PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- With less than two weeks to go before the Mets board a flight to Washington, D.C., shutting the door on their Port St. Lucie experience for 2005, the roster appears to be settling into place around camp.
Several key cuts still remain to be made by manager Willie Randolph. <I>Inside Pitch</I>'s Bryan Hoch offers his analysis on who's making the team and why (this extra-long feature is available to Premium Subscribers only):
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Obviously, Mike Piazza is a lock to be on the roster come Opening Day, barring some catastrophic injury. Playing out what could be his final year in a Mets uniform, Piazza has made no secret thus far that he's enjoying being out of the limelight a little bit – most of the attention around the clubhouse has been focused on guys like Carlos Beltran, Pedro Martinez and David Wright.
Even though Willie Randolph pulled Piazza aside and told him that he still considers the Mets Piazza's club, the marketing folks obviously think otherwise: Piazza is absent from both the covers of the spring training programs sold at Tradition Field and the team's media guide for the season.
Piazza did not blast his first home run of the spring until Tuesday, when he cracked a solo shot to left against the Atlanta Braves, but he's enjoying a productive (and, most importantly, injury-free) spring in which he's batting .360 with nine RBI and a .600 slugging percentage in 25 at-bats.
The real 'catch', so to speak, is Ramon Castro's sudden rise to the backup position with Jason Phillips' trade to the Los Angeles Dodgers this week. Castro has never proven that he's much of a hitter at any point in his career, although under Randolph's rules, he doesn't need to be – Randolph is simply looking for a guy who can catch the ball and throw the ball with consistency, and the bulky Castro appears to fit the mold.
He has shown a little pop, slugging a game-winning home run in the 10th inning Tuesday, but the Mets could be in a serious bind if Piazza gets hurt at any point this year.
Mike Jacobs has been told he'll be starting the year at Double-A Binghamton as a first baseman, a jarring note for a player who thought he'd be next in line to catch in New York, and Joe Hietpas appears tagged to begin the year catching at Binghamton. Neither player is ready for everyday duty at the big league level.
We say: Piazza as the starter, Castro as a backup, and hope for Piazza's health.
Doug Mientkiewicz starts the year as New York's first baseman and projects to give them a glove unseen at Shea since the days of John Olerud several years back.
After adjusting his stance to a more open model, Andres Galarraga has slugged a pair of homers and made some impressive plays at first base, although it appears as though it might be too little, too late. Eric Valent offers steady service and the option of playing corner outfield positions, while Galarraga is a liability, especially in late-inning National League situations.
With both players hitting under .200 in spring action, this one could come down to pure athleticism – Valent trumps Galarraga in that regard, even as compelling a figure as Galarraga is to root for. Luis Garcia is hitting .357 in camp but should be headed for Triple-A.
We say: Valent backs up Mientkiewicz.
Kaz Matsui has missed three straight games with soreness in his upper back, but it's not believed to be serious and Randolph says that, were this the regular season, Matsui would be playing.
With Matsui in line to start on Opening Day, the backup option continues to be Miguel Cairo, who has nearly invisibly had a solid spring by hitting .421 with a homer and 11 RBI in 11 games. Cairo offers the Mets the ability to play shortstop and third base as well, which was a factor in prompting the releases of Danny Garcia and Joe McEwing this month.
Marlon Anderson is also a consideration, as he's shown to be a speedy talent off the bench and has played second base in the big leagues over an extended period before. He's only hitting .179 this spring, but his veteran track record and NL experience helps.
Jeff Keppinger is also still in camp but hasn't impressed Randolph (Keppinger probably should have taken advantage of an early reporting date to camp, especially with a new manager running the show) and he's headed for the minors.
We say: Cairo backs up Matsui.
Jose Reyes has looked fantastic in spring action on both sides of the ball, and it's easy to almost breathe a sigh of relief about his troubled hamstrings.
Perhaps this will be the year that Reyes finally plays through an entire season, but just in case, the Mets need to keep their bases covered.
Cairo provides them with a solid reserve, assuming Reyes and Matsui aren't hurt at the same time, but Chris Woodward has made his presence felt with a solid spring (.333 BA, one homer, two triples) and Randolph intimated that he likes the 28-year-old scrappy former Toronto Blue Jay. Woodward's step up was the final nail in the coffin of Joe McEwing's Mets career, which was threatened from the get-go anyway.
We say: Woodward makes the club as Reyes' backup.
David Wright's backups for his first full Major League season project to be Cairo and Woodward in fill-in duty, although the Mets hope that it'll be a non-issue and Wright will go on to have the fantastic success many project for him.
Of the pair, Cairo will probably pick up the most duty, since Woodward has only had a smattering of third base experience at the big league level and none since 2002.
We say: Cairo fills in nicely for Wright when necessary.
The Mets' three outfielders are set, with Cliff Floyd in left, Carlos Beltran in center and Mike Cameron – apparently with a healthy wrist and on track for Opening Day – in right. The Mets might consider not using Cameron on April 4 at Cincinnati, but even if they do, it's not a long-term move and he should be ready for the home opener at Shea Stadium on April 11.
That's a setback for Victor Diaz, who has proven in resounding fashion that he can hit the ball for power with regularity. Diaz slugged a three-run homer on Tuesday against the Braves, one of those no-doubters that soared over the left field wall, but Randolph and the coaching staff seem to have made up their mind that he is better served to play every day (and gain experience tracking fly balls) rather than sit on the Mets' bench as a right-handed power bat. If they want that, they'll carry Galarraga.
But make no mistake, Diaz's time in Flushing is coming soon. It appears more likely by the day that Cameron's future with the Mets appears secure, especially after he instructed his agent to call off the barking dogs of a trade, but perhaps the same can't be said of Floyd.
He's running quite a bit lately, trying to prove that he really can steal 20-25 bases, and you should take that with a grain of salt – Floyd's not exactly the most agile player anymore, and lumbering around the bases could soon take its toll. The Mets hope not, but it's not unthinkable.
We say: Floyd, Beltran and Cameron in the outfield on Opening Day, Diaz at Triple-A but called up by midseason. Valent hangs on as the fourth outfielder, while Kerry Robinson gives them a little speed off the bench as a fifth man. Gerald Williams and Ron Calloway miss the cut.
It appears as though Randolph plans upon going with a 12-man staff to begin the season, and you can't blame the Mets for wanting depth - Steve Trachsel's injury threw a heck of a wrench into their plans already this year.
With the trade for Kaz Ishii, the Mets again have five rock-solid candidates who will make the rotation, barring injury: Pedro Martinez, Tom Glavine, Kris Benson, Ishii and Victor Zambrano.
The real toss-up is who is going to comprise what figures to be a rather weak bullpen, and no one - not even Rick Peterson - has the answer to that.
Braden Looper and Mike DeJean are definite fits as the closer and primary set-up man, respectively. Felix Heredia is throwing without the numbness that plagued his left hand earlier this month, and with a substantial contract, he's making too much not to make the team as a lefty reliever.
That leaves four spots to fill, and one would have to think that import Dae-Sung Koo hasn't come all this way to head to Triple-A Norfolk. The left-handed Koo hasn't set the world on fire (three runs and eight hits in 6.2 innings), but he also hasn't pitched badly enough to necessitate a trip to the minors. That comes at the expense of Mike Matthews, who pitched well enough to earn a job (1.00 ERA in seven appearances) but could fall victim to a numbers game.
The remaining three spots are a toss-up, but Peterson loves Roberto Hernandez's stuff and believes that the veteran can harness his smoke for just one more season. Hernandez hasn't allowed a run in five spring appearances and has notched one save, so there might be something to that.
Heath Bell, Bartolome Fortunato and the rehabbing Scott Strickland have all stated their cases for a roster spot, and it's likely all three will go north at some point this year. Strickland looked good pitching in a minor league game Wednesday, including a strikeout of Brian Daubach, but he probably needs more time.
With Bell (five appearances, 0.00 ERA) and Fortunato (four appearances, 1.80 ERA) slugging it out, there's no need to rush him. Fortunato gets an edge head-to-head simply based on pure velocity, but Bell has worked himself into incredible shape and could pitch well in the big leagues.
Scott Stewart posted a 5.40 ERA in four appearances and doesn't exactly appear to be in the best shape. That'll probably preclude him from going north. Matt Ginter, Aaron Heilman and Jae Seo (possible rotation candidates before the Ishii trade) all appear to be out of luck as well.
We say: Rotation of RHP Pedro Martinez, LHP Tom Glavine, RHP Kris Benson, LHP Kaz Ishii, RHP Victor Zambrano.
Bullpen of RHP Braden Looper, RHP Mike DeJean, RHP Bartolome Fortunato, RHP Roberto Hernandez, RHP Heath Bell, LHP Felix Heredia, LHP Dae-Sung Koo.