Chico Walker, Charlie Neal, Tom Veryzer, Rod Kanehl
Jerry Buchek, Shawn Gilbert, Elio Chacon
Kelvin Chapman, Billy Cowan, Bobby Klaus, Billy Almon
Keith Miller, Chuck Hiller, Jose Moreno
During the 1996 presidential election campaign, Richard Ben Cramer, who had written about Bob Dole with incredible depth and sensitivity, was asked to characterize the Republican nominee’s policy agenda if he theoretically took office. Given that Dole didn’t really go in for grand pronouncements, Cramer answered, “I think if you shot Dole up with truth serum and asked him what is a Dole presidency going to be about, you know what I think the answer would be?
“‘Ah, something’ll come up.’”
Well, entering the 2011 baseball campaign, the Mets’ second base situation couldn’t appear more doleful. It’s sad. It’s cheerless. It’s full of grief. And it carries the same odds of improving by Opening Day that Bob Dole does of ever cutting the ribbon on a presidential library. Yet, y’know what?
Something’ll come up. Somebody’ll be the starting second baseman three weeks from tonight. Whoever the winning candidate is, he won’t be ideal, but he won’t necessarily be unideal. He may even grow in the job.
This is not the freshly squeezed Florida OJ (optimism juice) spring should bring. I’m still clinging to a patina of hopefulness that the Mets will somehow be more glittering than ghastly in the coming months. And if they’re not, I can’t necessarily blame second base’s black hole. I spent several Marches of my adolescence convincing myself that a starting lineup three-quarters comprised of Stearns, Flynn, Taveras, Henderson, Mazzilli and Youngblood was such a sure thing that the uncertainties floating around a given vacant position couldn’t possibly hold us back. Somehow I don’t think it was the case of Maddox v. Mankowski that ruled against the 1980 Mets decisively blossoming when April rolled around.
So I’ll buy into the good cheer wrought by the presence of six fairly to very well-known quantities — Josh Thole, Ike Davis, Jose Reyes, David Wright, Jason Bay and Angel Pagan — and imagine that 33-year-old right fielder Carlos Beltran will return from experiencing “good” soreness before July and play great at a position he hasn’t played since he was 23. (Or that Lucas Duda in 2011 could be Ron Swoboda from 1965 cross-pollinated with Benny Agbayani c. 1999.)
And second base? Let the unideal chips fall where they may. Let the next verse of the Mets’ second base parody of “We Didn’t Start The Fire” be written. Given the stormfront through which our keystone stackers come and go, you’d have to imagine there’s already an extended mix on somebody’s iPod.
Jeff Kent, bad fit, spent four seasons in a snit
Kevin Collins, Heidemann, Leo Foster, Wigginton
Tatis, Relaford, Alvarado, Ashford
Matsui, Bart Shirley, can’t forget Ralph Milliard
As of March 10, we didn’t have a second baseman, per se. I counted as many as nine potential options for Opening Day and, just as crucially, all the days after. We had practically a minyan, though when you’re nearing double-digits for a single, solitary position, it probably means you don’t have a second baseman. Instead, you have a committee, and I’m pretty sure that’ll get you flagged for having too many men on the field.
I’ve never heard the “you can’t have too many pitchers” dictum applied to second base. You probably can have a surfeit of secondary sackers. What you can’t have, according to the rule book and common sense, is no second baseman.
I was growing antsy over the nine second basemen on March 10, and somebody in St. Lucie must have heard me, because now we’re down to seven, if minor league reassignments are to be believed. Gone from our midst is Jordany Valdespin, 23, whom I had gone into camp confusing within the blur of Kirk Nieuwenheis, Kai Gronauer and Jeurys Familia (eight names, counting firsts and lasts, and the only one I’d ever heard before was “Kirk”), and Ruben Tejada. I was developing a little fondness for Valdespin, especially after he blasted a three-run homer Thursday. Naturally, he is taken from me just as I was thinking of getting to know him.
And Tejada…boy, I liked him last year and hoped his inevitable demotion might get lost in the paperwork. I must have been watching a different Ruben Tejada than the rest of Metsopotamia in 2010, because I was penciling him in alongside Ike for the rest of the decade on the right side of the infield. Apparently I’ve been as blinded by his stellar defense (at a new position to him, no less) as I was once upon a time by Rey Ordoñez’s. It took me years to acknowledge Rey went from being not much of a hitter to never being much of a hitter. I had somehow convinced myself that by 1999 (60 RBIs at the bottom of a loaded lineup), Rey had gotten the hang of the other side of the ball.
He didn’t. But the new kid might. The first-year offensive numbers between shortstop Rey and second baseman Ruben were scarily similar. In a full 1996, Rey-Rey posted a .257 BA/.289 OBP/.303 SLG; his OPS+ was 60, or, as I’ve come to understand it, lousy. In half a 2010, Rube-Rube slashed a .213/.305/.282, making for a similarly lousy OPS+ of 62. Yet Tejada seems to have had a few things going for him that made his viability more than a figment of my second baseman-starved imagination.
• He picked up the pace in September (.284/.364/.433), highlighting his output with a new type of walkoff hit: The Ruben™, a heaping helping of hope sandwiched between two slices of despair.
• The Mets were six games over .500 in the 78 games he played (and, for what it’s worth, ten games under in the 84 he didn’t).
• He’s 21 and conceivably has a chance to improve with the hitting. Ordoñez was 25 his rookie year and pretty well settled into sub-mediocrity when not fielding.
Sadly, Sandy Alderson is ruining my Homegrown Infield dreamscape by sending Tejada to Buffalo to Gain Valuable Experience at shortstop, code for taking Jose Reyes’s spot when we trade him/don’t re-sign him. At least that’s what the prevailing winds suggest. Logically I’m not utterly averse to facing the future without Reyes, given that there may (may) be something to be said for cutting cords, moving on, proclaiming “we finished out of the money four consecutive years with you, we can invest our money elsewhere.” But emotionally, I hate it, hate it, hate it, mostly because Jose Reyes is Jose Reyes and a little because I really believe Ruben has a chance to clear away that second base stormfront.
But that’s another matter for another night.
Keppinger, Cairo, Anderson Hernandez
Doug Flynn, Phil Linz, Seton Hall’s John Valentin
Junior Noboa, New York’ll love Pecota
Marco Scutaro, that awful Jose Offerman
Rich Puig, Bob Heise, Gardenhire, Al Weis
Tommy Herr and Jay Bell, Alomar went straight to hell!
Seven other potential second basemen continue to prowl Digital Tradition J. White Stadium after the first eight plodding months of Spring Training, though we should probably eliminate Chin-lung Hu immediately, less because he’s more of a utility type and more because, as everybody knows, what — not Hu — is on second.
(Sorry. Had to do it once.)
OK, down to six, one of whom, I must confess, I completely forgot had been a second baseman. I knew there was something familiar about Willie Harris besides his being found guilty of Grand Theft Mets Win. Indeed, he was a fairly regular second baseman for the White Sox as recently as 2004 (more recently than Beltran was a cameo right fielder), and played 19 games there as a Nat in 2009. It’s not inconceivable Willie Harris might play second for us and stab somebody else’s sizzling ninth-inning liner.
But that’s not why we want him on our side. We want some outfield payback. We want Willie Harris to go Willie Harris on another team’s ass. Preferably all of them.
Luis Hernandez didn’t look at all terrible taking playing time away from Ruben Tejada last September (except that he was taking playing time away from Ruben Tejada). He hit more home runs than all other Met second basemen combined in 2010. Granted, it was two, but that second one — right after he fouled a ball off his foot and broke a bone in the process...it was a beaut’. He might have a better shot at winning the second base job in St. Lucie if he weren’t still rounding the bases in New York.
Justin Turner exists, I believe, to elicit a low buzz of outrage over how Justin Turner doesn’t get a legitimate chance, and then only if Nick Evans makes the team, thereby depriving us of gnashing for Nick. Somebody’s got to be the unproven quantity who seems worth the shot he’s simply not receiving. What makes Turner particularly worthy of filling this role (besides his five-year, 500-game line of .309/.373/.442 in the minors) is he has an option. An option, save for a spectacular Turner of events, is the same as a window seat on a late-March flight to Buffalo. In all other endeavors, we cherish having options. To Justin Turner, it’s merely gum on the soles of his shoes.
And oh yeah — what a raw deal that guy is getting!
Brad Emaus looms as a bargain-basement steal, except he’s more basement than bargain, thus far — and on the Mets, that’s saying something. The Mets’ front office would love, you’d figure, to confirm their brilliance by having plucked a starting second baseman in the Rule V draft, and Mets ownership would probably prefer 25 Rule V salaries constitute their payroll right about now. But Brad Emaus is thus far forgetting the first rule of Rule V draftees: prove your worth at some facet of the game.
This leaves us with the two guys it was probably going to come down to all along, the people’s choice, Daniel Murphy, and the pox on our soul, Luis Castillo; the relentless hard worker and the energy-saving appliance; the guy with the worst luck possible last year and the guy who stepped into a pile of cash four years ago.
In the land of the unideal, Murphy and Castillo are the princes of inadequacy. Daniel’s biggest problem as regards second base is he isn’t a second baseman. When they try to let him be a second baseman in the minors, he’s victimized by a dirty slide and he’s out for the season. When they try to let him be a second baseman in Spring Training, not a single double play grounder is hit while he’s in the field. The man whose name adorned so many green t-shirts in 2009 is the baseball equivalent of a no-leaf clover.
Luis Castillo has been a second baseman his entire career, and somewhere back in the earliest portions of it was plenty adequate. He was even rated in some quarters as stellar. His cleverness lies in having maintained his listing as a top-flight second baseman when Omar Minaya needed to replace a fallen Jose Valentin in the summer of 2007. Castillo wasn’t much help down the stretch, so you just had to thank Luis for giving it something approaching his best and move on.
But that’s not what Omar did. Perhaps haunted by the glut of itinerant second basemen who clogged Met rosters in the aftermath of Edgardo Alfonzo’s ill-advised shift to third base in 2002 (to make room for an alleged future Hall of Famer), the GM granted Castillo a lifetime services contract; fortunately, Commissioner Bud Selig voided it and a sympathetic arbitrator reduced Castillo’s Met term to four years. The first three years took a literal eternity to unfold (literally!), but the fourth year has arrived at last. Castillo is owed more than the Mets are worth. He gets paid no matter what he does in 2011, no matter where he does it.
Here’s the thing: Castillo, despite being almost completely useless in 2008 and across-the-board unimpressive in 2010 — and committing Bucknercide in the middle of his one decent Met year, 2009 — is a professional second baseman. It’s on his baseball card and everything. If he Rasputins his way onto the roster and into the lineup, we know what he’ll do.
He’ll suck, but he won’t suck nearly as badly as we assume he sucks. And that, in its own insidious way, will suck even more. Those of us who can’t stand to look at Luis Castillo in a Mets uniform — and that, I suspect, would be 110% of us — would be forced to admit that, no, Luis Castillo doesn’t bat .000, reach base at a .000 clip, slug to the tune of .000, and his Ultimate Zone Rating cannot be expressed as “I Don’t Care what his Ultimate Zone Rating is, Luis Castillo SUCKS!”
Whatever modest production, utility and element of pleasant surprise Luis Castillo is capable of providing the New York Mets in 2011 might not be worth being deprived of such certitude.
Daniel Murphy didn’t have a position when he had a position. That he can ease into starting at second, even if we allow for the notion that defense is overrated and that Murph can hit like it’s August 2008 again, seems well-meaning fantasy if not pure folly. Brad Emaus thus far isn’t worth the dollars we exchanged for Loonies at the First National Bank of Toronto. Justin Turner will have to go a long way to allow his option to be left untended. Willie Harris is an outfielder. Luis Hernandez is an afterthought. Chin-lung Hu isn’t much, really, let alone what the Mets need on second. Jordany Valdespin is relegated to a back field. Ruben Tejada is Reyes insurance. And, as long as we’re mentioning everyone under the St. Lucie sun, Reese Havens is an injury waiting to heal.
I’d still prefer any of them over Luis Castillo. But we’ve been saying something to that effect practically forever.