Both Anthony DiComo at MLB.com and Adam Rubin at ESPNNewYork.com have taken stabs at projecting the Mets’ Opening Day roster. It is early and there’s still plenty of time for players to make cases (and injuries to change the picture), but both projections have the same bench: A backup catcher (Mike Nickeas until Ronny Paulino’s suspension is up), Chin-Lung Hu, Scott Hairston, Willie Harris and Daniel Murphy.
Both include Brad Emaus as the starting second baseman.
I’m thinking about this. If Emaus indeed wins an everyday job, Murphy, presumably, becomes a left-handed utility bat on the bench. If Murphy proves he can handle second defensively and the Mets opt to platoon Murphy and Emaus, then the only lefty slated for the bench is Willie Harris.
Everything you see and hear around here suggests Hu will be on the team as the backup shortstop and all-purpose infield replacement — the Alex Cora role, only with much better defense and significantly less scowling grit. Hu hits right-handed. Obviously the Mets will carry a backup catcher, and both Paulino and Nickeas bat right-handed. Hairston signed a Major League deal and comes with a pretty strong Major League pedigree, so he seems a safe bet to be on the bench. He also bats right-handed.
That leaves two spots, and I’m trying to figure a way for Nick Evans to wind up on the team. As Matt Cerrone wrote earlier this spring, Terry Collins speaks glowingly of Evans. Evans posted a .300/.371/.536 line across Double- and Triple-A last year and has experience playing all four corners. He is out of options, meaning if he does not make the Opening Day roster he will have to clear waivers to be assigned to the Minors.
Evans hits right-handed, meaning if he makes the team over Harris and the Mets settle on a platoon of Murphy and either Emaus or Justin Turner at second, they’d have to carry an all-righty bench on days when right-handed pitchers start. With lefty-hitting Murphy, Josh Thole and Ike Davis and switch-hitting Jose Reyes, Angel Pagan and Carlos Beltran in the lineup, the only situation calling for a lefty bat off the bench would be when pinch-hitting for pitchers against righty relievers. But then that does come up with some frequency, so it might behoove the team to have an available lefty hitter.
Thing about Harris, though, is he’s not all that strong a hitter against pitchers of either hand. He’s certainly better against righties — to the tune of a career .246/.334/.360 line — but that’s hardly the type of platoon production you’d hope for in your primary lefty bat off the bench. Harris has a reputation as a good defensive outfielder and could have a leg up on a roster spot for his ability to backup center field, but Hairston has actually spent more time in center than Harris has over the past three seasons — 915 innings for Hairston and 602 2/3 for Harris.
Hairston does not get on base against righties as well as Harris does, but, predictably, hits them with a lot more power. For his career, he has .227/.288/.402 marks against right-handers.
Evans, we know, mashes lefties. In his Major League career he has been terrible against righties, to the tune of a .169/.183/.270 line. But last year in the Minors, Evans rocked a .270/.333/.470 line against righties in 303 Double-A plate appearances and a .316/.396/.582 mark in 111 Triple-A plate appearances. (A huge hat tip to Craig Glaser and the guys at Bloomberg Sports for the stats.)
Did Evans make some real adjustment to better his hitting against right-handers last season? If so, is it something that will translate to the Major League level? I will ask around tomorrow, but in the interim, I’m wondering if at this point the Mets would rather have Evans up against a righty late in a game than the lefty-hitting Harris. Because if that’s the case — and the team feels comfortable with Hairston backing up center — it’s hard to justify carrying Harris over Evans just for the sake of his handedness.
Alternately, if Emaus or Turner wins the starting second base job outright, Murphy serves as the lefty bat on the bench and Hairston as the primary backup defensive outfielder, clearing a spot for Evans as a backup in the corners and pinch-hitter extraordinaire.
Of course, all these decisions are still a long way off and there are plenty of other factors in play. Just kind of rooting for Evans, is all.