The New York Mets have a few weeks before they need to make any major decision about their Opening Day roster. We should expect at least one injury before then, throwing a wrench into anything we can predict right now.
One of the battles I’m most interested in seeing (because I’m a complete bore apparently) is for the final spot on the bench. I really like what the Mets have done at two minutes to midnight this offseason. Their second-string crew is solid and could be starting or platooning with another organization.
Heading toward Opening Day, I plan to regularly look at a few of these battles going on in Port St. Lucie. We begin with the one between Albert Almora Jr.’s glove and Jose Martinez’s bat.
Should the Mets choose defense over a bat on the bench?
We can think of Almora Jr. and Martinez as the final piece on the bench. The rest of the group joining them are either out of minor league options or feel like much better fits.
Entirely different players, the choice may come down to whether or not the Mets want some terrific defense back there or a potentially awesome bat. Almora Jr. brings his glove to the field ready to play. Meanwhile, Martinez could strike with a big hit any chance he gets.
The case for Albert Almora Jr.
Signing Kevin Pillar makes Almora Jr. much less important to the Mets but not by much. Pillar has proven he can hit quite consistently. The same cannot be said about AAJ.
Almora Jr. could still have a role on the club all season long. Slotted in as the late-inning defensive replacement in center field, I could see him going a full season playing often but not really ever getting into the batter’s box. In games where the Mets lead late, Almora Jr. is ideal to bring in to play center field, shift Brandon Nimmo into left field, move Dominic Smith to first base, and let Pete Alonso finish up the game from the bench.
Pillar would be the guy to start games in center field versus tough lefties. The two are a good pairing on the outfield bench.
Almora Jr. may not be a complete player but he is still young and has hit in the past. I don’t think the decision the Mets make for the Opening Day roster is a fixed one. Things can change and we may even see them decide to carry both Almora Jr. and Martinez.
For now, the case for Almora Jr. over Martinez is strictly about whether they want leather over wood.
The case for Jose Martinez
I’m becoming a mark for J-Mart. He hasn’t done a thing to warrant a minor league contract this offseason other than to lack the defensive abilities to get more general managers excited. Probably best-suited as a first baseman or DH, Martinez can also play the corner outfield positions if needed.
Mostly, the Mets should view Martinez strictly as their top pinch-hitting option from the bench. When they need someone to crack a home run, it’s him. Need a line drive single to get a rally started or completed? He’s your guy.
Based on how the rest of the bench should look, I think the Mets can safely stash a player like Martinez on the roster. Luis Guillorme and Jonathan Villar can play all of the infield positions and the former can even tackle some outfield. This leaves Pillar with the majority of the outfield duties. I think the Mets will be fine.
It’s too tempting for me to not have a career .289/.356/.447 hitter on the team. This is what Martinez is even if he just finished a poor 2020 season; including 22 hitless plate appearances with the Chicago Cubs. Last year was weird and I’m not about to give up on Martinez and what he can offer the Mets.
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Both fine options, I think there may come a point in 2021 where we see one replace the other. I would personally prefer Martinez but I also see the value Almora Jr. can provide.