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Mets Geek » Know Your NRI’s, Part II


February 20, 2008
Know Your NRI’s, Part II

While it’s usually much harder to find a Spring Training NRI that comes up and has a big impact on a club as a position player, it’s not unheard of. Pablo Ozuna of the White Sox has become a pretty stellar bench player after being signed as an NRI, and last year Jack Cust—who was actually invited to the Padres’ camp and failed to make the team, but impressed the A’s into trading for him—had a breakthrough year after a long career as a minor-league slugger.

Generally speaking though, these guys have much longer odds to make the squad. Not only are the majority of the Mets bench places assured, not withstanding injury, but there are fewer spots on a bench to go around as baseball has gravitated towards deeper, more specialized pitching staffs. For that reason, many of these players’ chances will depend more on the health of the players in front of them than whether they’re actually going to force their way into lineups.

Robinson Cancel, C

Cancel originally washed out with the Brewers, getting just 44 major league at-bats in 1999 and nothing else. I’d love to tell you the reason, but as wonderful as the internet is, it isn’t exactly built for finding out fun tidbits about Robinson Cancel. I’m assuming injuries had something to do with it, as he had just 71 minor-league at-bats in 2000 and 258 in 2001. He ended up in the Atlantic League in 2003 and 2004 before the Devil Rays (I know they changed their name—I just refuse to acknowledge it) organization gave him another chance; he played in the United League in 2006 before the Mets picked him up and gave him some time at New Orleans after Sandy Alomar Jr and Mike DiFelice were caddying for the injured Paul Lo Duca and Ramon Castro. His defensive skills have eroded quite a bit, and while you have to admire his dedication to make it all the way back to New Orleans from the United League, I can’t see the Mets settling for him behind the plate should a situation like last year occur again.

Chance of MLB Appearance: 3%

Raul Casanova, C

I’m not sure whether I’m proud or ashamed of it, but this will be the third mention of DJ Dozier on MetsGeek this offseason. Casanova, a raw 19-year-old, originally drafted by the Mets, was dealt with Dozier and Wally Whitehurst to the Padres for Tony Fernandez. He ended up becoming a pretty solid prospect, ranked 60th by Baseball America in 1995, before the Padres dealt him to the Tigers along with Melvin Nieves and Richie Lewis for the immortal Sean Bergman, as well as Todd Steverson and Cade Gaspar. Casanova had some pretty poor seasons as a Tiger backup before becoming a Brewer in 2000. After 87 poor at-bats for Milwaukee in 2002, he washed out of the majors for a long time, gaining only brief tours of duty with the White Sox and Orioles. The Devil Rays (a pattern emerges) gave him an opportunity last year and watched him slug six homers in 79 at-bats for a .513 slugging percentage. Casanova has always been a pretty reputable minor league hitter, and is probably the best NRI catcher the Mets have this year. If Ramon Castro’s back flares up, this should be the guy the Mets go to.

Chance of MLB Appearance: 12%

Salomon Manriquez, C

Manriquez, a minor league free agent brought over from Texas, has yet to appear above Double-A, but he did show some offensive potential repeating the level for Frisco last year, hitting .275/.341/.518 with 12 doubles and 16 homers in 247 at-bats. He’s apparently pretty solid on defense as well, drawing some previous raves from Baseball America for his glovework. He’s not a bad little risk, seeing as how he’ll only be 25 this year, but his chances of stepping onto a major-league field, considering the experience ahead of him, are about as good as the Pirates’ chances to take the NL Central.

Chance of MLB Appearance: 4%

Gustavo Molina, C

Molina is very similar to Manriquez, except that instead of eventually becoming a decent hitter, he has just settled for being a good catch-and-throw guy. A career .243/.304/.347 minor-league hitter, Molina was signed out of Venezuela by the White Sox and finally reached the bigs in 2007 after the team finally gave up on Toby Hall. There are many questions you could ask about Gustavo Molina, but probably the most important one is “Did he get married during the All-Star break?” I couldn’t tell you, but I can tell you that he will probably not be a New York Met at any time this season.

Chance of MLB Appearance: 1%

Michel Abreu, 1B

A huge beastly man who batted .330/.403/.529 for Binghamton last year, this Cuban defector appears to be able to do what most of the others couldn’t: hit. Unfortunately, he was already 27 years old, but players with batting lines like that at advanced levels can’t be written off. That said, he’s clearly behind Mike Carp and Nick Evans as far as prospect-dom go, and there is zero chance he makes it up to the majors before September unless Carlos Delgado suffers a serious injury. Even then, the chance doesn’t bump up very much higher.

Chance of MLB Appearance: 5%

Anderson Machado, SS

Machado brings a decent, if not outstanding, glove to the table, but he is more of a Moneyball-era player than one who makes any sense to the Mets right now. He’s walked almost 500 times in his minor-league career but has struck out 813. He carries no ability to hit at all—his career minor league average is .228. He brings good defense, great speed (188-79 SB-CS), and a surprisingly decent power stroke (.100-ish isolated power). If he could hit .260, he’d be a solid major league player. On this Mets squad, behind Reyes and the second base bunch, he’ll be lucky to even sniff the majors.

Chance of MLB Appearance: 1%

Olmedo Saenz, 1B

As close to a professional part-timer as you can find these days, Saenz is a defensive player in name only these days. He’s a dead fastball hitter and had been a terrific reserve for the Dodgers for the last few seasons, but he hit just .191 in 2007. There is reason to believe that this was a fluke, as he had just a .200 BABIP (.300 is about normal), but at the same time his line drive percentage fell off by 9%, and his HR/FB ratio went with it. There’s still a lot to like about Saenz, but he’s already 37, and he’s no sure bet to be better than Marlon Anderson at this point in his career. His chances of making the team seem to depend solely on beating out Anderson, as the Mets have traditionally not carried fewer than 11 pitchers under Omar Minaya. There’s an outside chance, but I wouldn’t count on it.

Chance of MLB Appearance: 5%

Fernando Tatis, 3B

The fist player to hit two grand slams in one inning, Tatis was dealt from the Cardinals to the Expos in the Steve Kline trade, and his power evaporated quickly, due in part to constant injuries. He washed out in 2003 and finally made a comeback in 2006 with the Baltimore Orioles. The Mets signed him up last year, and he provided a solid veteran stick for the Zephyrs, blasting 21 homers and hitting a solid .278/.359/.485. Too bad he plays David Wright’s position.

Chance of MLB Appearance: 3%

Jose Valentin, IF

The Stache. I’m going to assume we’re all familiar with the Stache at this point—the injury questions, the age, etc. I still think he’s no worse than Gotay to have around, so what it will come down to is “veteran-ness” vs. actual performance. I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion that Gotay wins the job even though he is the favorite. Throw in the possibility that a trade could be arranged should the Mets feel uncomfortable about something in Spring Training, and Valentin gets my highest odds of playing in the majors this season.

Chance of MLB Appearance: 30%

Brady Clark, OF

Brady Clark will always be a hero in my heart for being the person the Mets got for Shawn Estes, but as anyone who watched the NL Wild Card playoff can testify, he’s not much with the leather in the outfield. He has no power but has still parlayed a pretty decent MLB career out of his skillset—solid contact skills and on-base ability. A career .278 average and a .358 OBA is nothing to scoff at. He’s not a sexy option, and he lacks the speed and defense of an Endy Chavez, but he’s not a terrible fall-back option. And between Alou, Beltran, Church, and Chavez, the Mets don’t exactly have anyone known for durability. It just depends on what kind of skillset the Mets will want in the outfield; Clark could be a passable solution for a few weeks. Also, his Wikipedia page lauds his prowess at bloop single hitting. Exciting!

Chance of MLB Appearance: 20%

Ben Johnson, OF

Not-Royce-Ring, as he is better known, had a horrendous year last year, make no mistake about that. Now two years removed from his breakout .312/.394/.598 season for the Padres AAA affiliate in Portland, his bat remains a solid attribute for Johnson, but his power has completely dissipated; he’s only hit 13 homers over the past two seasons. The talent is probably still there, but it’s pretty telling that nobody else wanted him badly enough to beat the Mets’ offer of a minor-league deal this offseason. That said, considering the lack of outfield depth, there is a very real chance that Johnson gets onto the field in 2008. Let’s hope it comes because he earned it and not because we ran out of healthy outfielders.

Chance of MLB Appearance: 15%

8 Responses to “Know Your NRI’s, Part II”

  1. Comment posted by littlefallsmets on February 20, 2008 at 1:23 am (#613053)

    Well, the thing is with Gotay over Valentin… it’s that… Gotay hasn’t been injured 15,000 times and hence could actually play some shortstop.

    Valentin caught lightning in a bottle in 2006, he sucked for years before and has sucked AND been injured since. Fluke year, sorry to say it but there it is. Only reason he’s in the conversation at all is that Willie and Omar have things for washed-up players who were “names” ten years ago. That’s all, that’s all.

    I don’t know what minor league numbers Ben Johnson has or did not have but he was terrible and terribly lost last year and that’s what matters to me. When I think of Ben Johnson, all I can think of is the Whammy from “Press Your Luck”.

    Tomato Signs… oh man, that is a big old ball of terrible. I live in LA, I see a lot of Dodger games… there is less than no there there. There is negative there there.

    Brady Clark is the only guy on the list above that belongs on a major league roster in 2008… dude is an acceptable last-bat-off-the-bench if you have room for that sort of thing.

    Problem is the Mets are gonna have a five-man bench with Castro as the second catcher, Chavez as the fourth outfielder, Gotay as the left side of the infield back-up and Easley as the right side of the infield back-up… and Anderson’s a lock because while he’s a bad joke defensively at any position, he’s a damn fine pinch-hitter.

    No room for Clark unless someone gets hurt.

    The only reason the bench isn’t completely locked-down is that the organization WANTS an excuse to have a washed-up old guy backing up the infield instead of Gotay and is desperately fighting to find that excuse.

  2. Comment posted by Dave in Spain on February 20, 2008 at 2:28 am (#613054)

    I thought Abreu didn´t play at all last year due to his visa problems. I think his Bingy stint was in 2006. Minor point. Good article.

  3. Comment posted by fatt lipp on February 20, 2008 at 8:27 am (#613057)

    I live in LA, I see a lot of Dodger games… there is less than no there there. There is negative there there.

    lol. good stuff, lfm.

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  5. Comment posted by Lunkwill Fook on February 20, 2008 at 8:56 am (#613058)

    I thought Abreu didn´t play at all last year due to his visa problems. I think his Bingy stint was in 2006. Minor point.

    Truth. He just finally got his visa “issue” worked out this offseason. My guess is they push him to AAA immediately and get him prepped to perhaps be a bat off the bench should someone falter.

  6. Comment posted by Joe A. on February 20, 2008 at 9:28 am (#613070)

    I don’t think Saenz is competing with Marlon Anderson at all. The most likely way Saenz makes the team is if the Mets decide they are comfortable enough with Easley defensively that they don’t carry another Gotay or Valentin. The other possibility is that Easley totally flops, or gets hurt, and Saenz takes his spot as the RH pinch hitter.

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  8. Comment posted by Chris in GA on February 20, 2008 at 11:40 pm (#613928)

    I think Brady has an outside chance as aright handed pinch hitter. He has hit over .300 since 2002 or 2003 as a pinch hitter. During that time, Easley has been a .134 pinch hitter. We need asley cause he is a guy who you dont lose much offensively or defensively when someone goes down. Saenz cant do anything well at this point.My bench is
    Gotay or Clark.

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  10. Comment posted by Chris McCown on February 21, 2008 at 5:16 am (#613940)

    I don’t think the Mets are going into 2008 with Damion Easley as their first guy off the bench at 3rd base and shortstop, Joe. So I think essentially, he is competing with Anderson. If you can call “minor league contract” vs. “guaranteed big league deal” a competition.

    And yeah, total goof on the Abreu thing. My bad.

  11. Comment posted by littlefallsmets on February 21, 2008 at 2:12 pm (#614291)

    Anderson can’t play defense at any position… is the problem there.

    He is a great pinch-hitter, I am not dissing the dude in that sense but… dude is an utter butcher. Clark is not much better defensively, as I remember it.