Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Spring Training Spotlight: New York Mets

            The New York Mets have certainly had more than their fair share of non-baseball distractions this offseason. The big one has been the omnipresent Bernie Madoff affair, with Madoff victims’ trustee Irving Picard suing the Wilpon family – majority owners of the Mets – for at least $1 billion.  This post, thankfully, will focus exclusively on baseball issues, namely, the battle to be the 2011 Mets starting second baseman. This battle is really wide-open, with several players vying for the spot, from veterans left from an old regime to unproven rookies.  All Spring Training long 4 candidates have been given a shot to win the job: Luis Castillo, Daniel Murphy, Brad Emaus, and Justin Turner.  Who will ultimately prevail is up to how they perform this spring and into 2011, as the Mets look to catch up in an increasingly powerful National League East.  Here’s our take at who gets the nod on opening day:
            If Major League credentials were the primary criterion for General Manager Sandy Alderson, then Luis Castillo would be the easy choice.  Castillo has won three Gold Gloves at second base, has been selected to three All-Star Games, and has won two World Series titles.  Plus he has a .368 career on-base-percentage (OBP), which is among the most important stats to Moneyball-ers like Alderson.  However, Castillo (see right) is strongly associated with the old Omar Minaya regime, which was known to give outsized contracts to any player they fancied at that particular moment.  Castillo fell squarely into that group, and Mets fans have dogged him for years.  Many commentators think his connection to the old regime will lead him to be cut, but so far Castillo has outplayed his competition.  Castillo might not be the guy that Mets fans are rooting for, but he may just win the second base job by default.

            The guy one would think the Mets brass wanted to win the second base job is Brad Emaus, but he has underwhelmed so far.  Emaus was a Rule 5 selection by the Mets this past winter, meaning they have to carry him on their 25-man roster or offer him back to the Blue Jays.  The soon-to-be 25-year-old Emaus hit .290 with 15 home runs between AA and AAA last season, and is known for having a good glove at second base.  However, he is hitting a paltry .200 with 4 singles in 20 at-bats this Spring Training, and he has already struck out 4 times as well.  A 1:1 hits-to-strikeouts ratio does not bode well for Emaus.

            Justin Turner’s name has been mentioned in connection to the second base job all winter and spring, but I don’t feel like he’s ever had much of a chance.  Emaus has 2 minor league options remaining, and, unless he hits the cover off the ball in Port St. Lucie, there’s little reason for the Big Club to carry him to start the year.  Making matters worse for Turner, he is also hitting just .200 this spring, meaning he likely is ticketed for AAA Buffalo in April.

            The final candidate is the most intriguing one for the Mets: Daniel Murphy (see left).  Murphy was the Mets starting first baseman in 2009 when Carlos Delgado was injured, and he acquitted himself nicely: 12 home runs, 63 RBI, and 38 doubles at age 24.  However, Ike Davis won the Mets first base job last season, and now Murphy is a bat without a position.  The Mets would like to get his stick into the lineup on a regular basis (.275 average against lefty starters and .276 average against righty starters), but his defense is the real issue.  So far, the results have been mixed, with Murphy turning a double play but also making 2 errors this past Saturday against Atlanta.  His offensive numbers have been good this spring, (6 RBIs and .303 average in 11 games) but his range and glovework seem too amateur for him to be an everyday second baseman.  His bat is valuable, though, so my prediction is that Murphy makes the roster in a utility infielder capacity, while Luis Castillo – yes, Mets fans, that Luis Castillo – is the starting second baseman.  I think I can hear the entire borough of Queens starting to cry.

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