Prior to this season, I had gone to spring training earlier, usually within the first two weeks of live games. This year, I arrived March 20th and will be leaving as soon as I am done with this post. I got to see a lot more regular players as the Mets made their first round of cuts on 3/20, just as I made my way into my hotel. The major question I, as well as every other fan, had was what is the health of LHP Johan Santana? So far, its been good news on Santana, who is recovering from shoulder surgery on a torn capsule muscule. He has responded to pitching every fifth day and is on track for opening day. In the two starts I saw him pitch, he even showed glimses of the old Johan Santana, who was one of the best pitchers in the game when the Mets acquired him from the Twins before the 2008 season.
Had things not gone well with Santana, the Mets were not prepared. Miguel Batista would have been their 5th starter, with very little to back him up. The Mets signed Chris Young, who is recovering quicker having the same surgery as Santana, as an insurance policy and he provides the most major league experience not named Batista. Batista will make the team, but not without help from DJ Carrasco, who was slated to make the team before an injury likely puts him on the disabled list to start the season. LHP Tim Byrdak, who may be back as soon as the second series of the season, freed up a spot for a left handed specialist, likely to be Daniel Herrera. As expected, the Mets rotation will be Santana, RA Dickey, Jonathon Niese, Mike Pelfrey and Dillon Gee. The bullpen will be Frank Francisco, Jon Rauch, Ramon Ramirez, Manny Acosta, Bobby Parnell, Herrera (until Byrdak returns) and Batista (until Carrasco returns).
The Mets starting lineup is as set as it was before camp began. The only question remains CF Andres Torres, who remains a possibility to be ready to play by opening day. Daniel Murphy has played a decent 2B and will lead a middle of the order that includes 3B David Wright, 1B Ike Davis, LF Jason Bay, and RF Lucas Duda. C Josh Thole and SS Ruben Tejada round out the batting order. The projected place for there to be competition was to be the Mets bench, but that was almost as set in stone as the batting order.
Infielder Justin Turner will be a holdover from last season. The Mets signed SS Ronny Cedeno to backup Tejada. Scott Hairston, who missed a good amount of camp with an oblique injury, was resigned to be a forth outfielder and right handed bat off the bench. The next two spots, where I thought would more competitive, turned out not to be. Mike Nickeas, with little major league experience, was given a clear track to the spot as Mets backup catcher. Former minor leaguers Rob Johnson and Lucas May were strictly brought in to provide depth at AAA, though both showed they can hit. Vinny Rottino, who can catch if needed, has had a great spring and may be the one player to earn an unexpected spot on this team, as he is likely to go north if Torres is not ready to play. Jordany Valdespin, who played very well and intrigued a lot of fans, may be the only player crunched by the numbers game. The Mets felt they have enough infield depth with Turner and Cedeno and felt Valdespin was not a viable option as a backup outfielder. Kirk Nieuwenhuis has been injured and Matt den Dekker is simply not ready to hit major league pitching at this point.
That leaves only one spot on the Mets bench. Camp opened with a competition between OFs Mike Baxter and Adam Loewen, both in on minor league contracts. Baxter had little major league experience last season and Loewen was the converted pitcher who had a good season in 2011 with the Toronto Blue Jays AAA team. Loewen came in with the bigger power bat. Baxter has had a good spring and won the job outright, with Loewen striking out too much to turn any heads. I, as well as many others, felt the Mets could be interested in making an addition at the end of spring training. This will not happen as the Mets will go with what they had going in. For better or for worse, this is the 2012 New York Mets.