. If he can hit anywhere close to his line the last two years in Omaha, he's a valuable bench player but it's far from a certainty that he can do that in the majors.
Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Matt den Dekker have both had strong springs at the plate, can play all three outfield positions, are on the 40-man roster, and are lefty bats with some pop. The biggest problem with them are the swing and miss issues, which seem likely to hurt them in pinch hitting roles. For what it's worth, den Dekker has cut down the strikeouts this spring but with such a small sample against lesser competition, we don't know whether that's for real or not. Regardless, both outfielders seem like viable candidates for the role.
Ultimately, I'll choose Andrew Brown for the final spot. He's a righty, so he's not ideal, but he brings some power off the bench and he can competently play both corner outfield positions. With Chris Young and even Curtis Granderson on the roster, having a center fielder on the bench isn't a big need. Like den Dekker and Nieuwenhuis, he too has a lot of swing and miss in his game but he also gives me a more legitimate home run threat off the bench.
As a side note, this is the choice I'm least confident in. They could go multiple ways here and a lot of this will be affected by what they do at shortstop. It seems like there are some options, though, and that's a good thing.
The first four spots are set and in my mind, the fifth spot is an easy call. I haven't seen a legitimate reason as to why Jenrry Mejia shouldn't be the fifth starter in the rotation at the beginning of the year. If Mejia is healthy coming out of spring training, he offers the greatest upside of any of the 5th starter candidates (not named Noah Syndergaard) and he showed in his five big league starts last season that he can more than hack it in the major leagues. This isn't a case of scouting Mejia's statline. This is about watching him pitch and being genuinely wowed by his stuff. I firmly believe that Mejia can be a special pitcher in the big leagues if he's given the chance and at 24 years of age, he should be given that chance. For a team in the Mets' position, there's really not much to lose and conversely, a whole lot to gain. They should be taking risks like this and trying to maximize all of their assets, not starting 33-year old replacement level veterans like Daisuke Matsuzaka.
Finally, we get to the bullpen. We know Bobby Parnell will be there in the 9th inning and Scott Rice was great last year as the lefty specialist. By all accounts, Carlos Torres will be in the bullpen, as he should be, and Vic Black seems like a virtual lock despite some early hiccups with his control this spring.
Going with a seven man pen, that leaves us with three spots to fill. The first one goes to Jeurys Familia and this one is purely on merit. Familia has looked fantastic this spring, tossing five scoreless innings and allowing just a single hit, while striking out four batters. The most important part of his line is that he hasn't walked a single batter, long his biggest issue. With a blazing fastball and wicked slider, Familia has all the ability to be a lockdown big league reliever if he can just throw strikes. This spring is a small sample but I'll buy in that maybe he's turned the corner with his command.
With two spots left, I have a feeling the Mets will go north with one veteran reliever based on what they've done in recent years (namely Jason Isringhausen in 2011 and LaTroy Hawkins in 2013) and I bet that'll be Valverde over Kyle Farnsworth. The numbers this spring haven't been stellar but Valverde still has his fastball, so there's a chance he has something left. At a million bucks, Papa Grande is inexpensive enough to drop if he stinks up the joint, so it's ultimately a low risk with upside on par with Hawkins last season, should be rebound and find his previous level of success. As a bonus, Valverde brings plenty of veteran presence to impart on the young relievers in the Mets pen, certainly not something to totally ignore.
Last but not least, I bet the final spot in the Mets bullpen will go to lefty John Lannan, who'll serve as a long man and spot starter. Without a traditional second lefty reliever, I like the idea of having another guy who can chew up multiple innings out of the pen. Carlos Torres was used in that role quite a bit last year, often throwing two innings of relief, and I think the dynamic of having both Torres and Lannan available to soak up the middle innings could help to keep the bullpen fresher overall. Hopefully, that's how Terry uses him, as Lannan is certainly not a lefty specialist.
That's my take on the 2014 Mets opening day 25-man roster. Bear in mind, we still have plenty of time left in spring training on March 16th but I think we're far enough along to have a general idea of how the team should look come opening day. We also know how the team has been built in years past, which was helpful in trying to project what the Mets will do this time around. I'm sure I'll definitely have some things wrong here and we'll likely see some changes over the next few weeks, so let me know how you think I did below in the comments section. Also, feel free to post your own roster below!