Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Second Base

Since my last post was in regard to Edgardo Alfonzo it seemed only fitting that I express my concerns over the current second base situation. The 2001 season was Fonzie's last as the full time second basemen and since then the position has not been filled with any type of regularity. In 2002 the highly talented Roberto Alomar was brought in to play second base. His resume boasted (12) All Star appearances, (10) Gold Gloves and (4) Silver Sluggers, all while playing second base. But as was the case with many players brought in during this time period Robbie was signed five years too late and his skills were clearly in a downward slide.

The Mets appeared poised to make progress when they signed the highly touted Japanese Player, Kazuo Matsui. Kaz shifted between second base and short stop until Jose Reyes solidified himself as the everyday shortstop. Like so many players before him, Kaz was never able to handle playing under the everyday pressure of NY and after two lack luster seasons he was traded to the Colorado Rockies. Several players such as Jeff Keppinger, Danny Garcia and Miguel Cairo have attempted to fill the role.

Although the position was clearly in need of an up-grade the team never seemed to approach the situation with much urgency or seriousness. In 2005 there were rumblings about players such as Mark Grudzielanek and Tony Graffanino. But these players ended up signing with other clubs and the Mets never really showed any serious interest in them.

In 2005 Jose Valentin was signed to a minimal one-year contract and it was believed that he would become a veteran bench player. After two dismal injury plagued season, expectations were low and some even questioned whether Omar had made a mistake signing him. Jose himself admitted that he had concerns about the continuation of his career. During the early part of the season Jose was a utility player that saw few plate appearances and struggle mightily. Jose became the full time second basemen after a failed comeback attempt by Brett Boone, injuries to Anderson Hernandez and the ineptitude of Kaz. Surprisingly as the full time second basemen Jose flourished. In the field he showed sound fundamentals, excellent decision making skills and sufficient range. At the plate he maintained a batting average of .271% with 18HR and 62RBIs. However, In the last month of the season it appeared that Jose's age caught up to him and he only batted .188%.

As much as I appreciate Jose's performance last year I believe it will be difficult for him to repeat. Jose appears to have had a career year and is now a year older. His lifetime BA is actually 243% and he struggles against lefties batting only .191%. I would prefer to see him in the role that he was originally signed for as a utility player. I think that Jose's struggles early on last year were not due to his role but from rust and a lack of confidence which was a result of his two prior injury shortened seasons. I also feel that he could be kept fresh by more regular use in a variety of fielding position as a super sub. David Wright struggled at the plate towards the end of the season and it appeared that he could have benefited from more rest going into the Playoffs. But with Chris Woodward as the utility player batting a mere .221% and showed limited range at third base Wright's rest was limited. The same could be said for Delgado since it appears Franco is becoming less of a fielder and more of a pinch hitter/coach. Despite the present concerns unless the Mets make a sudden trade or sign a free agent Jose will again be the full time second basemen. There are only two quality free agent second basemen left, Mark Loretta and Ron Belliard both of which the team has shown only limited interest.

This is purely speculation on my part but there maybe another concern that has not been addressed. Willie Randolph was a great second basemen and is only in his third year as a major league manager. It has been said that many great players have difficulty transitioning into coaches/managers because of their expectation levels. Willie has yet to manage a quality veteran at the position he played. Jose Valentin over achieved while filling in at a position that he had limited experience at. Could there be concerns over Willie being too tough on a veteran second basemen or might he want to develope a young player in his own mold. There are two such players currently in the farm system Anderson Hernandez and Ruben Gotay. Only spring will tell whether all these questions surrounding second base will be answered.