Inbox: Will Betances be cleared for camp?

Beat reporter Anthony DiComo answers fans' questions

July 1st, 2020

With Summer Camp fast approaching, things are moving quickly again around Citi Field. Here’s a batch of questions and answers as we await the first day of Mets workouts on Friday.

Is ready to go?
-- @mikey25rivera via Twitter

The political answer would be for me to tell you we won’t know for sure until we see Betances pitch, given how slowly he was coming along back in March … but forget it. The Mets are hyping up Betances, so there’s reason to be excited.

“We are extremely excited about where he is physically,” said general manager Brodie Van Wagenen this week. “He’s been one of the players that has been off a mound and able to face real hitters here over the course of the last couple weeks in live batting practice, simulated games, however you want to describe it. He’s had multiple sessions where he’s faced Major League hitters over the course of the last couple weeks, and he’s encouraged. Our performance staff evaluated him over the last couple of days, and we’re ready to see what he looks like when we start going here.”

In Spring Training, Betances spent time each day caring for his left Achilles, which he had rehabbed for an entire offseason. His velocity remained in the lower 90s on the back fields, but that would have been normal for him even in a healthy year.

Now, with an extra three months to recover, optimism exists that Betances can more fully replicate his 2014-18 form with the Yankees. If he does, there’s little question the Mets’ bullpen will be better than last year.

Who is considered the Mets’ sixth starter? If it’s , that seems like an issue, right? It needs to be Peterson or a free agent.
-- @davegawkowski via Twitter

That depends in large part on David Peterson, the club's No. 10 prospect per MLB Pipeline, who should have every chance to compete for the role during Summer Camp. The Mets now have eight established big leaguers with set spots in their bullpen, so there shouldn’t be a glaring need to use Peterson in relief. They can instead keep him stretched out with plans to use him as a rotation sub if he does prove to be the best option.

But I wouldn’t totally discount Lockett based on a four-start sample in the big leagues last season. He was a solid pitcher at Triple-A Syracuse, looked sharp in Spring Training and is still only 26 years old. He isn’t just going to give the No. 6 job away to Peterson without a fight.

Other candidates include Corey Oswalt and Erasmo Ramirez. Peterson, the club’s 2017 first-round Draft pick, may have the most long-term potential of the bunch, but he’s not the only option.

What would be the pecking order for possible designated hitter candidates?
-- @MillManner via Twitter

The way I see it, two conflicting thoughts are both true. One, the starting DH job belongs to so long as he is healthy enough to handle it. Two, lots of other players are going to see time there as well.

When asked about the Mets’ DH plans earlier this week, Van Wagenen talked about the importance of workload management -- not just for Céspedes, who is coming off multiple heel surgeries and a fractured right ankle, but also for everyday players like Pete Alonso and Robinson Canó. Just because the season is only 60 games this year doesn’t make it any easier to play 60 games in a row. So the Mets will use the DH to get Alonso and Canó off their feet every now and then. They will also use it to find at-bats for Jed Lowrie if he’s healthy, and to give J.D. Davis some days off in left field.

I can’t put a number on how often each guy will see time there, but if you go into the season expecting Céspedes to take about half of the Mets’ DH reps, you probably wouldn’t be far off.

Are Minor Leaguers such as Brett Baty, Matthew Allan and Mark Vientos simply not playing any baseball for 18 months, or is MLB coming up with any plan for them?
-- @metsrulein2k via Twitter

Because the Mets intend to compete for a World Series, they value their extra roster spots more for guys who can help now -- lefty reliever Kevin Smith and speedy outfielder Johneshwy Fargas, for example -- than for those who have the highest ceilings in the organization. It’s still possible the Mets could add a top prospect to their 60-man player pool to give him exposure to the highest level, but that’s not really a high priority.

As for the hundreds of Minor Leaguers who won’t make the pool, Van Wagenen remains hopeful that the Mets will be able to provide organized instruction later this season.

“We have not quit on a player development opportunity at all,” he said. “I know there have been a lot of calls and people participating within Major League Baseball and the GM community and the player development community of trying to find ways to make some plan to allow these kids an opportunity to play, whether it’s in the summer or in the fall. I know those conversations continue to be ongoing.”

Much will depend on the coronavirus pandemic. For now, the Mets’ Minor Leaguers and recent draftees are working out at home, receiving virtual instruction from team officials and coaches.

What happens to those with incentivized contracts like Céspedes and Michael Wacha? Are the incentives prorated?
-- @EDSdt1234 via Twitter

The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal wrote this weekend that MLB and the MLBPA are still negotiating what to do with players like Céspedes, Wacha and Betances, who have incentives, escalator clauses, vesting options or some combination of the three in their contracts. The two sides have yet to agree, but sources told Rosenthal “that a deal was within reach.”

The best young arm in the Mets’ bullpen might be , who came from the Rays in the Lucas Duda trade. He then underwent Tommy John surgery, missing all of last season. Has he been making progress and, if so, might he be an option for 2020?
-- @tossup via Twitter

Had the pandemic never emerged, Smith would have been borderline ready to break camp with one of the Mets’ Minor League affiliates. He was regularly throwing bullpen sessions in mid-March and felt as strong as ever a year removed from Tommy John surgery.

Now, Smith is indeed an option for the big league club. The Mets would not have spent a 60-man player pool spot on him if they did not feel he could contribute at some point in 2020. I wouldn’t expect Smith to make the Opening Day roster, but he will certainly be a consideration later in the summer.

Do you think having an empty stadium will affect the players negatively or positively, or not at all?
-- @CorrineLombardi via Twitter

That depends in large part on the player. Guys like Alonso clearly fed off the Citi Field crowd last year and will have to find a way to replicate that energy with no one in the stands. Others could benefit. Might Edwin Díaz, for example, feel less pressure the day after a blown save? Delving into the psyches of these guys is an impossible task, but the Mets will face the same challenges this year as every other team around the league.