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Now that pitchers and catchers have reported to Port St. Lucie, the stories Mets writers cover will change from trades and rumors to predictions and position battles. The Mets have an unusual amount of uncertainty surrounding them this season, from the left-hander in the bullpen to the lefty off the bench, and this spring promises to showcase various players as they battle to make the final roster when the team heads north this April.
The Mets’ vacant second base job highlights this uncertainty and will be the center of much debate as the spring season opens. Currently, there are three to four candidates who will be vying for the starting job. They include the former left fielder/first basemen Daniel Murphy, infamous Luis Castillo, the unknown (and likely irrelevant) Justin Turner and the wildcard – Brad Emaus.
Murphy, the man I defended last offseason, remains one of the favorites to land the job. Murphy, who seems to have the worst luck among current Mets, has had his share of setbacks in his young career. Last spring, the 25-year-old was slated to be the first basemen for the Mets, but sprained his knee and lost the Opening Day job to Mike Jacobs and eventually the full-time job to top prospect Ike Davis. Then, after realizing first base was no longer an option, the Mets moved Murphy to second base. Adding to his misfortune, Murphy tore his MCL in his right knee while turning a double play. That being said, Murphy is no stranger to solid hitting. He led the Mets with 12 home runs in 2009 and certainly has the focused mentality that endears him to coaches. He also has hit throughout the lineup and could be a solid number six or seven hitter or even possibly in the second slot. Ultimately, Murphy’s playing time will be determined by his ability to field his position. There is no question that Murphy will knock in runs and be a serviceable hitter, but his future as a regular player depends on the Mets ability to watch his less than graceful defensive play over the next year.
Next on the list to land the starting job is Luis Castillo. Castillo was almost a non-factor towards the end of the season and unless he is spectacular this spring, will likely be a non-factor again. Unless he can magically regain the combination of speed, contact, gold glove fielding and the ability to take pitches that made him the perfect No. 2 hitter he once was, Castillo will either be released or will take up a roster spot coming out of camp. Fortunately, Castillo’s contract mercifully ends this season and his reign of terror at second base will end. It would shock me if Castillo is the starter on Opening Day and it is becoming increasingly likely that Sandy Alderson and his brain trust will cut ties with him before Spring Training is over.
The one player I can’t really understand being taken seriously as a candidate is Justin Turner. Turner, who was claimed by the Mets off waivers from the Orioles in May, was added to the roster late last season. Turner doesn’t have any outstanding qualities as a player and projects, at best, to be a “25th man” kind of player who can fill in if absolutely needed. Similar to Turner is former Los Angeles Dodger Chin-lung Hu. Hu was acquired by the Mets this offseason for a low level minor league pitcher. Hu has torn up minor league pitching and was once a top prospect in the Dodger’s system. However, his ability to crush minor league pitching has not translated at the major league level. Hu is also out of minor league options, which means if he does not make the 25 man roster this spring he will have to pass through waivers before he can be sent down to AAA Buffalo. In essence, it appears that if Hu does not make the team his Met career will be short.
The final competitor for the job is Emaus. Emaus, who was plucked from the Toronto Blue Jays in the Rule 5 Draft, is a 24-year-old infielder with strong plate discipline. If Alderson, Paul DePodesta and J.P. Riccardi value on-base-percentage and ability to take walks, then Emaus is certainly their kind of player. Besides the fact that if Emaus does not make the 25-man roster coming out of camp, the Mets need to offer him back to the Blue Jays, Emaus has moderate power and could be a bargain pickup for the Mets. Emaus hit .290 with 15 home runs and 61 RBI’s last season between AA and AAA in the Blue Jays system and has a tendency to avoid strikeouts and take walks, which makes him a cheaper, younger and more powerful version of Castillo. A lot of buzz, whether it be warranted or unwarranted, has surrounded Emaus since his drafting and with an ally in Riccardi in the front office, it would appear that he is an early favorite to land the job. I think drafting Emaus was an interesting and baseball-savvy move by Alderson and Co. this offseason and I expect him to be a solid player for the team going forward.
Overall, the final outcome of this position battle will come down to performance this spring. Looking at the battle now, it appears the real competition will be between Emaus and Murphy, with Turner being an after thought and Castillo needing a truly remarkable spring to be in the discussion. If I had to pick a starter at this point, I would go with Emaus, with Murphy serving as a super-utility player off the bench while being insurance in case Emaus falters.