One of the glaring weaknesses the Mets had over the past few season was their bench. Because of the way, the team was constructed and then reconstructed, the bench always took a hit, since many of the reserves were thrust into starting roles and ultimately, we replaced with not ready for prime-time players.
But one of the benefits of having essentially the same club come back with most of their injured players fully healed is the strength of the bench the Mets employ in 2017. With Michael Conforto, Wilmer Flores, and TJ Rivera – along with Juan Lagares when healthy – the club has solid young hungry players who can contribute in the backup role.
And ultimately, can click into the lineup with no difficulty and little drop-off.
Tonight, for example, Curtis Granderson got a day’s rest and Michael Conforto was the beneficiary with a home run and two RBI.
“He’s not frustrated and he doesn’t show it. He has a smile on his face,” said manager Terry Collins. “He comes to play. He takes fly balls in right field, center field and left field during batting practice. He does his daily routine like he’s in the starting lineup. I like that.”
The same can be said for Flores and Rivera, as well. All three players are starters on many other teams in the league, but because the Mets have such an embarrassment of riches on their roster, it means they also will have a solid bench.
And even though younger players generally benefit from everyday play, the culture of winning is just as important. On the Mets, these aces in the hole are getting a solid lesson in winning.
One day, that will help them when they must take lead roles on this club.
“(Conforto) is well aware he is the future,” Collins said. “We are certainly concerned he is not going to get the at bats he should have. I think he’s a big piece of this team. You don’t realize when you are sitting there on the bench and looking into the other dugout and there is someone you have to worry about. You better have someone ready for this guy if he comes up. Michael Conforto happens to be the guy on our team.”
And when he starts, like tonight, Granderson becomes the one to watch or Jay Bruce or Yoenis Cespedes. That’s what makes the Mets so deep and different from past years.
More importantly, it will help them when the eventual injury bug does creep up. With most of the starters over 30, there will be plenty of opportunity for guys like Conforto, Flores, Rivera, and even Lagares. There will be long stretches where Collins will want to give his starters days off to keep them fresh. In past seasons, he was reluctant to pull key players from the lineup, because of the drop-off an Eric Campbell or Danny Muno gave them. Now replacing a Bruce or Granderson with Conforto and Lucas Duda or Neil Walker with Flores or Rivera gives Collins the flexibility he needs.
It’s going to be a very long season and even with a .500 home stand to start out, you have to like the Mets chances with the way they are constituted. There are no real worries with the lineup, bench or rotation. Sure you could want another arm or two for the bullpen, but heck, who doesn’t?
And that’s the difference between this season and the ones that just past. Before they went into the season as works in progress, who reacted. Now they look like an almost finished product.