More options are almost always a good thing. A movie theater showing six movies is more likely to have something watchable than a movie theater showing just two films. Thus, the addition of Mike Jacobs to the first base pool is a good move for the Mets – it increases the number of potential useful bodies, even if the chances of Jacobs being useful are slight. Plus, there’s little financial risk being exchanged for the potential benefits of Jacobs, however unlikely they may be. The Mets should be stockpiling as many options as possible for their weak links at first, catcher, center field, right field, – sigh – the rotation, and second. The more horses running in the derbies, the better the odds become that someone – and not necessarily the favorite – distinguishes themselves from the rest of pack. This is the text book scenario for “just throw stuff at the wall and see if anything sticks.”
The problem is that the bespectacled* judge of this talent competition seems, at times, to be more concerned with who’s laughing at his jokes than who’s the better ball player. Jerry Manuel, in his first full season as skipper of the Mets, managed to exile Ryan Church, Brian Schneider, Ramon Castro, Nick Evans, Jeremy Reed and Brian Stokes to excessive benchdom or another team entirely. In one season. While that’s not exactly a who’s who of Met greats or even Mets decents – and also keeping in mind that managers favor players all the time – it disturbingly appears that there is no discernible pattern behind merry Jerry’s ostracizations. Sitting the veteran Schneider to get the young Josh Thole big league experience made sense, but the continued use of Fernando Tatis down the stretch at the expense of the equally young Nick Evans contradicts that very same reasoning. Castro (.723 major league OPS) was driven out of town in favor of Santos and his short swing (.652 minor league OPS) – and maybe Castro wasn’t exactly a model citizen, but what about Ryan Church, who seemed a decent guy?
*I’ve noticed that describing a manger as “cerebral” is newspaper-speak for “wears glasses.”
The strangest expulsion was that of Church, against whom Manuel seemed to have a particular vendetta, one which was never fully explained. Maybe Church showed up in a tuxedo the first day of spring training, ala Jim Halpert. Or maybe Ryan kept accidentally calling Jerry “Willie”, “Gary Manuel” or “school mommy.” Perhaps Church kept stealing and eating Jerry’s lunch out of the team refrigerator? I have plenty of theories about what happened, most of them based on nothing. The whole scenario was bizarre.
Anyway, the point of all that is the methodology Jerry Manuel uses to determine playing time does not appear to be based on anything vaguely resembling logic, merit, or the heartbeat of the game. I have no idea what it’s based on. It can, at times, appear to be baseless favoritism – which is an especially troubling trait when the Mets have multiple positions up for grabs this spring training. When the Mets add a Mike Jacobs to the first base chex-mix or Gary Matthews Jr. to the outfield depth chart, they should be just another ho-hum possibility. Only instead each one seems to be just another more shiny object placed in front of Jerry everyone hopes he doesn’t latch onto and declare the starter a week into spring training.
The Mets have some interesting, if uninspiring, position battles brewing for spring training. The two catcher spots are a toss up between Home Run Santos, Henry Blanco, Josh Thole, Shawn Riggans and Chris Coste. Two months in Carlos Beltran’s sunny center field timeshare will be open to one of Angel Pagan or Matthews Jr., with dark horse candidate Fernando Martinez, and first base is widening into a race between Jacobs, Daniel Murphy, Chris Carter, Fernando Tatis, Ike Davis, and Nick Evans. There’s a lot of ifs, maybes, could, possibly, can’t hit lefties, can’t hit righties, can’t hit anyone, too young and too old on those lists, but maybe someone distinguishes themselves in each group. That’s what spring training is for – too see who will emerge as the best option. The best player should reveal himself and earn playing time. Pretty simple.
However, the nightmare scenario of Jacobs and Matthews Jr. and “nameless backup catcher” seems just as likely as anything else because of “reasons” like veteran status, being Omir Santos, not being named “Brian” or “Ryan”, not doing whatever-it-is-that-Nick-Evans-did, and just the obvious and inexplicable favoritism. That ominous feeling Met fans get whenever the team adds another marginal player? It’s emanating from on the man calling the shots. Met fans can only hope that the best players get the jobs, and not just the ones that laugh loudest.
Image of Manuel from:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/keithallison/ / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0