Survivor 2004: St. Lucie

Yesterday, the Mets sent pitchers PJ Bevis, Bob Keppel, Royce Ring and Jason Roach to minor league camp cutting their roster to 37 and leaving 12 players in Major League camp fighting for jobs, that will be reassigned between now and opening day. Today, we take a look at who's left in camp, who's winning a job, and who will get voted off the complex grounds and be receiving a one way ticket to Norfolk.

Starting Pitchers
Tom Glavine, Al Leiter, Steve Trachsel, and Jae Seo have jobs sewn up leaving Scott Erickson, Grant Roberts, Aaron Heilman, Tyler Yates and James Baldwin in camp fighting for one spot. Heilman and Roberts have both pitched splendidly so far this spring earning the inside track at the remaining rotation spot. Yates has also pitched well, but was slowed by a tweaked muscle that caused him to miss a start and putting him a notch behind Heilman and Roberts. Erickson has also pitched well in limited innings, mostly due to a rained out start, as he tries to regain his velocity after missing a couple of seasons worth of pitching due to injury.

How It Projects Right Now
With the Mets slotting their fifth starter for only 9 starts in the first 55 games of the season, it follows that Heilman will be returned to Norfolk, despite his job-winning effort this spring, so he can continue to pitch every fifth day and build on the success he has found working with Rick Peterson. Roberts, who has experience in the pen and is out of options, will likely win the fifth slot and work double duty as a long man out of the pen for the first 2 months of the season. Erickson will be afforded an opportunity to stay in St. Lucie and continue rehabbing and searching for his velocity as an insurance policy. Yates will likely start the year in the Norfolk rotation. Baldwin has yet to distinguish himself, but could end up in Norfolk as an insurance policy against injury.

Relief Pitchers
Braden Looper, David Weathers, Mike Stanton, and John Franco have locks on four of the spots in the pen. There are 6 or 7 positions depending on whether the Mets go north with 11 or twelve pitchers which will likely be a last minute decision. Dan Wheeler, Orber Moreno, Ricky Bottalico, Pedro Feliciano, and Jason Anderson are vying for the 2 or 3 open spots.

How It Projects Right Now
Dan Wheeler has probably earned the fifth roster spot based on his performance last year and his continued good work this spring. Feliciano and Anderson have both struggled in their limited appearances, leaving Moreno, who has been brilliant this spring, and Bottalico, who has also been effective, winning the remaining two slots if the Mets go north with twelve pitchers or fighting for the one remaining spot if they take eleven. Moreno has been more impressive, Bottalico has more experience. The Mets are likely to break camp with 11 pitchers, so that means a good down to the wire battle between Bottalico and Moreno.

Right Fielders
The only remaining hole in the Mets everyday lineup features 5 players fighting for playing time, including Karim Garcia, Shane Spencer, Raul Gonzalez, Timo Perez, and Roger Cedeno. Garcia has the early lock on the job featuring both a guaranteed contract and the best performance so far this spring, while the remaining four players are likely looking at two open roster slots.

How It Projects Right Now
With Garcia a virtual lock, the Mets will likely seek to keep at least one of the righthanded candidates (Spencer and Gonzalez) as a platoon partner for Garcia. The other slot appears to be Cedeno's regardless of on the field merit as the Mets have repeatedly insisted they won't cut Cedeno loose and pay him the remaining $10M on his contract to play elsewhere, preferring to pay him to sit on the bench in New York. Gonzalez has outplayed Spencer this spring hitting more baseballs than pizza delivery boys, but Gonzalez's lack of power (no extra base hits this spring) and his reputation as a AAAA outfielder versus Spencer's experience as a Yankee may turn out to be the deciding factors.

Bench Jobs
Joe McEwing, Todd Zeile, and Vance Wilson already have their tickets punched for New York, and two of the remaining spots belong to the two outfielders who remain standing in the battle for rightfield, likely to be Spencer and Cedeno. If the Mets take 11 pitchers north, it leaves just one slot to fill a bunch of holes.

How It Projects Right Now
In addition to lacking speed, defense, legitimate power threats, and a backup middle-infielder other than McEwing, unless the Mets take Timo Perez north, Cedeno ranks as the only lefty stick on the bench. The Mets are currently active in the marketplace searching for a middle infielder. It's unlikely they will find one player to fill all their needs. The Mets may be forced to eat Cedeno's contract to make space for an outfielder with a potent lefty bat. The perfect candidate is actually already in camp, unfortunately he's Karim Garcia and is slated to be the starter. They will likely try to trade Timo Perez for a utility infielder. The bench remains one of the weakest parts of the 2004 roster, especially if the Mets remain steadfast in their unwillingness to cut their losses with Cedeno. The waiver wire may provide some inexpensive options as possible solutions if the Mets decide to let Cedeno look for work elsewhere.

The One Move That Would Fix Everything That Won't Happen
The best solution has been and remains trading Steve Trachsel for a young starting rightfielder. The progress of the Mets young starters (Heilman, Roberts, and Yates) and the apparent health of Scott Erickson give the Mets the ability to fill two rotation slots and still have backup plans. The addition of a starting rightfielder would move Garcia to a bench role, which would give the Mets a lefty stick and a homerun threat off the bench and allow them to fill their speed and infield needs with one player. The dumping of the $5M-$10M remaining on Trachsel's contract would offset the eating of Cedeno's deal.

Instead, the Mets will likely go north with a weak bench and with Aaron Heilman disappointedly heading for Norfolk despite pitching well enough to win a job.


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