While New York Mets fans are celebrating the release of Luis Castillo today, the organization also made a number of other moves to pare down the major league roster as opening day only two weeks away.
It's about that time in spring training where the position players will play more than the a handful of innings they would have played in the early portions of camp. It's also time -- as we've seen lately with the Mets' hurlers -- that the starting pitchers will really begin to ramp up their pitch count so they're ready to go when the bell sounds in April.
In addition to releasing the beleaguered Castillo, the Mets sent down starter Dillon Gee, lefty reliever Taylor Tankersley, outfielder Jason Pridie, righty reliever Ryota Igarashi, middle infielder Russ Adams, starter Boof Bonser and catchers Dusty Ryan and Raul Chavez.
So how does this clarify some of the position battles in camp?
LOOGY: Well, for one, the lefty reliever role is now down to veteran Tim Byrdak, Mike O'Connor and Oliver Perez. Byrdak has thrown 4.1 innings, given up zero runs, three hits, walked one and struckout four. O'Connor has exactly the same line but without the walk. Perez -- excluding starting stats -- has thrown only one inning, given up no runs, no hits, walked one and struckout one. Advantage: Only one will get the LOOGY nod and I would expect it to go to Byrdak, who has major league success under his belt. O'Connor should eventually be reassigned to Triple-A and fill that role there; he should be the first summoned should Byrdak struggle. I'd expect Perez to also join Castillo on the unemployment line by the end of camp.
Starting Rotation: The starting rotation is pretty much set now, with the demotion of Gee. The starting five will undoubtedly be: Mike Pelfrey, Jon Niese, R.A. Dickey, Chris Young and Chris Capuano -- just as the Mets drew it up in the offseason.
Second Base: Even though the second base job still has four men for one position, juggling four guys definitely is much easier than five. There were rumblings that Terry Collins wanted to name Luis Hernandez his starter -- and while that may be the case, it certainly hasn't happened yet. Hernandez has a great glove and a historically terrible bat (17 AB's this Spring: .294/.368/.412). Daniel Murphy has hit well in 38 AB's: .316/.350/.500 but his defense remains raw. Brad Emaus, J.P. Ricciardi's favorite, has struggled in 26 AB's: .231/.310/..269 and Justin Turner has played fairly well in 29 AB's: .276/.300/.345. Spring Training stats should fall second to track records -- and my guess is that the organization still utilizes an Emaus-Murphy platoon. When he's not playing, Murphy's bat profiles nicely as a lefty bat off the bench, and he's also got some positional versatility. Emaus should get a decent look at the position in the big leagues during the regular season before the Mets really cut ties with him. Turner still has options and can return to the minors.
Outfield: With Carlos Beltran's wobbly knee making his opening day status up in the air, one of the players the Mets have elected to keep in big-league camp is Lucas Duda. Duda has received the second-most AB's this spring, 44, and is hitting pretty well: .273/.304/.500. He's also drawing rave reviews from scouts this Spring. I know the Mets have Willie Harris and Scott Hairston to fill Beltran's right field roll if he's placed on the DL, but that also means the Mets can carry an extra outfielder -- and the longer Duda stays in camp and impresses, the better chance he gets some action in the majors at the start of the year.
Remember, Spring Training isn't only about the stats -- after all David Wright has just five hits and is batting .200 -- it's about the process and making the adjustments to get yourself ready for the long haul that is a 162-game regular season.