A little competition never hurt anyone as they say, but there’s something beyond the whole “rising to a challenge” boost you get from a rival when you’re looking at competition within an organization. When positional battles benefit the team, they take on an impetus all their own.
On the other hand you have consistency, baseball is an ebb and flow game of rhythm and repetition, hot streaks and slumps — the more a manager can afford to let a player find his groove by providing consistent playing time, the better.
And therein you have Terry Collins‘ conundrum on a Mets team featuring considerable depth and multiple positional battles. There is of course the Michael Conforto playing time question, there’s the 5th starter battle, and then there’s the potential first base battle which is becoming more interesting every day.
The least interesting is perhaps the fifth starter’s spot which has tentatively gone to Robert Gsellman. I say least interesting because we’ve very quickly been reminded, with Seth Lugo‘s frayed UCL and Steven Matz‘s flexor tendon strain, how starting pitching depth very rarely goes unused. Whether we’ll ever be depleted enough to see Rafael Montero start remains to be seen, but right now I don’t think anyone on the Mets rotation is feeling any breathing on their necks. Sure Gsellman and to some extent Wheeler may see their ropes shortened should they stumble, but organizational depth at starter is not as vast as it looked even a couple of weeks ago.
Now the center field battle is interesting because people get all emotional and animated about it. Us Mets fans love our prospects and Michael Conforto endeared himself to a good many with his .841 OPS antics in 2015. There are many among us who would sign off on Conforto as our regular center fielder like it was the mailman bringing us our brand new Asics-gel extra wide digs … but again before we let our emotions get the better of us, consider the other options, namely Lagares. Lagares, who may be back as early as next week, brings a whole different defensive dimension to a critical defensive position. You cant understate that and, although the metrics are vastly improved, it’s still an inexact science trying to qualify Lagares’ contribution in center. But Lagares is a damned good center fielder and the others aren’t, that much is clear.
You also have Curtis Granderson who for some reason is easy to overlook when, in reality, he’s one of the main cogs and has been for quite some time. Granderson offers timely power, a steadying veteran presence, and “good enough” defense. Now Granderson may get some time in right field as well so he’s somewhat tangential to the center field time split — he is also older and could use some off days. Still, for me, you have to see if Conforto can put up numbers because that swing … that kid’s swing is a thing of beauty. And then there’s Jay Bruce, who in spite of last year’s second half flop in Flushing, put together a 33 homer 99 RBI season. Who wouldn’t take that from a right fielder?
Finally and perhaps most interesting is the first base “loose platoon” between Lucas Duda and heart string virtuoso Wilmer Flores. Duda, both in his production and his play at first (which isn’t nearly so bad considering he is roughly the size of a redwood) has the look of a regular, and Flores, well, Flores seems to have a knack for winning games — which is kind of important or so I’ve been told.
Anyway, this all gets thrown in Terry Collins’ lap for him to sort through like a ball of cat hair and twine. Personally I don’t envy him (Okay fine I would kill to manage the Mets even for a day but I don’t envy his having to distribute playing time). Gsellman may yet stick but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a lot more of our vaunted starting pitching depth over the course of this season. I like Lagares’ defense but you also have to see if Conforto’s bat can catch fire. And Duda will get you 30 bombs but Collins has to become Flores’ secret santa of playing time because that kid needs to be involved. Ultimately this is pretty important stuff for my bottom line because how Terry handles these decisions largely predicts my Pepto-Bismol outlay — and that’s dollars in the here and now.