David Wright, Jose Reyes and Co. are sure bets to make the team out of spring training, but things aren't as clear for Oliver Perez, Daniel Murphy, Brad Emaus and some 30 other guys all vying for a spot on the New York Mets Major League roster.
The Mets got spring training underway on Tuesday when pitchers and catchers reported for duty at Digital Domain Park in Port St Lucie, Fla. There are a number of key position battles to watch out for, especially at second base, the back end of the rotation and in middle relief.
Here's a look at the possible 25-man rotation for Opening Day, breaking down the players into three categories: guaranteed jobs, likely roles and coin flips. With the exception of injuries over the next six weeks, here's how I see things panning out.
There are fewer sure things in the Mets organization than Wright being at the hot corner in 2011. Despite what many consider a subpar 2010, Wright still finished seventh in the National League in RBI, and tied for 11th in home runs.
Wright reached several milestones last season. He collected his 1,000th career hit against the Dodgers in April and became the club’s all-time doubles leader the following night. Wright has hit safely in every Opening Day he has played and he's a sure bet to be in the heart of the lineup against the Marlins on April 1.
As goes Reyes, as goes the Mets. He's healthy and he's going to play a massive role with the team in 2011.
The Mets went 42-22 when he scored at least one run last season and since 2005, the Mets are 290-126 when he scores one or more run. He hit .329 (91-277) in Mets wins and .238 (68-286) in Mets losses over that span.
Reyes was diagnosed with a hyperactive thyroid in spring training last year, and he also missed time on three separate occasions with a strained right oblique.
Assuming he makes it through the preseason, he'll be the Opening Day leadoff man. Don't expect him anywhere near the No. 3 spot this time around.
Bay was a free agent flop in his first season at Citi Field, although he did miss the final two months of the season following that nasty crash into the outfield wall at Dodger Stadium.
The streaky left fielder had a season-high 11-game hitting streak in May, during which time he batted .372 (16-43) with six runs, three doubles, one triple, seven RBI and three stolen bases. On the negative side, he also went a career-long 108 at-bats without a home run at the start of the year.
Defensively, Bay is as solid as they come. Offensively, the Mets are looking for a bounce-back year, even though it's unrealistic to expect Boston-like numbers.
Aside from injury, I don't see any real scenario where Beltran doesn't start on Opening Day.
The 12-year veteran is in his walk year, and regardless of whether he starts in center or right, he's going to be hitting in the meat of the New York lineup.
He made 58 starts in center after recovering from arthroscopic surgery on his right knee and he hit .353 (24-68) over his final 18 games of the year. There's the potential for a solid season here, and if his range is better he could be a surprise. His arm is still good, but obviously everything revolves around his leg. Pencil him in the four or five spot.
Pagan set career highs in practically every offensive category in 2010. He became the first
Mets’ outfielder to steal 30 bases since 1999 and he was one of two players in the majors to have at least 30 doubles, 10 home runs, 60 RBI and 30 stolen bases. He hit also over .300 in three separate months.
He can play any outfield spot but he's going to start in center field or, if the Mets use Beltran in center, right.
He has earned his spot on the roster and he's all but guaranteed not only a spot on the 25-man, but also in the starting lineup.
A former first-rounder, Big Pelf set career-bests in wins, ERA, starts, innings, strikeouts and opponents average against in 2010. He was the first Mets starter to make at least 30 starts in three consecutive seasons since Tom Glavine and he became the 10th right-hander in franchise history to win at least 15 games in a season.
Pelfrey went 10-3 with a 2.83 ERA at home, he was a valuable stopper (10-3 following a Mets loss) and he induced more double plays than all but one other pitcher in the National League. He'll head the New York rotation in Johan Santana's absence and therefore has a huge role to play in 2011.
The only word you can use to describe Dickey is "revelation".
The 36-year-old was, along with Pagan, the real surprise of the Mets' 2010 season. He set career highs in wins, starts, innings pitched and strikeouts in his first season with the Mets and he finished seventh in the National League in ERA.
He was great at home and economical with his pitches, and he really does do all of the little things right. He fields his position as well as anyone in the game and he can handle the bat better than most pitchers. Combine that with his ability to pitch on short rest if needed, and you have a versatile hurler in 2011 who will be in the top half of the New York rotation.
Despite the off-field altercation at Citi Field last August, Rodriguez figures to play a big role at the back of the bullpen. He's still the team's closer and there's not going to be anything in Spring Training to say otherwise.
He converted 25 of 30 save chances for his sixth straight season with 25 or more saves, and while I hate to see him pitching in tied games on the road or pitching his third inning of work, he has the ability to get it done.
K-Rod wasn't perfect last year and I'm certainly not giving him a free pass, but the fact remains that he's the club's best option right now.
The left-hander became the ninth Mets rookie to make at least 30 starts in a season and the first since Jae Seo in 2003. He led all rookies in strikeouts and finished tied for sixth in wins, but nothing was more impressive than his one-hitter where he finished one out away from perfection.
Niese has a quick move to the plate and he keeps running games in check. Most experts expect Niese to start the season as the team's No. 3 starter, so it's pretty unlikely to imagine a scenario where he doesn't break camp with the club.
Even if Davis struggles this spring and somehow doesn't get the start, he's a sure bet to be on the 25-man roster.
He finished the season second in doubles and runs scored, third in home runs, total bases (230) and RBI and fifth in hits among all National League rookies.
Davis was expected to start 2010 at Triple-A Buffalo, but he stepped into the big league role and performed admirably. I'm pretty sure he'll be the Opening Day first baseman, but either way he has a pretty secure role this season.
Young has a pretty good chance at anchoring the rotation, but nothing is a given. He could be the fourth starter, he could be the fifth, he could miss out entirely. He has little value as a reliever and he is a big enough injury risk that he could break down at any point.
I think he cracks the rotation. If he produces anything close to his 2007 form, both in statistics and health, the Mets will have a steal on their hands.
Like Young, Capuano is one of the frontrunners for a spot in the rotation, but he'll have to have a worry-free spring to make things certain. He has to earn his spot, but he has very little wiggle room. Men like Dillon Gee are waiting in the wings if Capuano stutters, and he has to prove that his arm will be able to withstand the rigors of a full season of work.
He has just 66 major league innings under his belt in the last three years, and he will need to show that he is up to the task of squaring off against elite hitters again on a daily basis.
He worked in long relief, non-save ninth inning duties and as a starter in the last four months of 2010, but he has more value to the Mets as a starter than a mop-up man.
Thole is a pretty likely bet for the Opening Day start behind the dish after a solid season with the Mets in 2010. After being called up for the second time from Buffalo, Thole hit .277 with 17 RBI in 73 appearances.
He has a strong arm and, with Ronny Paulino out of the mix for the Opening Day roster, is all but certain to be one of the two catchers. He's the front runner for the job and has more than the 50-50 odds suggest.
I'm not a fan of Luis Castillo, and right now I have Emaus with the lead in the second base sweepstakes. The job is right up for grabs, and even if Emaus doesn't win the Opening Day gig, I fully expect the Mets to carry Emaus on the 25-man roster.
Castillo could be gone within the month and Emaus' versatility at second and third, combined with a good eye and decent pop, should be enough to earn him at least a platoon role.
Parnell is the most likely eighth-inning man at this point. The inflammation of his right elbow that shut down his season last September looks to be an isolated thing of the past and that is the only thing that looks to be in his way.
He went 15 games (13.2 innings) without allowing an earned run from Aug. 11 to Sept. 8 and he finished the season with a 1.17 ERA.
Parnell throws ridiculously hard and is the perfect set-up man in New York considering what other options are available. He's not a sure bet to make the team, but in my mind he's the next best thing. He'd need to have a meltdown in Florida to miss the team.
Tankersley was not good in 2010, but there are two big things going for him this season. The first is that he is a lefty specialist. He held left-handed hitters to a .200 average in 2010 compared to .333 against right-handers.
The second is that he is widely considered to have the biggest upside of any new reliever.
He has to beat out Mike O'Connor and Tim Byrdak for the lefty set-up role, but I think he's the favorite going into Spring Training today.
The fourth outfield spot may not be as complicated as the depth chart suggests. I don't see either Lucas Duda or Fernando Martinez starting the season in the major leagues and I give Hairston the nod over others like Willie Harris.
Double-digit homers are not out of the question, and there's every chance he could hit 15 if he sees enough time. If Beltran gets moved, Hairston could see a significant amount of time until Duda or Martinez rip up Triple-A pitching again.
Carrasco has the ability to bridge the gap between the starters and the bullpen, but his greatest strength is also his biggest weakness.
His versatility allows him to be a spot starter, a long reliever and a setup man, but because he has no one identifiable role his position may be in doubt if he is not flawless over the coming month.
I expect him to make the 25-man roster, but Pedro Beato and Manny Alvarez will be snapping at his heels. If Carrasco impresses Terry Collins, pencil his name into the seventh inning job.
Murphy can play either spot on the right side of the infield and that may give him the chance to get onto the Opening Day roster. If Castillo leaves, Murphy probably cracks the team. If not, I think Nick Evans will get the job because he can also play the outfield, assuming he has a good spring.
Murphy is no more than a coin flip at this point, although Collins told ESPN that, "If Murph is healthy, we have to get that bat back in the lineup. Hopefully he'll be in that mix, either at second base or someplace else."
That tells me he has the edge on his competition for a prime bench spot, but only time will tell.
The bullpen is fragile and uncertain, and former Braves hurler needs to show he's more than a Triple-A talent.
He posted a 3-0 record with a 1.38 ERA against NL East opponents and he did not allow a run against the Phillies, Marlins or Nationals. He also held left-handers to a .163 clip. People probably remember the grand slams he gave up more than the positives, but he's a decent pitcher and he could help the bullpen if he survives the next six weeks.
Tim Byrdak or Mike O'Connor
Byrdak's experience may give him the slight edge over other candidates here, but it's a 50-50 chance that he will lose out to O'Connor. Bench coach Ken Oberkfell described O'Connor as having good command and good breaking pitches, but it's uncertain how things will shake out.
Either way, one of these two pitchers will be on the roster when April rolls around.
The second catcher spot for the first week of the season is in limbo right now. I fully expect Thole to make the roster, but his backup is as uncertain as any other position battle.
Mike Nickeas and Dusty Ryan are also in the running, so this is a toss up. However, with a young catcher, I think the Mets will go with the most experienced alternative as their No. 2. That means journeyman Chavez. He's only going to get one or two starts at most until Paulino returns, at which point the second catcher will rejoin Buffalo.
Buchholz will compete for what will probably be the final spot in the bullpen. It's also the toughest battle to predict, with at least four or five other players in the running.
Injuries have hampered Buchholz since 2008 so the Mets may consider a healthier alternative, but right now I give him the edge. He posted a 2.17 ERA in 63 appearances with the Rockies two years ago, and his previous successes may sway his coaches with all things being equal.
Other options include Beato, Blaine Boyer and Ryota Igarashi.
Harris is a long shot for a spot on the roster, and like many things, it may come down to the Luis Castillo scenario. If Castillo is booted out, Murphy will be needed. If Castillo stays, the Mets could well go with Evans as a backup at first which would open up another spot in the outfield.
Sandy Alderson said of Hu at the press conference where he was introduced to the media: "He provides a nice set of capabilities for us. He'll be able to move around. He can run a little bit, and offensively maybe give us a little pop."
It is thought that Hu will see time at second base and Adam Rubin of ESPN believes he can be used to give Reyes a day off and serve as a defensive replacement.
I don't want to second guess the Mets front office, but I hope he brings something tangible to the club. His statistics alone suggest he's a below-average player, but I can't honestly remember seeing him play, so my knowledge of him is entirely second hand. Still, if the Mets need a utility infielder up the middle, Hu is the most obvious choice over Luis Hernandez.