After months of baseball nothingness, its abbreviated preseason camp is speeding by. Monday, a day off for the Mets, marked the halfway point. Opening Day is July 24 — a week from Friday.
So far, as pandemic-related chaos swirls around the sports world, the Mets have enjoyed a quiet camp, though the absences of Robinson Cano and others are reasons for concern.
Manager Luis Rojas, who has spoken frequently of the logistical and health-and-safety challenges of staging these workouts at Citi Field, is pleased with how things have gone.
“It’s gone a lot better than what I projected,” Rojas said.
Here are three questions relevant to the second half of Mets camp:
What can be accomplished in two exhibition games?
During normal times, the Mets would have a month of Grapefruit League contests. In this time of coronavirus, they get two exhibitions, both against the Yankees, Saturday at Citi Field and Sunday at Yankee Stadium.
Pitchers freely say during spring training that the jump from facing teammates — live batting practice, simulated games, whatever — to facing another team, even in an exhibition setting, is a real one. There is something about seeing another uniform, they say, that ups the adrenaline and makes it feel more real.
On the pitchers’ side, only two starters and a slew of relievers will get that benefit this weekend. And even then, they are getting that benefit once (maybe twice for a reliever). Other than that, the Mets are going to have to fake it environment-wise in preparing for (fanless) games.
Who will win a roster spot?
Rojas recently said he expects roster decisions to linger until the very end of camp because it is so difficult to evaluate players in a short camp with few exhibition games.
Realistically, the Mets don’t have too many roster decisions to make, anyway. They will need to pick a few extra relievers (Paul Sewald, Drew Smith, Walker Lockett and Tyler Bashlor are among the options), probably an outfielder (Ryan Cordell or Jarrett Parker?) and maybe an infielder.
That assumes several things: 1) Yoenis Cespedes is ready enough to be active/the DH, 2) the Mets use three spots on the 30-man roster for catchers, carrying both Tomas Nido and Rene Rivera to back up Wilson Ramos and 3) Luis Guillorme serves as a utility infielder because Jed Lowrie has not appeared ready.
Can the Mets make it to Opening Day healthy?
This is always the question for every team, right? In 2020, though, clubs are dealing with the difficulty of COVID-19. The Mets project that a positive test would mean a minimum of three weeks until that player can return, and it stands to reason that even mild symptoms would cost the individual much more time.
Mets officials have declined to say why Cano and relievers Brad Brach and Jared Hughes have not been present. Teams are not allowed to disclose positive coronavirus tests unless the player gives the OK.
The Mets’ local and divisional rivals, meanwhile, have lost prominent players to the coronavirus. The Yankees’ Aroldis Chapman, DJ LeMahieu and Luis Cessa are out indefinitely. The Nationals had three players — Ryan Zimmerman, Joe Ross and Welington Castillo — opt out and at least two test positive. The Braves are missing Freddie Freeman, who is sick, which encouraged Nick Markakis to opt out of the season (along with Felix Hernandez). The Phillies have had a bunch of players test positive, including Scott Kingery, who returned, and Zack Wheeler has said he isn’t sure if he’ll come back after his baby is born (due this month).