The U Files # 64: Deliberations on the Bench

The Mets entered the 2003 season lacking a strong bench, and this turned out to be a critical point in the 2003 season for the Mets. The 2004 squad is improved in the starting lineup over what got most of the playing time in 2003. Much of the bench remains from last year, and here we will examine this group of players from multiple angles.

The New York Mets entered camp two weeks ago with these players looking to earn a spot on the bench: Roger Cedeno (having been demoted with the signings of Mike Cameron, Shane Spencer and Karim Garcia), Timo Perez, Joe McEwing, Danny Garcia, Vance Wilson, Todd Zeile. Jeff Duncan appeared in games in 2003 due to the lack of players, but is not ready and should not be needed. The Mets let go of Marco Scutaro and Matt Watson on waivers.

One thing that should be noted is that this is a very right-handed group. Only Timo Perez is a left-handed hitter, and Roger Cedeno bats from both sides. It is necessary that one make the team, but there may not be room for both. Both Cedeno and Perez play the same positions, outfield. Perez has shown similar offensive upside (outside of Cedeno's career season) but Cedeno is a more established hitter. Given a large enough number of AB, it may be more likely that Cedeno keep up a certain level of performance. On the other hand, where Cedeno is a defensive liability (to use the term modestly), Perez is a capable fielder. Cedeno/Perez would share backup outfielder duties with whichever of the Spencer/Garcia platoon is not in the lineup.

This group does not present a great degree of ability. In terms of power it is particularly thin. The 2003 bench carried Tony Clark, who may have been good for the lowest OBP on the bench, but certainly provided a major threat to opposing pitchers. The closest thing to real power on this bench will rest in whichever member of the Garcia/Spencer platoon is not starting. Todd Ziele has seen his home run power remain relatively intact thus far, but he is reaching an age where that is now likely to fall off. Perez/Cedeno provide moderate gap power, but most of their offensive contribution will come by singles; home runs are the exception in either's offensive game. "McEwing" and "power" cannot be combined in any sentence except a joke.

Joe McEwing retains his time honored position as the "versatile manager-friendly guy who doesn't really do anything well". If he were asked to make a team based on his hitting abilities, his best bet would be to head to Detroit or Los Angeles. He is relatively assured of a job now that his competition Scutaro has been, apparently, thoughtlessly discarded. If Scutaro fields poorly then we can say he is no worse a fielder than McEwing. It would be a very harsh take on Scutaro's experience to suggest he could not easily out-hit a man whose measly on base percentage of .309 in 2003 was nevertheless higher than his slugging percentage (.291). Scutaro did do all he could do to prove his offensive competence at class AAA, where he posted a higher OPS at that level than the amazing 70/70 man, Alfonso Soriano did in MLB in 2002-03.

If Garcia earns a spot on the bench, he'll be the go-to guy for defensive substitutions on the middle infield. Offensively he offers a decent enough ability to manage the bat with no outstanding power. He has adequate speed, but not of the variety that can be a real weapon off the bench.

Todd Ziele, unless he defies the law, will be a guy who can have value mostly because he's hidden in a bench role. If he is pressed into starting, then suddenly you have a liability in your lineup (shades of 2003).

Vance Wilson offers what can be accepted from a backup catcher; he may be the best defensive catcher in the organization. Offensively you can take the occasional home run he may pop as long as he's not starting.

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