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February 14, 2008
  
Know Your NRI’s

Every year, spring training is filled out by players other than the surefire locks with big deals and the up-and-coming prospects. While the vast majority of these players are only good for a chuckle, some of them eventually end up making the roster, and then end up helping the team. Last year, for instance, the Mets signed Aaron Sele out of camp, and he—well, bad example. In 2006, the Mets had a pair of success stories in the bullpen with lefty specialist (in Willie’s mind, anyway) Pedro Feliciano and long man Darren Oliver, and have had previous successes with Roberto Hernandez and Juan Padilla.

This year, the odds are somewhat stacked against someone showing up and kicking someone off the team, but there are a few openings. Assuming no further injuries, the core of the team heading up to New York looks like this: five in the rotation (Johan Santana, Pedro Martinez, Orlando Hernandez, John Maine, Oliver Perez), the eight guys in the lineup (Jose Reyes, David Wright, Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado, Moises Alou, Luis Castillo, Ryan Church, Brian Schneider), three core bullpen members (Feliciano, Billy Wagner, Aaron Heilman), and four for the bench (Ramon Castro, Endy Chavez, Damion Easley, and Marlon Anderson).

Excluding those guys, the Mets have five roster spots left over on the bench and in the bullpen. The key battle on the bench will probably be for the fifth infielder (Ruben Gotay vs. Jose Valentin vs. Anderson Hernandez); I’d handicap it in that order, but, as I’ve said before, the Mets might consider moving Gotay while his value is high. Valentin may have sunk the Mets into trading for Castillo during last year’s horrible injury-ravaged season, and he may be old, but he shows a competent glove at second and has experience at shortstop and third. Hernandez would be a much better defensive backup, but offensively he’s dependent on hitting them where they ain’t.

In the bullpen, Duaner Sanchez will be favored to recover his spot in the back end, assuming that he is healthy and throwing well. After him, the leaders for the other three spots, if salary is any indication, are Jorge Sosa, Scott Schoeneweis, and probably Matt Wise. Sosa probably is a lock given his experience as a starter and as a long man, and while Schoeneweis should not be a lock, he has a nice hefty contract. Wise has the most upside of the rest of the bullpen, but had poor results last year in an admittedly small sample size for the Brewers.

Anyway, should these battles break down or injuries strike, here is your chance to learn more about the non-prospect NRI’s who will be sitting around in case things go horribly wrong.

Tony Armas Jr.

With the Pirates last year, Armas capped an incredible four-year run of sucktastic proportions in which he never had an ERA below 4.90, notching a 6.40 ERA as a starter, and after a demotion to the bullpen, a 5.06 ERA in relief. Once part of the package given to Montreal by the Red Sox for Pedro Martinez, injuries and poor pitching have led Armas so far down the path that if the Mets hadn’t gutted their pitching depth, he’d probably not have that much of a chance to make New Orleans’s rotation, let alone come to Shea.

Chance of MLB Appearance: 5%.

Andy Cavazos

Cavazos put together two solid years in the Cardinals’ minor leagues after being converted from a starter to a reliever. He was promoted to Memphis in 2006 after posting a 0.45 ERA over 20 innings in Springfield, and he responded with a 3.51 ERA. He followed that up with a 3.21 ERA in 2007. He posted solid strikeout rates both seasons (8.79, 9.06 K/9), but upon getting promoted to the majors, he was pounded for 27 hits and five homers in 20 innings, finishing with a 10.35 ERA. His major bugaboo has been that he always walks a few too many batters, with a minor league BB/9 of 4.12. He walked 16 more in that brief major league experience, but considering his two solid years in Triple-A and the fact that he’s not too old (26 last year), he’s someone to watch.

Chance of MLB Appearance: 10%

Ryan Cullen

A long-time minor league vet who had the year of his life in New Orleans last year, Cullen is left-handed and brings adequate numbers across the board: career 3.77 ERA, 0.70 HR/9, and nearly a 3:1 K/BB ratio. His first major problem is that he’s imminently hittable, allowing 568 hits in 530 2/3rds innings over his minor league career. His second major problem is that his year in New Orleans, while stellar (3.06 ERA in 67 2/3rds innings), was his first foray into AAA at age 27. He’s someone to root for, but not someone who is likely to get a job in a packed pen.

Chance of MLB Appearance: 5%

Joselo Diaz

I don’t want to ruin Joselo’s pride, but the odds of getting a job in Major League Baseball when you’re coming off a year where you almost walked as many as you struck out (58/61) in Japan—well, they’re about as tiny as Roger Clemens’ testicles. He was involved in two trades with the Mets, coming over from the Dodgers in the Jeromy Burnitz salary dump, and going to Tampa in The Trade That Shall Not Be Named. (I think it’s all right to deny that this trade ever happened. In fact, I like to think of it as S____ K_____ is just in an advanced level of Triple-A. We’ll bring him up soon, right? Right?)

Chance of MLB Appearance: 1%

Nate Field

Field has quite a bit of MLB experience, bombing three times (2002 Royals, 2005 Royals, 2007 Marlins) and performing adequately three times (4.15 ERA in limited innings for 2003 Royals, 4.26 ERA in extensive work for the 2004 Royals, 4.00 ERA in limited work for 2006 Rockies). Field’s biggest weakness is that he walks a few too many batters in the majors, with a 4.83 BB/9. He’s also allowed 13 homers in 89 innings, which needs to come down. I’ll give him the same shot as Cavazos though, because he has veteran presence and grit.

Chance of MLB Appearance: 10%

Nelson Figueroa

Figueroa is probably best known as one of the players sent to Philadephia by the Diamondbacks in the Curt Schilling trade. He actually started his career with the Mets before being traded west along with Bernard Gilkey for Jorge Fabregas, Willie Blair, and cash. On the other side of things, he’s 34 and has been out of baseball during two of the last three years. He pitched in the Atlantic League the other year, which is Baseball GM code for “please consider retiring.” Figueroa had a long and distinguished minor league career, even managing to win 100 games. At one point, he was even championed by Baseball Prospectus as an undervalued resource. That endorsement, much like his career, has expired at this point.

Chance of MLB Appearance: 0%

Juan Padilla

Hey, he’s back again! Padilla has to be considered a true wild card at this point, having missed the last two seasons with various arm troubles. He offers big upside if everything is right again for him, and easily has the best chance of any of the NRI’s to make a splash, considering how well he pitched for the Mets in 2005 (1.42 ERA in 63 innings in Norfolk, 1.94 ERA in 36 innings for the big club). His issues really just depend on his arm. If Mets staff followed my recommendation to replace his arm with the Mega Buster, they should reap the rewards of a great back end of the bullpen and finally capture Dr. Wiley.

Chance of MLB Appearance: 25%

Ricardo Rincon

Here’s your veteran lefty trying to get back to the top. Rincon, who’s shoulder was a victim of the World Baseball Classic, has easily the most impressive resume of any of the NRI’s: a career 3.58 ERA in over 400 innings of major league relief, a bit part in Moneyball, and $11 million in career earnings. The question with Rincon will be how much he has left. Even during the 2005 season, he showed signs of heavy decline, walking 20 and striking out only 28 despite an adequate 4.34 ERA for the A’s. Was this the beginnings of his shoulder giving out on him or the beginnings of a permanent decline? There isn’t much data with which to draw a good conclusion; he pitched a few token innings for the Fresno Bulldogs, picking up a save and a 1.59 ERA over 5 innings. While it’s possible that he’s on the comeback trail, youth isn’t on his side.

Chance of MLB Appearance: 15%

Next week, the hitters!


15 Responses to “Know Your NRI’s”

  1. Comment posted by Jose Reyes – RBI Machine on February 14, 2008 at 2:12 am (#610847)

    Nice article. How does Stephen Register factor into all this? I’d sure like to see Padilla make a strong comeback and for Wise to prove that he’s for real – the numbers show some promise and the scouting report was optimistic.

  2. Comment posted by NYNarwhal on February 14, 2008 at 3:13 am (#610848)

    Remember when Joselo Diaz, Royce Ring, and Kole Strayhorn were the future of a strong Mets bullpen? Oy.

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  4. Comment posted by Chris in GA on February 14, 2008 at 8:17 am (#610851)

    25% chance for Padilla to make it to the majors. I’m sorry but that is a very bias estimate seems very high. Practically, 36.1 innings of good baseball in his career. I think other guys that you list have a better chance at this point considering their not coming off tweo major surgeries that wiped out two years. It’s a shame that Padilla hasn’t been healthy but its not like he was established like Sanchez was before his injuries. I think, if Kunz gets whatever it is figured out that is wrong with him, he has a chance too. Where is he?

  5. Comment posted by Joe A. on February 14, 2008 at 9:29 am (#610880)

    I expect to see Armas in a Mets uniform some time this year. I’d put his odds closer to 75% than 5%.

    And with Joe Smith, Register and even Collazo in the bullpen mix, I think its going to be tough for any of the NRIs to get a shot there. But I agree that Padilla has the best chance of the guys you listed.

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  7. Comment posted by Dep on February 14, 2008 at 9:49 am (#610902)

    Great article. I agree that Armas odds of an MLB appearance are much higher than 5%. maybe 5% to make the squad out of spring, but the course of the season, imo its much higher.

  8. Comment posted by metz on February 14, 2008 at 2:18 pm (#611288)

    Nelson Figueroa = 0% chance????????
    Have you notcied what he’s been doing lately. Even though it’s not the Major Leagues he’s been pitching in Mexico, Caribbean (MVP of the series), and Japan. You should do a little more research on him. He would be a fine middle reliever for us. We need a guy to keep it in reach especially when el duque gets rocked on the occasion. This is someone who can log some innings. 2 years ago Darren Oliver kept us in games and had the occasional spot start. Last year was a major problem with Aaron Sele. He screwed us over. He was a waste of a roster spot all year long. Don’t be surprised to see him up there. It might be a long shot but I definitely wouldn’t give him 0% chance. Not even close to that.

  9. Comment posted by littlefallsmets on February 14, 2008 at 3:06 pm (#611348)

    metz = Nelson Figueroa?

    I don’t know what Padilla’s odds are out of the above group but… I do know that his odds ARE the best out of that group. If he’s near 100%, he’s a major league pitcher, something you basically can’t say about the rest of the above.

    I’m not saying I have my hopes up ON him being 100% ever again… but talent and age aren’t the question with him, other than basically everyone else on the list.

    I also don’t get the logic of trying to unload Gotay because he’s the only back-up 2/SS/3 who can actually hit. That… seems backwards to me.

    Valentin’s done, Easley’s too beat-up to play short effectively and Andy Hernandy can’t hit to save his life.

    Lets not write off Gotay before he even gets a chance, huh? I think he has the tools to be defensely adequate if he actually gets the game-speed reps and the dude can hit.

    Castillo IS going to go down with injury this season, lets not forget, and a Gotay/Easley platoon will be the best option at second when that happens.

  10. Comment posted by Wally Dykstra on February 14, 2008 at 5:13 pm (#611553)

    Given that the Show was injured last year, what his prognosis for this year? Might he be pitching sans injury, and perhaps give us something more than what he gave in 2007?

  11. Comment posted by littlefallsmets on February 14, 2008 at 5:27 pm (#611563)

    His injury was listed as something that would heal naturally… or not… and surgery couldn’t do anything either way. Not to mention that people are going to be watching him a lot more closely for his HGH abuse, these days.

    If he wasn’t attached to such an absurd contract, I have to believe that the Horror Show wouldn’t even be invited to spring training with anyone other than the Long Island Ducks.

  12. Comment posted by SoCal Metfan on February 14, 2008 at 5:37 pm (#611568)

    Even though Show was hurt, he gave the Mets everything that could have been reasonably expected of him. My guess is that his overall production will have nothing to do with his injury, but more to do with how he is employed out of the bullpen. Look at his splits versus lefties:

    vs Lefties:
    1.14 WHIP, .204 BAA

    Actually *better* than his career rates agsinst lefties. He was absolutely murdered by righties, but that’s exactly how he’s always been treated by right handed batters. It is all but a mortal lock that Show makes the team. He’s a loogy who’s overall numbers were shot to hell by facing more righties than lefties.

    I wish more fans would realize what a valuable asset Show was to the Mets last year. There’s no question he was overpaid, and the three year contract Omar gave him is puzzling, but the bottom line is, when he was brought in a position to succeed, much more often than not, he did.

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  14. Comment posted by Dep on February 14, 2008 at 6:19 pm (#611589)

    good post SoCal. Show is a LOOGY and mopup man! he aint his fault we have a ‘tard for a manager

  15. Comment posted by andyglass1 on February 14, 2008 at 9:08 pm (#611610)

    I definitely agree with post 7, especially with regards to Rubie. I cant see how or why we would carry Damion & Jose V. They are too similar in what they offer and both are close to the end of very good careers. If we give Ruben away, who is the primary backup next year and beyond ? Ruben would likely have the most upside; he showed he can hit last year; he must be the fastest of our 3 backup 2b, (make that 4 backup 2b, if we include Marlon). Ruben’s main issue on defense was turning two at second ? shouldnt that improve with experience ? he can play ss whereas you probably wouldnt want to see the other 3 backup 2b at ss. Maybe stache was brought in to camp to be able to show other teams he can still play, or to possibly be a coach if he is not physically up to playing. I really cant see the point of bringing the ph’r from the dodgers in if Marlon is guaranteed a roster spot. No team can really carry two ph’s on a 25 man squad….

  16. Comment posted by littlefallsmets on February 14, 2008 at 10:09 pm (#611618)

    Gotay’s the only viable back-up shortstop for Reyes’s occasional rest days and/or if he goes down with a small injury that isn’t worth using a 15-Day DL on.

    If Reyes goes down for longer, of course, we’re screwed no matter what the team does but… that’s no matter what they do.

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  18. Comment posted by Chris McCown on February 14, 2008 at 10:42 pm (#611623)

    Okay, the Armas thing. Here’s my line of thinking on that: If he pitches well in spring training, he’s probably going to try to catch on with a team that will actually give him a shot. If he pitches poorly, theres not much of a reason to not use Jason Vargas as the 8th starter instead. (Sosa, Pelfrey)

    Padilla, on the other hand, has more people who could possibly get injured (7-5), AND the fact that most roster expansions in September involve relievers or bench players. I don’t see 25% as an overreaction given those odds and the fact that he would be more likely to stay in New Orleans and rehab since we gave him his first real shot.

    The reason I left dudes like Register and Kunz off was simple…Register’s on the 40 man (not an NRI), and Kunz is an actual prospect. It’s the same reason I’ll be leaving Fernando Martinez off the hitters.

    littlefalls, I understand that you do not agree with getting rid of Gotay, but I consider Valentin to be an acceptable (not good) option at shortstop, which is about the same as I see Gotay. And when you factor in the projection systems saying he was a total fluke…well, look at the projections for instance.

    ZIPS

    Jose Valentin# 2b 38 .237 .308 .402 88 249 32 59 15 1 8 34 25 50 3 1
    Ruben Gotay# 2b 25 .245 .304 .361 119 380 39 93 21 1 7 41 30 74 4 3

    Valentin
    Team BB% K% BB/K OBP SLG OPS ISO BABIP RC RC/27
    2008 Bill James 9.5 % 21.6 % 0.48 .316 .419 .735 .179 .268 39 4.47
    2008 CHONE 9.5 % 21.1 % 0.50 .311 .400 .711 .164 .269 34 4.30
    2008 Marcel 9.5 % 19.9 % 0.53 .315 .404 .719 .162 .275 38 4.36

    Gotay
    Team BB% K% BB/K OBP SLG OPS ISO BABIP RC RC/27
    2008 Bill James 7.9 % 18.8 % 0.46 .321 .406 .728 .148 .297 16 4.33
    2008 CHONE 7.9 % 18.6 % 0.46 .326 .385 .711 .123 .306 52 4.36
    2008 Marcel 8.4 % 19.5 % 0.47 .337 .415 .752 .143 .316 39 4.97

    (i’d code that but i’m lazy)

    These aren’t two players that are expected to be all that different. I’m just saying that if the Mets can flip him for someone useful while his value is at an all-time high, it might be a smart move. I’m not trying to crusade him out of town.

  19. Comment posted by littlefallsmets on February 14, 2008 at 11:53 pm (#611627)

    Valentin’s so old and so oft-injured that all projections are meaningless.

    Caught lightning in a bottle two looooooong years ago with that guy.

    But it’s over now, lets not pretend otherwise.

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