The Mets Offseason – The Infielders

First in a series about how the Mets will reassemble a team for 2009

The infield looks to be a place of little flux this offseason.  Clearly, the left side of the Mets infield isn’t going anywhere, despite the pleas of talk radio hosts desperate for ratings.  The Mets will likely pick up the option of Carlos Delgado, and even though there have been calls to trade him, I don’t think he’s going anywhere; the team does not have a ready-made replacement for him unless they think Daniel Murphy is ready to play every day (and he probably isn’t).

That leaves second base and the reserve spots open.  There is no guarantee Luis Castillo is going anywhere, but I have to believe that it is a priority for this team to get rid of him.  He fell out of favor by the end of the season, to where 38 year old Damion Easley was playing every day instead, and fans actually believed that Argenis Reyes was a legitimate replacement.  At some point, the team just has to move forward and realize that a player isn’t a good fit; Castillo was a bad signing, and to continue to keep him here compounds the mistake.

There is no guarantee that they will be able to orchestrate a salary dump, but surely some team would be willing to take Castillo provided the Mets paid the freight for most of the remaining three years.  It might behoove the Mets to find a team looking to dump a bad relief pitcher contract but needs a second baseman.  Relievers are fickle enough to where a change in scenery is often beneficial, and it would kill two birds with one stone.  I’m not exactly sure what the best fit here would be, but I’d have to think that this would be the best way to kill the proverbial two birds with one stone.

If the team does dump Castillo, the team will need a new second baseman.  Forget about internal options for now.  Daniel Murphy likely isn’t a second baseman; he’s never played a position as challenging as second in his career, and there is no reason to expect he can develop the necessary range required of even an adequate defender at the position.  Argenis Reyes does have the range to play second, but belongs nowhere near a big league lineup, not with that bat.  You can get by sometimes with a below-average bat with great defense, but Reyes’ bat would have to improve a lot to simply become below average.

That means if Castillo is gone, the team will have to find a new second baseman.  Orlando Hudson is the big rumor; Ken Rosenthal has reported that Hudson wants to be a Met.  Evan Roberts claimed on WFAN earlier this week that Hudson cried when the team signed Castillo, because it meant that he likely would not be a Met.  Who knows if this is true or not.  The big question is, would Hudson be worth it?  He turns 31 years old in December, so he’s not young; for comparison’s sake, Castillo just turned 33.  He has played a good defensive second base in the past, but was not as good defensively in 2008 as he has been in the past; is this the start of a decline or an aberration?

Hudson also has shown pretty big home/away splits since being traded to the Diamondbacks in 2006; playing half of his games at Chase Field, he has hit .315/.391/.509/.900 in the desert, and .274/.336/.392/.729 away from cacti.  He is clearly somebody who has benefitted from playing in a hitter’s park.  He is going to be making a jump from 90 games in strict hitter’s environments (including 9 games at Coors Field) to playing 108 games a year in pitcher’s parks (Citi Field projects as a pitcher’s park, plus Atlanta, Florida, and Washington all favor pitchers). 

If the defense wasn’t a one-year aberration because of injury…Hudson is a guy who can quickly turn into a lemon if he was playing on the Mets.  I’m a little wary here.  Will he be better than Castillo?  Probably initially, but I wouldn’t give him more than 3-4 years.  Is there a great risk for the Mets to pick up Hudson here?  I think there is.  He’s better than Castillo, but is he really that much of an upgrade that the team should dump Castillo and then give him 4-5 years?  Probably not. 

The bad news is, unless Jeff Kent tickles your fancy, and I suspect most Mets fans want no part of Kent (and he wants no part of us), Hudson is the best of the lot.  It’s either keep Castillo around and continue getting nothing out of second base, or pay Orlando Hudson $40 million over 5 years (and that could be low) plus some other team $18 million to take Luis Castillo…and get a marginal upgrade.  These aren’t good choices for the Mets.  Then again…the Wilpons are about to get richer than God during a financial crisis thanks to the new stadium, so why not spend the money on a small upgrade?  It’s not a great move or a brilliant move, but it gets rid of a player they clearly don’t want and gets them a guy who will at least be a little bit better, with potential of an extra base hit now and then.

Anyway, that’s best case scenario at second base.  Worst case scenario is the same scenario we had last year.  In between?  Adam Kennedy is available via trade; too bad he’s terrible.  Free agency would yield the likes of Felipe Lopez, Mark Grudzielanek, Ray Durham, Mark Loretta…none of these guys are any good, certainly not worthy of eating Castillo’s salary just to acquire them, but would be slight improvements.  Bringing in a Lopez or a Loretta might not be a bad move, because the team could keep Castillo around and use one or the other in a job-sharing role at second base, and have a younger and better utility guy to replace Damion Easley.

That brings up another issue; a utility infielder.  At this point, Damion Easley is likely too old to be considered for this role on a championship team.  He doesn’t have a particularly great bat, and isn’t particularly good defensively either.  Sure, he can “play” shortstop, but that doesn’t mean he actually should “play” shortstop, considering he doesn’t even play a good defensive second base.  I’ve always liked Felipe Lopez, and would like to see the Mets pick him up, particularly since he should be available cheap.  But Easley needs to go; I’ve liked him, I think he’s intelligent, he’s usually a decent post-game interview, but he’s done.

Since we need to throw the catchers somewhere, might as well throw them here; I doubt we will see any change in catchers for 2009.  Schneider isn’t a very good hitter, and Castro declined offensively last year, but I just don’t see where they are going to get the kind of upgrade they need in this market.  Hopefully, the plan to make Reese Havens a catcher pans out and he turns out to be a good one down the line, but for 2009, expect more of the same behind the plate.

Next:  The Outfielders

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