From Left Field: The 5th Bench Spot

An article by posted on February 16, 2012

Though the Mets did not make any huge splashes this offseason, the final 25-man roster has pretty much taken shape already based on the team’s acquisitions.

Barring any injuries in spring training, the starting lineup looks set: Davis, Murphy, Tejada, Wright, Thole, Bay, Torres and Duda. Even the starting pitching staff won’t look too different than Santana, Dickey, Pelfrey, Niese and Gee (with maybe a few early starts to fill in for Santana still in question).

Even the bullpen seems to have defined roles already: Francisco, Rauch, Ramirez, Byrdak, Parnell, Acosta and Carrasco (based more so on his contract). Pedro Beato and Josh Stinson as well as few others will battle for the last spot.

Mike Baxter

But the one roster spot that remains totally up in the air is the final bench spot. Right now, we’re looking at a bench consisting of backup catcher Mike Nickeas, utility infielder Justin Turner, backup middle infielder Ronny Cedeno and outfielder/right-handed pinch hitter Scott Hairston.

The Mets have a glaring need for a left-handed hitting pinch hitter/outfielder to fill that final spot.

Other than Kirk Nieuwenheis who will likely start the season in Triple-A, the Mets do not have any other left-handed hitting outfielders on the 40-man roster (besides projected starter Lucas Duda). Of the non-roster invitees, Mike Baxter and Adam Loewen fit the bill.

Baxter might be the guy, since he can also play a little first base. He’s not going to be a power threat off the bench like Hairston, but he has the potential to spray line drives all over the field. I may be partial to Baxter because he’s a local Queens boy and he was an awesome guy when I met him. But still, given the opportunity, he could be the best choice.

As for Loewen, he was at one time a pitcher who converted to the outfield a few years ago. Spring training will determine if he can hit and whether he could be a valuable bench addition. Maybe he can even throw a few innings here and there.

Of the left-handed hitting outfielders still on the market, no one is too intriguing for the Mets purposes. Johnny Damon, Jay Gibbons, Raul Ibanez and J.D. Drew are all at least 35 years old, and the Mets cannot afford to waste a spot on a fifth outfielder that can’t play the outfield.

Two players that signed elsewhere would have been great fits for the Mets final bench spot: Endy Chavez and Rick Ankiel.

Chavez is of course a fan favorite as making that famous NLCS catch. But after losing Jose Reyes, this team needs some sort of speed from somewhere. Even if he wasn’t starting, Chavez can still steal a few bases here and there. He maybe doesn’t fit the bill as a potent left-handed bat off the bench, but he’s a top-notch defensive outfielder that could have replaced Duda late in games if the Mets have a lead (hopefully that’s more than just a few times all season).

Ankiel would have been the perfect left-handed complement to Hairston. He’s got some pop from the left side, can run a little and can play all three outfield positions. He probably could have even challenged Andres Torres for the starting center field gig.

He re-signed with the Nationals on a minor-league deal. Though he hit just .239 last season in an extended role, he would have made sense for the Mets on a one-year Major League deal for that final spot.

Anyway, besides the last bullpen spot, keep your eye on the candidates for the final bench spot. Hopefully, Baxter steps up and has a big spring, so the organization feels he can handle the job.

About the Author ()

Jim Mancari hails from Massapequa, N.Y. He recently earned a Master's degree in Journalism at Hofstra University. He is a devout Mets fan and takes pride in his team, despite their lack of success over the last few years. Like all Mets fans, Jim has plenty of hope. He also writes as the sports reporter for the Brooklyn Tablet newspaper and the senior editor of metroBASEBALL Magazine. Click my name to view my personal website.

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