It may be early on in Spring Training, but the players have been feeling the competition for one of the coveted 25 opening day roster spots since before camp broke.
Certainly injuries, at which point a fifth starter becomes necessary, and any unexpected hot play from a non-roster invitee or a minor leaguer may throw a wrench in the most seasoned expert's thinking, so how these predictions measure up remains to be seen.
Let us begin with the easy part. Brian Schneider and Ramon Castro will be doing the catching and have no competition, so they account for the first two spots. Then there are the other seven regular starting position players: Delgado, Castillo, Reyes, Wright, Alou, Beltran, and Church, which brings us up to nine spots taken.
Now on to the pitchers. The starting rotation will certainly include Santana, Pedro, Maine, and Perez, so 13 spots are gone. This writer favors El Duque over Mike Pelfrey for the fifth spot, so spot 14 is taken. Billy Wagner, Aaron Heilman, Pedro Feliciano, and (gasp) Scott Schoeneweis are healthy and will be back in the bullpen, so that brings them up to 18 spots gone.
The Mets need a bench besides a back-up catcher. Veterans Damion Easley, Marlon Anderson, and Endy Chavez all but have spots locked up, so let's count that as 21 spots gone. Although Easley and Anderson will play almost anywhere on the diamond, both of them are there for their bats, and not gloves. Luckily, Chavez is a superior glove man and provides a solid outfield back-up option.
Easley may see some time in the infield, but this writer would also like to see the Mets carry Ruben Gotay and his .318 average against right-handed pitching and ability to sub at second, short, and third. Though many seem critical of Gotay's defense abilities, he only committed three errors in his time with the Mets last season. Gotay is also out of options, an unless he is traded, there goes spot 22.
A nine-man pitching staff does not cut it, nor does only having Aaron Heilman available from the right side in the later innings, so the 'pen could use more reinforcements.
Duaner Sanchez has shown up on-time, in-shape, lighter, and healthy. The Mets are counting on him to be a force in the bullpen, so Sanchez may proudly accept roster spot 23. Jorge Sosa had a bounce-back season with the Mets last season and is versatile enough to start, be a long or short reliever, so barring an awful spring, spot number 24 should go to Sosa.
An eleven-man pitching staff seems like a skeleton crew nowadays, and although Johan Santana can work deep into games consistently, Pedro Martinez certainly will not and neither will El Duque. John Maine and Oliver Perez are able to work deep into games but control problems could force Willie to yank either one of them out early. This would state the case for roster spot number 25 to go to a pitcher.
The Mets brought in Matt Wise over the offseason for relief as well. Although he was mediocre with a 4.19 ERA last year, his ERAs in 2005 and 2006 were under 4.00, certainly better than many bullpenners out there. Matt Wise, please proudly accept roster spot number 25.
This leaves many including Mike Pelfrey, Angel Pagan, Ambiorix Burgos, Ruddy Lugo, Joe Smith, Brian Stokes, Anderson Hernandez, and non-roster invitees Tony Armas Jr., Olmedo Saenz, and Brady Clark looking from the outside in. Jose Valentin is also a non-roster invitee this year but is currently not 100% healthy and seems amenable to starting off in the minors.
Pagan and Saenz could make cases for themselves if the Mets are not convinced that Ryan Church can handle left-handed pitching and Damion Easley would have to start, leaving the bench without a solid right-handed option (Willie is often reluctant to pinch hit with Ramon Castro and Castro may also get a lot of starts against southpaws).
Further helping Saenz's case would be his ability to spell an aging Carlos Delgado at first.
Otherwise, the best path for the Mets is to start off the year with the veterans that have major league experience on their 25 man roster and allow the younger guys and the veterans looking for a fresh start to get some work in the minors and keep them hungry in case the Mets get hit by injuries.
For those that are lamenting the departure of Phil Humber, Deolis Guerra, and Kevin Mulvey in the Santana deal, the Mets still have numerous young pitchers waiting in the wings, including Pelfrey, Burgos, Lugo, Smth, Stokes, Eddie Kunz, Willie Collazo, Carlos Muniz, and Steven Register.
The departures of Carlos Gomez and Lastings Milledge leave the organizational outfield depth a little thin, but Fernando Martinez seems poised to move up the ranks, and the Mets have Pagan, Clark, and Ben Johnson to provide some extra insurance for the time being.
Hot dogs, green grass, all out at Shea. Guaranteed to have a heck of a day...