Mets’ roster decisions reveal plenty about how they view players

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — The New York Mets’ Opening Day roster started to come into focus on Sunday with a few moves that revealed plenty about how club officials view certain players, what they are attempting to balance and what they value.

One of the most interesting ones involved Mark Vientos.

The Mets informed Vientos that he would start the season in Triple A. Predictably, the decision frustrated the 24-year-old, who recently said he thought he made the most of the opportunity presented to him. J.D. Martinez’s recent arrival as designated hitter pretty much sealed Vientos’ fate but because Martinez requires at least 15 days to get ready, the Mets could’ve chosen to carry Vientos in the meantime.

Instead, they optioned Vientos to the minors.

Until the Mets signed Martinez a few days ago, Vientos, a right-handed batter, lingered as a logical DH candidate who could also see some time at third base.

It’s difficult, however, to carry two unproven young players while also trying to compete for a playoff spot. When the Mets agreed with Martinez on a one-year deal, The Athletic reported that club officials would be comfortable with either Vientos or Brett Baty starting the season in the minors. Baty, a lefty batter and the presumed starting third baseman all spring, made the major-league club.

Among the factors:

• The Mets did not want to add Vientos to the active roster only to demote him once Martinez deemed himself ready. Mets president of baseball operations David Stearns mentioned the idea of weighing player development for Vientos. It’s probably a disservice to him if he languishes on the bench. Playing time mattered.

• So did matchups. The Mets likely will see just one left-handed starter, rookie DL Hall, from the Milwaukee Brewers in their opening series. The Brewers may carry just one lefty reliever, too; Hoby Milner. After that, the Detroit Tigers will feature lefty Tarik Skubal with Andrew Chafin and Tyler Holton in the bullpen (Joey Wentz may also make the roster).

• On the surface, Vientos’ Triple-A numbers suggest he has nothing left to prove, but officials said he can control the strike zone better against right-handed pitchers. How much that can occur and improve in the minors remains a fair question.

• Defense and versatility also matter to the Mets, officials say. Rival scouts don’t love either Baty or Vientos as defenders, but Baty at least carries more experience. Mets manager Carlos Mendoza said Vientos could improve “his pre-pitch ready position so he can have a better first step to the ball.” With Triple-A Syracuse, Vientos will mostly play third base.

“I still view Mark as a major-league player,” Stearns said. “And he will be a major-league player for us this year and he will be a major-league player, I think, for a substantial part of the season. It’s just not on Opening Day.”

Zach Short’s profound day

Instead of Vientos — or Ji Man Choi, a left-handed batter who was another DH candidate — the Mets picked Zack Short for their Opening Day roster. Short is a little-known utility player from Kingston, New York, who grew up a Mets fan.

It was the kind of news he could use. Earlier on Sunday, Short said, he learned his grandmother had died.

“A crazy morning,” Short said after taking a few moments to compose himself during an interview with reporters.

For Short, the opportunity with the Mets presents a first. The 28-year-old is a career .174 hitter with just 386 career at-bats. The Mets claimed him off waivers from the Detroit Tigers on Nov. 3, and he stuck around ever since.

Even Zack Short was surprised to hear he made the roster after the odds kept stacking up against him. (Jim Rassol / USA Today)

Even Short sounded surprised at his staying power. The Mets inked veteran Joey Wendle, a left-handed batter, to a utility role after picking up Short. As recently as a few days ago, Short said he shared a laugh with Wendle about the situation as the two drove together to a game in Jupiter.

However, in January, Ronny Mauricio (a right-handed batter in contention for the third-base job) tore his ACL. Since then, the Mets have been interested in carrying someone who provides coverage at third base as a right-handed option in a part-time role, league sources said.

Perhaps Short can be that player; Stearns said he valued Short’s defense and versatility while adding that Short’s offensive game has changed. Short has gone the other way more than ever this spring, with positive results (.895 OPS in 39 plate appearances). He also brings solid speed. Would the Mets turn to him as a pinch hitter late in the game for Baty with a lefty on the mound? Will he draw starts against a tough lefty? Both calls may shed more light on the internal view of Baty, one way or the other.

In the least, it’s conceivable for Short to be used as a pinch runner or defensive replacement late in games at third base. If the Mets want to be a better defensive team in 2024, they need improvement at third base.

Baty, who made an Opening Day roster for the first time, said he improved his footwork defensively. He said he has done a better job of reading plays and hops, knowing when to immediately and aggressively pursue certain balls and when not to. Those things tend to come with more experience.

More moves to come

After all the heavy decisions, more tough calls remain.

The Mets still have one of their 13 position-player spots open.

The Mets are leaving the door open for the possibility of another addition as other teams trim their respective rosters.

Thus, they plan to bring DJ Stewart, a left-handed batter and yet another DH candidate, to New York, but officials told him his status remains uncertain. Stewart carries a minor-league option. He has not yet made the major-league roster. He can play the corner outfield spots and Stearns said he believes Stewart can play some first base, a position he worked on while on the back fields in spring training. As depth at first base, the Mets will have Choi in Triple A as reported the veteran decided to stick around in the organization.

Without Vientos, with Stewart’s status in limbo and as the Mets wait on Martinez, it may be worth remembering that they can rotate regular players for the DH spot. Club officials say plans for the final position-player spot and the status of the DH position remain fluid. The Mets value flexibility.

They may not make final decisions until Wednesday.

Ditto for the final spots in the bullpen.

With two spots left, the Mets have three right-handed relievers in the running who are all out of minor-league options, meaning whoever doesn’t make the roster may get scooped up by another team: Michael Tonkin, Sean Reid-Foley and Yohan Ramirez. The Athletic reported a few days ago that Reid-Foley appeared to be the favorite among the group for one spot as long as he remained healthy, but a decision had not been made and opinions may change. The Mets may not decide until Wednesday.

In the meantime, Stearns said he will weigh how “stuff packages” fit in the bullpen, balancing that versus length and an ability to bounce back. That means he is looking for his relievers to bring different characteristics. He wants to avoid sameness and duplication to best attack lineups.

“This is a tough decision,” Stearns said.

By Thursday’s season opener, they’ll at least be used to making them.

(Top photo of Mark Vientos: Nathan Ray Seebeck / USA Today)

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