November 01, 2006

Off-Season Outpost 2: Second Base

Last off-season, if you would have told us that the Mets would contend for the pennant with Jose Valentin as our starting second baseman, we'd have thought you were beyond crazy. This off-season, we're looking for reasons NOT to bring Valentin back for one more season! Therefore, in our second Off-Season Outpost, we'll be looking at our options at Second Base.

David: As much as I love Soriano, I just think he'll be beyond our ability to land this offseason, and I just don't think Omar is going to be able to convince the Wilpon's to sign someone to another Beltran-like contract. I'd rather see that money spent on 2 great starters, like Willis and Zito, and the return of O-Hern, as well as the pending deal with Glavine. If we can't get Soriano, we have some options, which we've outlined below.

John: I agree. I’d much rather get pitching than hitting we don’t need (although it would be a dominant line-up to look at). We shouldn’t treat this as though Soriano is the only free agent out there. Besides he is going to start slowing down in the next season or two, turning 31 and all.

Without further ado, let's get to it!

1.) Alfonso Soriano:
David: A free agent, although Soriano is the most appealing choice, he's also the longest shot. His stats this year were even more amazing, considering he batted lead-off and played a position, left-field, that was basically new to him. He hit 46 homers, knocked in 95 (again, as the lead-off hitter), stole 41 bases and hit .277. He's not the prototypical lead-off hitter, striking out 160 times and only walking 67 times, but where have we heard about "unconventional" lead-off hitters before (think Reyes!) His fielding percentage was only .969, but in his new position he led all outfielders in assists with 22. As a second baseman, he's prone to bone-headed errors, and ranks as about the worst in this field. However, his speed lets him get to many chances that the others on this list can't, and under the tutelage (again) of Willie, he's definitely thrive at Shea. He knows what it takes to play in New York and likes the action of the big apple.

What's the catch? Apparently, Soriano wants a contract similar to the one that the Mets' gave Carlos Beltran 2 years ago, in the $119 million range. We don't want to say that it's unrealistic that he'll get it, because, with teams like the Cubs in play, anything is possible. However, as much as we'd love to have him, paying Soriano $19 -$22 million per season does not seem like something that the Mets would do at this point. There's no doubt that, for a 40-40 guy who's at the start of his prime (turning 31 in January) and has improved his value via his excellent defensive performance this past year is worth whatever the market will pay him. It's also true that the Mets biggest deficiancy was starting pitching, and that is the area that Omar, along with a power-hitting outfielder, will be most inclined to spend the majority of his budget. Soriano is a long-shot, although with Omar, you can never count us out!

John: This guy has turned into someone that nobody wanted to someone everybody wants to throw money at. I mean can you blame them? He hit 46 homeruns in RFK Stadium! 46! If that’s not enough, he also threw a sprinkling of 41 stolen bases and a dash of 95 RBI’s while hitting mostly out of the leadoff spot. He does have a down side however. He’s not the greatest fielder in the world with a career .970. But with those offensive numbers, you don’t need to be a Gold Glove second baseman.

He has done so well this past season that he thinks he deserves a "Beltran of a deal" (8 years; 120MM). The only problem with this is that he will be 31 at the beginning of next season. That would put him at 39 when his contract expires. I don’t see him as the Mets second baseman next year, but I wouldn’t rule him out.

2.) Jose Valentin:
David: The best thing that can be said about Valentin is that his return to form signalled the end of the "Kaz-era" (or error), and it couldn't have come at a more opportune time, both for the Mets and the revitalization of his career. He came back from a horrible season with the Dodgers (as in .170 average in 56 games with 14 RBI's, and prior to that averages of .216 and .237 with the White Sox, with considerably more power) to hit 18 homers, knock in 62 runs and hit .271 in 384 at-bats. Valentin's defense was more than adequate, and he was responsible for a number of timely and game-winning hits throughout the season and post-season. He's 37 and in the twilight of his career. Many people feel that last season was his swan-song as a starting player, and he should be relegated to bench status. We're torn on this issue, as on one hand, if Valentin comes back in good shape, as he was last year, being that he's a switch-hitter and a good influence in the clubhouse, if the price is right we wouldn't mind having him come back for one more season. It's not like we have anyone tearing it up at the AAA level, and apparently Anderson Hernandez is not going to be the answer for us next year or ever. Valentin's lifetime fielding percentage is only .960, but that includes time spent at shortstop, third base, the outfield and second base. He played more games, 98, at second base last year then any other season in his career, and his fielding percentage was a respectable .988. Therefore, it wouldn't be an upset if the Mets bring Valentin back for one more year as a starter.

John: The one, the only, the career year. Valentin definitely had the best season in his career this season. He hit .271 (career .243) and went from being a swing for the fences batter to a contact hitter. This may be attributable to the Mets coaching staff, but remember he is 36 and doesn’t have too many years left in him. Getting a replacement for him now would be a good choice. But if the Mets can’t find one, he should assume the role that gave him more recognition than any other in his career.

3.) Adam Kennedy:
David: I saw Kennedy play at Cal State Northridge, and liked him from the start of his major league career. He's a throw-back as a player- he gets his uniform dirty, is a great clubhouse guy and is the ultimate gamer, playing hurt and getting the job done. He's never been an offensive powerhouse, hitting .273 last year with 4 homers, 55 runs batted in and 16 steals. He'll only be 31 when next season starts, and he's already been a cog in a world series team, winning with the Angels in 2002. Kennedy's defense is usually steady, although he did have 9 errors last season. He's hit as many as 13 homers and knocked in as many as 72 runs, and his lifetime fielding percentage is .983, right around where it was last season. Althought he's stolen as many as 22 bases, last year in addition to the 16 he did steal, he was thrown out 10 times, most in his career. We like Kennedy, but feel that, at this point, if it came down to Valentin or Kennedy, we'd rather stick with Valentin.

John: He has already expressed his interest to come to New York next season and doesn’t seem to be too bad of a choice if options A, B and C don’t pan out. Hitting .273, 4 home runs, 16 stolen bases (10 caught stealing); a career fielding percentage of .983 Seems to be looking pretty good all around. If it came down to Kennedy or Valentin, I would have to go with Kennedy for the simple fact that this season was a career year for Valentin and Kennedy puts up the same numbers on the board year in and year out.

4.) Ronnie Belliard:
David:Belliard was traded from the Indians to the Cards this season, and he had the chance to play with the World Series victors. Belliard is an interesting case, as he did hit .272 with 13 homers and 67 runs batted in. He only stole 2 bases, and was caught stealing 3 times. He hit 30 doubles in 544 at-bats, and at age 32 when the season starts, he's right in the middle of his prime. A Bronx native, Bellaird certainly knows what it's like to be in the New York spotlight, and he's played with 4 teams in his 9 seasons. His defense is not quite as good as Kennedy's, as his lifetime percentage is .979. He played in 54 games with the Cards this season, and hit only .237 after hitting .291 with the Indians. Veterans coming from World Series victors tend to receive inflated contracts, which seems to be common in most sports. However, we think we'd still be better served with Valentin or even Kennedy over Belliard, so we'll take a pass.

John: A native New Yorker who would undoubtably want to come back home to play, and why shouldn’t he. He is from the Bronx so he isn’t perfect, but boy did he have an October to remember. He boasts a .275 batting average, 13 home runs; 67 RBI’s. He doesn’t have a much better fielding percentage then Soriano at .979, but he would be a solid fill in at second. For my sake, if the Mets picked him up, I would personally come down to Shea and shave his head. Not professional Belliard, Not professional at all.

5.) Mark Loretta:
David: The best fielder and hitter (for average) in the bunch, Loretta had another solid season last year with the Red Sox. At 35 (36 next August), he's the second oldest in this group, but he remains a productive hitter. He hit .285 with the Sox last year, and has a .299 lifetime average. He spent the previous 3 seasons with the Padres, where he hit .314, .335 and .280. He had 5 homers and 59 runs batted in, similar numbers to Kennedy, and stole only 4 bases, being caught once. He's a solid fielder, .987 lifetime and .994 at second for the Sox last year. Loretta has played everwhere in the infield, and was an all-star in 2004 and 2006. Loretta would be a solid, 2-year fix, but his numbers again are no better than Valentin's, and he'd probably cost around the same to sign. If we can't resign Valentin, or acquire Lugo or Kennedy, he'd be a good fall-back.

John: Actually, I'd rather throw Mark DeRosa into this mix then Mark Loretta. This guy spent most of his time with the Braves, but is still a better fit in my opinion than anybody but Soriano. He boasts a .296 average, 13 home runs, 74 RBI’s and a career .982 fielding percentage. DeRosa has a better fielding percentage and batting average in the National League than the American League for some reason. He is 31 and would be asking for a 3 to four year deal worth 30 to 35MM, IF the Rangers don't try to resign him first.

David: Regarding DeRosa, he's 31 and a Jersey boy, both good things. However, last year was his first as a full-time starter in his 9 years in the bigs, and I'd be very leary about throwing big bucks his way as a result of one good season. I do like his numbers from last year, but if we're going to spend some money not headed Soriano's way, let's spend it on ---

6.) Julio Lugo:
David: This is where it gets intersting. Lugo, at 31, is in the midst of his prime. Coming over from Tampa Bay in a late-season trade last year, Lugo and the Dodgers did not pair up very well. Lugo was utilized at third, second, and the outfield last year, everywhere, it seemed, but his preferred spot of shortstop. Lugo was blocked by Furcal, who had an all-star quality season, and he was bounced around by manager Grady Little in his short time with the boys in blue. In Tampa, he was primarily a shortstop, but according to published reports, he wouldn't mind coming to the Mets or another pennant-contender as a second baseman IF he was given that info prior to starting the season. Lugo, originally an Astros prospect, struck gold with the Devil Rays, hitting as high as .295 ('05) with 15 homers ('03) and 75 runs batted in ('04). His lifetime fielding percentage is only .966, but in 29 games with the Dodgers at second this season, his percentage was .980. He had 24 steals last season combined, coming on the heals of a 39 steal season one year prior. Lugo shows some power, has great speed, and, if given the chance to play an entire season, might just hit somewhere around 12 homers, knock in 70 runs, steal 35 bases and hit .285. He's still relatively new to playing second, and this would be his first season spent primarily as a second-sacker. He missed a month due to injury early in the season, and his numbers were certainly skewed as a result of this and switching leagues. However, taking into consideration his power potential as well as his speed, if we indeed can't sign Soriano, Lugo seems to be a younger, faster version of Valentin. We'd love to see him at second next season, and this could prove to be a very realistic expectation, as Omar is known to like his game very much.

John: Oh Lugo… What a year he had. He will also be 31 at the start of next season. The only difference is that he won’t be demanding the kind of money that Soriano will. He will, however, be pulling in a pretty good check. Somewhere in the range of 4 years, 40MM. This is a small price to pay for someone who hit .278, had 12 home runs and stole 24 bases while playing in both leagues, and out of position. Along with Soriano, he doesn’t boast the best Fielding Percentage with a career .966. Lugo would seem to be the logical choice to take over as the Mets second baseman next year and if the Mets can’t land Soriano, the Mets will be knocking on Lugo’s door rather hard.

There are others who figure to be in this mix, but these 6 (or 7) seem to be the ones that will receive the most consideration by Omar and Company. Now on to our predictions-

Sign: Lugo
Darkhorse: Soriano
Fallback: Valentin

Sign: Lugo
Darkhorse: Soriano
Fallback: Valentin

David: Again, I don't think it's realistic to expect us to sign Soriano, so I'd be very happy with Lugo as our second baseman next year. I'd love it if we signed Valentin as well, to back-up at both 2nd and 3rd, but don't think he's going to want to return to a bench-role if he has the choice. I like Kennedy, and I like Bellhorn but would rather see a one-year return of Valentin and focus on a bigger splash at second in the off-season of '07. Therefore, my choice for our starting second baseman in 2007 is Julio Lugo.

John: There are a lot of decent second baseman on the block this off season, but only a couple of great ones. It would be great if Valentin could come back next year, but he wants a starting job and I just don’t think he can put together another stellar year. Play the field safe and outbid the Red Sox (They covet Lugo very much) and sign Julio Lugo before it’s too late. Anything else would just be unacceptable.

David: Well, that's it for this installment of our Offseason Outpost, and we'll be back later in the week as we look at the potential additions to our OUTFIELD!

UPDATE: (11/2) There are 2 more names that need to be added to this list- Craig Biggio and Rich Aurilia. Currently, Biggio and the Astros are apparently far apart on their contract demands, and Biggio, needing only 70 hits to reach 3,000, wants to finish his career with the Astros. However, he said he wouldn't rule out ending his career in New York, St. Louis or Chicago. This is probably a negotiating ploy, but in this day and age, you never know. Aurilia declined his option yesterday for 2007 with the Reds, and while it appears he is headed back to Cincy, this New York native might just want to finish out his career at Shea. And THAT'S why the offseason has become such a fun time to be a Mets fan!!!

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