Last Roster Spot Candidates
While most are focused on the bullpen, this Mets team has some other areas it needs to address prior to the start of the 2017 season. One of the main issues facing this team is which player is going to get the last spot on the bench?
At first blush, this may not seem like it is a major issue. If any of the infielders with an injury history go down, it is expected that Wilmer Flores and Jose Reyes can more than capably handle any one of the four infield spots. If two were to go down, we have seen enough from both Flores and Reyes to know that they can at least be a good stop gap option at a position. However, lost in the confidence you would have in Flores or Reyes is the fact that once they are moved to a starting position, the player who is the last man on the roster will begin to take on a larger role on the team.
Last year, that player was Eric Campbell. While Campbell may have had his positive attributes, he was certainly not capable of playing everyday. And yet, when Lucas Duda and David Wright went down that was the position Campbell found himself. In 2017, there is no reason to believe that Duda or Wright could last a full season. Same goes for Neil Walker, who just had season ending back surgery, and Asdrubal Cabrera, who played with a knee injury for the entirety of the 2016 season. The long story short here is the Mets need a deep bench for the 2017 season to prevent a player of Campbell’s caliber being a starter for two or more weeks.
For the past two seasons, the Mets have made trades to obtain Kelly Johnson to serve as a bench player. He has proven himself to be a useful player who has hit .260/.319/.441 over two brief stints with the Mets. Last year, he was clutch as a pinch hitter hitting four pinch hit home runs. He is versatile in his ability to play second, third, and both corner outfield positions. In 2015, we saw him play shortstop in a game. If given Spring Training to work on it, he could add first base to his repertoire. The main issue facing Johnson is he remains unsigned, and at this point, it is questionable whether the Mets have interest in him with the team already espousing that they need to cut payroll entering the 2017 season.
The next in line would likely be Terry Collins‘ favorite Ty Kelly. Like Johnson, Kelly is versatile in his ability to play across the infield and his ability to play the corner outfield positions. While he is a switch hitter, Kelly showed he was a better hitter against left-handed pitching in what was a very small sample size. Late in the season, Collins used Kelly as a pinch runner late in games. Overall, while Kelly does nothing outstanding, and is clearly best suited to being a bench player at the major league level, Collins has shown that he appreciates what Kelly can bring to the table.
In addition to Kelly, T.J. Rivera was the other standout 27 year old Mets rookie during the 2016 season. Late in the season with the injuries to Walker and Flores, Rivera grabbed a hold of the second base job and hit .333/.346/.476 in 33 games. Unlike Johnson and Kelly, Rivera has played a fair amount of games at shortstop. With that said, there is a reason why the Mets began transitioning him away from short beginning in AA. With that said, RIvera can legitimately play all four infield positions. When he was passed over for promotion to the majors, he began working in LF in AAA meaning it is possible he can play the outfield if necessary. The main sticking point with Rivera is the fact that he is an aggressive hitter that rarely draws a walk.
Last, but certainly not least, is Matt Reynolds. Unlike the aforementioned players, Reynolds is a legitimate shortstop who quite possibly has the best range out of all the major league options the Mets have at the position. For one glorious day game, Reynolds showed he can play left field, and he can get that clutch hit to help the Mets win the game. On the downside, Reynolds is the worst hitter of the bunch. In his 47 games with the Mets last year, he only hit .255/.266/.416. In the hitter’s haven that in the Pacific Coast League, he was only a .264/.336/.357 hitter last year. Ultimately, Reynolds is the guy you want out there defensively, but he is not the guy you want at the plate.
Unless the Mets sign Johnson, it looks like the fight will be between Kelly, Rivera, and Reynolds for the last spot on the bench. IN those three players, the Mets have three intriguing if not flawed players. Ultimately, that is your best bet when looking to round out your major league bench. The good news for the Mets is if one should falter, there are two more behind them that can pick up the slack. If the Mets face a number of injuries like they did in 2015 and 2016, the Mets have a couple of options that have proven they can be useful major league players. With that, it seems the Mets bench should not be a problem for the first time in a good number of years . . . at least that’s the hope.
Editor’s Note: this was first published on Mets Merized Online