A few weeks ago, the New York Mets opening day roster seemed to be set in stone, save for a few bullpen battles in spring training. However, now with the release of Ruben Tejada after a decade in the Mets organization, and the injury to Asdrubal Cabrera, the final few weeks before Opening Day just got a whole lot more interesting for the defending National League Champions.
Tejada was most likely to be destined for a very small role on the roster before Cabrera’s injury, with middle infielders such as Neil Walker, Asdrubal Cabrera and Wilmer Flores ahead of him on the depth chart. He was going to see the field in a very limited role, and did not provide much for the Mets in terms of a pinch-hitter off the bench.
Now that he is released, there is more competition in camp for the last bench spots, and there is even talk of the Mets carrying two extra bench players regardless if Cabrera is healthy by Opening Day or not by carrying less than seven relievers. There are two obvious answers to replace Tejada: Eric Campbell, and Matt Reynolds, but are they downgrades for the Mets bench?
Eric Campbell is a pure utility player. He has logged significant innings at first base, third base, and left field, with some experience at second base, shortstop, and right field. While he is not a gold-glove caliber player, he has positive UZR/150s at every position except third base and he’s only made ten errors in his major-league career. Offensively he is good enough for a utility player. In 2014 he had a 0.5 WAR and a 98 wRC+, along with a .263 average, .322 on base percentage, a .358 slugging percentage, three home runs and 16 RBIs in 85 games, as he began to be affectionately called Soup by the fan base. That is a very solid bench player who can play all around the diamond. However, Soup struggled in 2015.
Campbell struggled at the plate, with a slash line of .197/.312/.295 with a 77 wRC+. He equaled his home run total, and had three more RBIs, but he was much less effective. It was not all terrible, as his walk rate went up from 8.1 percent in 2014 to 12.6 percent in 2015, and he had a very high line drive rate of 26.1 percent in 2015, as compared to the 17.4 percent the year before. He played fewer games in 2015 (71 as compared to 85 in ’14), but he only had 17 fewer at-bats, meaning he was thrust into a more important position and therefore was more exposed to major-league pitching.
Matt Reynolds was a very popular name among Mets fans last season. #MetsTwitter, as it is called, was pining for Reynolds after being unhappy with the shortstop production coming from Wilmer Flores (who later that season would become a cult hero, for his flair for the dramatics) and the offense as a whole, which was woeful before the trade deadline. The 25-year-old shortstop had a down year in Triple-A Las Vegas last year, with a slash line of .267/.319/.402, a career-high six home runs, and 65 RBIs, with a 90 wRC+ in a notoriously hitter-friendly ballpark and league. However he had an excellent 2014, hitting .355/.430/.422 with a 144 wRC+ in 58 games at Double-A, and .333/.385/.479 with a 124 wRC+ in 68 games at Triple-A. Additionally, he is a very good defensive player, like he was in college as a member of the Arkansas Razorbacks. While he has played shortstop exclusively at the professional level, he was a third baseman in college (he was moved after he was drafted, for an obvious reason named David Wright), and can be coached up to play second base.
Ruben Tejada is a very solid player, but not much else. Excluding his abysmal 2013 season (which has proven to be an outlier), he ranged from a .237 to .289 average, an 89 to 99 wRC+, and a 1.0 to a 1.8 WAR. He is an average defender with a career -0.5 UZR/150 at shortstop, -2.5 UZR/150 at second base, and a 5.3 UZR/150 at third base.
If the Mets get the 2014 edition of Eric Campbell, then they lose a bit of offensive talent while getting a player who can play a lot of positions, and can be a right handed backup to Lucas Duda . Matt Reynolds is a wild card; while he has had some great years in the minors, he struggled in a hitter-friendly environment last year. While he has the tools to field at the major-league level, his bat will be key to a successful career.
There are other options as well, if injuries or other unlikely situations arise, such as Ty Kelly, T.J. Rivera, and Danny Muno. Highly-touted prospects such as Dilson Herrera and Gavin Cecchini can possibly have an effect on the major-league team, although the Mets would rather they get regular playing time in the minors to advance their development, rather than sit on the bench in Queens. It is likely that one (or both) of Reynolds and Campbell will be on the roster come opening day.
One main issue with Tejada being waived is now the bench has significantly less starting experience. With David Wright’s precarious health situation, there is no guarantee he sees 100 games this season (or 60 games, for that matter), and there are plenty of injuries to go around in a 162-game season. Eric Campbell has proven that he cannot be a starter, and Matt Reynolds has never played an inning of baseball in the majors. On top of that, if one of the infielders gets hurt, there is less depth behind Campbell and Reynolds, who were the depth behind Tejada. The Mets’ bench definitely lost depth with the loss of Ruben Tejada, especially if one of Campbell or Reynolds has to start for any significant period of time.