Baseball is back, which means it’s an appropriate time to dissect the New York Mets roster battles with spring training here.
Baseball season officially returned on Monday. Across Florida and Arizona, players reported to their respective teams in order to ready themselves for the 2020 MLB season. These players, of course, include New York Mets employees.
The Mets have a ton to figure out before Opening Day. Even with little roster turnover, the Mets have a number of battles that need to be settled in the coming month.
Starting LF: Yoenis Cespedes vs. J.D. Davis
This is the Mets’ highest-profile battle. They need to figure out who is going to be starting in left field on Opening Day. Both Yoenis Cespedes and J.D. Davis are right-handed power-hitting bats. Neither plays very good defense, though Cespedes is better than Davis in that regard.
Cespedes is the bigger name. He’s one of the faces of the franchise and he’s getting paid $9 million this season. Those are some pretty big incentives to play him on Opening Day.
The breakout potential for Davis confuses the issue. Davis had a phenomenal 2019. He was a major part of the Mets offense in the second half and could be an All-Star-level hitter; the issue is his defense.
Davis rated out as one of the worst defensive outfielders in baseball. At least Cespedes has an elite arm in LF; Davis doesn’t even provide that.
This battle is going to come down to health and consistency. If Cespedes is healthy and shows he can hit at the level he did before his double heel surgery, he’ll be the LF.
If he can’t manage to stay healthy or showcases significant regression, it will likely be Davis’s time to shine. Cespedes has to show that he’s healthy and ready to go in spring training—not an easy task for a guy who hasn’t played baseball in over a year and a half.
Fifth Starter: Michael Wacha vs. Steven Matz
The fifth starter debate has raged all offseason with most coming to the same conclusion. Steven Matz is better than Michael Wacha and the debate is silly. Yet, here the Mets are, ready to have this competition in spring training.
Matz is a solid back of the rotation starter who has finally managed to stay healthy. He’s thrown 150 innings in back-to-back seasons, something Wacha’s never done.
Matz’s was better than Wacha in every statistical category in 2019.
For Wacha to come out victorious in this competition, he would need to dominate spring training and Matz would need to be atrocious. That’s unlikely to happen, but never say never.
The most likely scenario is that Matz wins the fifth spot and Wacha heads to the bullpen.
Closer: Edwin Diaz vs. Jeurys Familia vs. Seth Lugo vs. Dellin Betances vs. Justin Wilson
The New York Mets have a number of former closers on their roster. All five of these relievers have been elite relievers at one time during their careers. That, alone, opens up this competition.
Seth Lugo shouldn’t be the Mets closer. He’s too valuable as a multi-inning swingman to be pigeonholed to that role. He was forced into that role in 2019 when Diaz and Familia struggled and Wilson was injured. He shouldn’t have to fill it to start 2020.
Dellin Betances is in a similar situation. He’s never really been a closer. He’s best when used situationally against a team’s best hitters. Deploying him at the right time as a relief ace to get the Mets out of trouble makes more sense than a ninth-inning role.
Justin Wilson could be the closer, but his status as the Mets’ best lefty reliever makes that unlikely. He fills a better role as a matchup option to target tough lefties in a lineup with the new three-batter minimum rule. His status as an elite lefty is too valuable to make him the closer.
That leaves just Edwin Diaz and Jeurys Familia. These are the two most likely candidates to fill the spot. Familia is third all-time on the Mets saves list and holds numerous team records in the role. He also struggled mightily in 2019 due to control issues. Considering walks have always been an issue, that isn’t likely to clear up after one offseason.
Edwin Diaz was arguably the best closer in baseball in 2018. He’s young and has several years of control left. Not to mention the Mets gave up Jarred Kelenic and Justin Dunn for him. He needs to be an elite closer for that trade to even look somewhat passable.
Diaz’s biggest issue was the home run ball. He’d never had that issue before 2019. It’s much more likely that was an anomaly than Familia’s issues were.
Diaz and Familia will be battling it out during spring, but bet on Diaz. The Mets have too much riding on him for him too not come out the winner.
26th man: Luis Guillorme vs. Max Morroff vs. Eduardo Nunez
The last spot on the roster will be an all-out battle. The Mets have four spots filled already with Dom Smith, J.D. Davis/Yoenis Cespedes, Jake Marisnick and Tomas Nido. Jed Lowrie would be looked into the fifth spot if he was healthy, but all indications are he isn’t.
The New York Mets need someone who can play the middle infield. That’s their biggest need right off the bat. Dom Smith can play first base and help out in the outfield. Nido has backup catcher on lock. Marisnick is the defensive outfielder. J.D. Davis can fill in at first, third or LF, whether or not he’s an everyday player.
They don’t have anyone who can play shortstop or second base on the bench. Thankfully, they attempted to address that concern this offseason.
The Mets’ latest addition is the least likely to fill that 26th spot. Eduardo Nunez’s defense has always been bad, but now, it’s horrific. He’s one of the worst defensive players in MLB. He can technically play third base, shortstop, second base and left field. In reality, he can’t play any position. The only reason he contends is if his bat bounces back to its 2017 form.
Max Moroff is an interesting player. He’s a high on-base defense-first player. He plays plus defense at 2B, 3B, SS, and LF. His on-base skills are also elite. He had an absurd 19.1$ walk rate in AAA in 2019. The crazy thing is, that’s normal for him. In 2018 his AAA walk rate was 14.5%, in 2017 it was 18%, and in 2016 it was 17.3%.
He’s displayed that ability to some extent at the major league level before. In stints with the Pirates in 2017 and 2018, he had an 11.4% and 10.4% walk rate respectively.
The issue is that he has no contact or power ability. If he isn’t getting a walk Moroff likely isn’t getting on base. He slashed .213/.375/.361 in AAA in 2019, and .223/.334/.393 in 2018.
Moroff will likely need to prove he can hit at a higher level to win this competition, but it’s not like his competition is a much better hitter.
Luis Guillorme is the favorite for this spot. He’s a plus defender at SS and 2B and can also fill in at 3B when necessary. The issue is that he’s a light hitter and lacks Moroff’s on-base skills.
Guillorme did show significantly more offensively in 2019 then Moroff has ever shown at the major league level. How much does that matter when he slashed just .243/.324/.361?
Guillorme has been in the organization for years and he’s on the 40-man roster, which gives him an edge. That said, don’t be shocked in Moroff makes the New York Mets’ roster with a strong spring training.