PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — For most teams, spring training is a time of position battles. But with the Mets’ rotation set and the lineup deep with options, the only glint of competition resides in the bullpen.
Two spots remain open, and the Mets have plenty of choices.
“We’ve got some candidates that we think fill a pretty good role,” manager Terry Collins said.
Closer Jeurys Familia, lefthanded specialist Jerry Blevins and setup men Addison Reed and Antonio Bastardo represent the virtual locks to land bullpen spots.
The group also includes righthander Hansel Robles, who sometime in spring training will have a hearing to appeal his three-game suspension for throwing at the head of Phillies catcher Cameron Rupp in October. Either way, Robles will figure into the Mets’ initial plans, leaving two open spots in the bullpen.
Erik Goeddel, Sean Gilmartin and Logan Verrett appear to be the early front-runners to claim the open spots. Former Brewers closer Jim Henderson, in camp on a minor-league deal, also falls within that leading group of four, according to a person with knowledge of the team’s thinking.
Collins acknowledged as much, saying Henderson’s track record is “very intriguing.” Henderson, 33, saved 28 games for the Brewers in 2013. But shoulder surgery wiped out much of the last two seasons and robbed the consistency from a fastball that once crackled in the mid-90s.
“It would be great if I could fit in somewhere,” said Henderson, who hopes his velocity will remain more steady now that more time has passed since surgery. “But obviously right now, I just want to go out and prove I’m healthy. I just want to be consistent again. That’s the first thing I need to do is kind of get back out there and be consistent and show why I used to be who I used to be.”
Even if Henderson doesn’t make the team out of camp, the Mets have the flexibility to keep him in the minors until June 15, when he has the option to exercise an out clause in his contract.
Gilmartin, Verrett and Goeddel also have minor-league options remaining, giving the Mets flexibility to call them up or send them down as needed.
Of course, plenty of time remains between now and Opening Day, which could open the door for the likes of righthander Rafael Montero, once a highly touted prospect, who hopes to move forward from a season marred by arm trouble.
Lefty Josh Smoker also has emerged as an intriguing arm. Once a first-round draft pick, he has survived arm issues that nearly chased him out of baseball. He signed with the Mets last season, regained his velocity and landed on the 40-man roster during the offseason.
Both might face an uphill climb. Goeddel, Gilmartin and Verrett logged significant innings for the Mets a season ago. For Collins, that experience provides a clear leg up. “They’re certainly going in as the lead candidates without question,” he said.
The lefthanded Gilmartin, 25, posted a 2.67 ERA in 50 appearances, his first as a reliever after spending most of his career as a starter. The righthanded Verrett, 25, had a 3.03 ERA in 14 games, mostly in relief.
Both could figure in as long relievers, especially with the Mets looking to ease the workload of their young starting rotation early in the season. And both offer the flexibility of making spot starts, which would fill in the void left by the departure of reliever Carlos Torres.
Goeddel, 27, profiles as a more traditional middle reliever. When he was healthy last season, the righthander produced strong results. He posted a 2.43 ERA in 35 appearances, though an elbow injury took away a large chunk of his season.
Said Goeddel, “Just knowing that you can do it gives you a lot of confidence.”