Mets Notes: Cedeno, Hairston, 40-man issues and CRG

The Mets have reached agreement with infielder Ronny Cedeno on a one-year deal, worth just north of $1 million. The Mets had no backup shortstop on the roster so Cedeno certainly fills a need. He’s very good insurance in case Ruben Tejada regresses or if Daniel Murphy gets injured again.

Cedeno is not much with the bat in his hands, as he has a lifetime OPS+ of 68 in 2,309 PA. But he is a good baserunner, despite last year’s SB/CS numbers, and he is a fine defensive shortstop. Last year he had a +8 DRS and a 6.8 UZR/150. For a comparison, Jose Reyes was below average in both metrics last year, with a -11 DRS and a -3.6 UZR/150.

The main question seems to be if he will be content in a back-up role. Cedeno, who will turn 29 in February, has topped 450 PA three times in his career, including the past two seasons. Will he accept getting just the 150 PA or so that a typical reserve middle infielder gets? Or does he figure that with the recent injury history of the Mets, he’s bound to wind up closer to the 454 PA he got in 2011.

HAIRSTON REJOINS METS – The Mets also addressed their need for a backup outfielder, re-signing Scott Hairston to a one-year deal, with a similar dollar value to Cedeno’s. After a dismal month of April, where he posted a .565 OPS in 34 PA, Hairston put up a .255/.315/.520 line over his final 111 PA before having his season cut short with an oblique injury in late August.

An experienced pinch-hitter capable of playing all three outfield positions, Hairston provides a solid bench option for the Mets. Like with the Cedeno deal, in Hairston Sandy Alderson picked up a low-cost bench player more than capable of filling in should one of the starters go down for an extended period of time.

NOW ABOUT THAT 40-MAN ROSTER – Both of these moves also create a problem, as the Mets are at their limit with the 40-man roster. Last year Hairston came in on a minor league deal, but I could find no reference to the contracts for either Cedeno or Hairston being that way. Most people would assume that two of the minor league pitchers like Jeremy Hefner, Armando Rodriguez or Josh Stinson would be removed to make room for the newest additions. There’s also been speculation about Fernando Martinez.

However, Justin Turner should not be sleeping soundly right now, either. In Cedeno, the Mets have another player capable of filling in at 2B. In Hairston, the Mets have a superior RH bat off the bench. Typically, a five-man bench consists of a catcher, two infielders and two outfielders. If Cedeno is the back-up middle infielder then will the Mets be content to forego the traditional backup corner infielder?

With Lucas Duda and Daniel Murphy also on the roster, they very well might. Duda and Murphy have experience at first base while the latter also covers third base. Still, it’s far from a given that Turner makes the Opening Day roster, as he had just a .648 OPS in his final 388 PA. And the Mets may need to open up an additional spot on the 40-man if either Mike Baxter or Adam Loewen makes the team as the fifth outfielder.

METS HIRE CRG PARTNERS – By now you have probably heard that the Mets hired CRG, the firm that assisted the Rangers in their bankruptcy sale. Of course, the Mets have vigorously denied that the reason they retained CRG had anything to do with bankruptcy but rather they are around to help with analyzing financial statements, and deal with business projections. The knee-jerk reaction is to claim the Mets are being dishonest.

But which one seems more likely – the Wilpons hiring an outside firm to handle some very necessary business planning without realizing that the media would connect the dots, see CRG’s previous high-profile baseball customer and leap to the bankruptcy conclusion or that they are planning ahead for a graceful exit strategy? Nothing in the past three years has given any indication that the Wilpons plan to leave if there’s a whiff of a hint of a sliver of a chance to retain control of the team. I think in this case we should take the Mets at their word.

We all want new ownership with deep pockets. The Wilpons want to retain control of the Mets and their majority stake in SNY. There is a lot of debt but there is also the chance to make a lot of money if the Wilpons can ride out the current storm. If the minority investors come through, which seems a reasonable chance, they will be able to pay back the bridge loan and likely meet their debt payments. The big unknown is the Madoff lawsuits. A win for Irving Picard likely means that the Wilpons have to sell. Unless the clawback suits are decided against them in a decisive way, it’s unlikely the Wilpons will put the Mets up for sale.

SANTANA THROWS – The latest report on Johan Santana is that he is throwing on consecutive days from a distance of 75 feet. This seems like good news, although it’s anyone’s guess if this means he will be on the mound for Opening Day. The signings of Cedeno and Hairston were welcome news, but I still hope the Mets add a SP before Spring Training starts. Even if Santana is ready at the start of the year, it sure would be nice to have someone push Dillon Gee for the final spot in the rotation. In Gee’s last 17 starts he had a 5.51 ERA. He allowed 14 HR in his final 94.2 IP and it’s hard to imagine those numbers improving with the fences coming in.

METS-RAYS RUMORS – Recently the Mets and Rays were linked to a potential deal. While I think the two clubs are excellent trade partners, I want no part of a Daniel Murphy-Wade Davis swap. Last year Davis had a 4.45 ERA and it wasn’t due to poor luck, as he had a 4.67 FIP and a 4.82 xFIP. He lost nearly a full point on his K/9 ratio, which fell to 5.14 after being 6.05 in 2010. Davis is another Mike Pelfrey and one of those guys is enough, thanks.

Daniel Murphy is done with rehab

Anthony McCarron interviewed Daniel Murphy, who gave updates on his knee injury, Christmas plans and hopes for the 2012 Mets.

“I feel great,” Murphy says. “I kind of polished off my rehab about a month ago, moved into more of a strengthening phase. I’ve had a real good offseason and I feel really good. I’ll be full-bore in spring training.”

“It always takes people aback when I tell them that I’ve never had surgery,” Murphy says. “But I feel like I’ve had my share of knee injuries. I’m good with that, you know?

“I’m a believer that everything happens for a reason and it’s led me to this peace,” Murphy adds. “I didn’t have that before. I’m excited and ready to go to work.”

Source: New York Daily News

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The only choice at 2B for Mets is Daniel Murphy

Recently, the Mets let it be known that if they re-sign Jose Reyes, that Ruben Tejada will be the team’s starting second baseman in 2012. And if Reyes bolts, they’ll move Tejada to shortstop and have Daniel Murphy starting at second base. Many fans seem surprised by this news, figuring that Murphy’s career in the middle of the infield was over.

In 2011, Murphy posted a .320/.362/.448 line. Compare that to the .284/.360/.335 mark posted by Tejada or the .260/.334/.356 line of Justin Turner. The surprise shouldn’t be that the Mets want to play Murphy at second base if Reyes leaves – the surprise should be that he’s not the first option regardless of who plays shortstop.

The immediate reaction of most fans is that Murphy has had his season cut short in both 2010 and 2011 due to injuries around the second base bag. Therefore he should not be allowed to play there going forward.

Most people agree that the slide that ended his season in 2010 was dirty. Most people also agree that the slide that ended his 2011 season was a poor one (not a dirty one) but one that Murphy left himself in a bad spot. So, let’s ignore the 2010 one – which could have happened to anyone – and focus on 2011.

Which one would you rather do – would you rather teach Murphy how to better position himself on double play chances or would you rather teach Tejada how to post an ISO greater than .051 or Turner how to both hit and field better?

The Mets are simply not a good enough team to be content leaving Murphy and his 125 OPS+ bat on the bench. A lot of people just aren’t convinced that Murphy is really that good of a hitter. But he is. I know I’ve printed this chart before, so please forgive me as I get ready to print it again. Essentially, Murphy has been this good for 948 of his 1,130 PA in the majors

2008, 151 PA, .313/.397/.473 – OPS .870
2009, 108 PA, .298/.364/.457 – OPS .821
2009, 182 PA, .204/.272/.290 – OPS .562
2009, 266 PA, .294/.321/.504 – OPS .825
2011, 423 PA, .320/.362/.448 – OPS .809

What Murphy did with the bat last year is not a surprise. This is who he is. A 125 OPS+ plays just about anywhere in the field. At second base it is a tremendous asset. Last year Murphy’s 125 OPS+ would tie for ninth (with Ryan Howard) among first baseman with 400 PA. At second base, it would be tied for fourth best.

No Mets fan should be satisfied with Murphy sitting on the bench or being utilized as a super sub. His defense at second base is not going to improve by playing there once or twice a week. He needs to go out and take reps on a daily basis and spend the rest of the offseason working out to prepare as a second baseman. He doesn’t need to wonder from day to day if he’s playing the infield or outfield and if he is playing the infield whether that’s at first base or second or third.

Also, let’s remember that the advanced defensive metrics do not see Murphy as being a terrible defender in his brief time at second base. UZR actually likes Murphy at second quite a bit, although DRS does not share that opinion. The bottom line is that he has not played enough innings to really form a solid opinion of his defense.

Is it possible Murphy gets hurt again if he plays substantial time at second base next year? Absolutely. But there’s also a reasonable chance that he plays the entire year without getting hurt. And is there any reason for a team that has finished under .500 three consecutive seasons to play it safe? The Mets should be doing whatever they can to maximize the talent on hand.

What’s the worst-case scenario? Murphy gets hurt again and you move to Plan B. But the Mets have several options here that are not horrible. Tejada, if he’s not the starting shortstop, Turner or even Reese Havens or Jordany Valdespin. The Mets are not without choices if the worst thing happens.

More importantly, what’s the best thing that can happen? Murphy, at age 27, can improve upon his strong offensive numbers and his defense turns out to be average (or better) making him one of the top all-around second basemen in the majors. No one doubts Murphy’s work ethic. Isn’t it possible he could turn himself into a decent defensive player at second base? He already did this at first base, despite never having played there before.

Even if you calculate that the best-case scenario has less than a 10 percent chance of happening – isn’t a minimum shot of that type of upside worth rolling the dice on in the particular case the Mets find themselves in for the 2012 season? Especially when you note that ZiPS projects Turner for a .265/.327/.372 line this year and Tejada for a .259/.329/.339 mark.

If the Mets are going to improve in 2012, they need to have their best players on the field on a regular basis. Throughout the bulk of his career with the Mets, Murphy has been a very good hitter. It would be a great advantage if the Mets could have Murphy at second base, where his offense figures to be among the league’s best. And while his defense may not be Gold Glove caliber, he does not figure to be Boswell-esque, either. The only way to know for sure is to give him as many reps as possible and hope that with coaching he can improve his technique around the bag and avoid injury.

Potential Mets trading partner: Dodgers

It’s always nice to have someone worse off than you. For the Mets, we can always say – at least we’re not the Dodgers. Sure, the Dodgers won more games in 2011 and have bigger stars on the major league roster. But their ownership is a disaster, players seem unsure if they want to be there and the minor league system is unlikely to pump out four or five consecutive Rookie of the Year Award winners like it did from ’79-’82 and from ’92-’96.

You could make the argument that the Dodgers are in better position, because once the McCourt issue plays out, the Dodgers get new owners and many of their problems disappear. But Frank McCourt seems intent to do everything in his power to drag this out as long as possible, which from the Dodgers’ perspective means the 2012 season could very well have McCourt remaining as the team’s owner, yet still facing a severe cash shortage.

If this is indeed the way things play out, the Dodgers could look to move players signed to reasonable contracts given their production but still ones that are hard for a cash-strapped owner to afford. Here’s a look at some players the Dodgers might consider moving:

Andre Ethier – arbitration-eligible – likely to receive around $12 million
Ted Lilly – $12 million (last season of 3-year contract)
Chad Billingsley – $9 million (first season of 3-year contract)

All three of these players would be attractive for the Mets, although they would likely prefer some money to come back with Lilly if he was the only one acquired. The Dodgers may not be willing to part with pitching, given the free agent status of both Jon Garland (team option for $8 million) and Hiroki Kuroda. Regardless, the Dodgers are on the hook for $46.2 million for five players and have arbitration cases with Ethier, Matt Kemp, Clayton Kershaw, James Loney and Hong-Chih Kuo. Additionally, Jonathan Broxton and several role players are free agents.

The Dodgers are likely to bring Loney back as their first baseman, although he’s never displayed the HR power you would prefer from the position. Dee Gordon has SS locked up but there are question marks for the club at both 2B and 3B. Jamey Carroll turns 38 in the offseason and is a free agent while Casey Blake, who has a $6 million team option, turned 38 during the 2011 season. Ivan DeJesus is an option at 2B, and so is bringing back Carroll on a cheap deal.

Third base seems like more of an issue. Last year, Juan Uribe (56 OPS+), Aaron Miles (84 OPS+) and Blake (99 OPS+) saw the most time at the position, with Uribe’s 463.3 innings at third, 53 starts, topping the ledger. Uribe is one of the five players the Dodgers have under contract for 2012 and the club has a history with Blake, having traded Carlos Santana to get him back in 2008. Still, it’s hard as an outsider not to look at 3B as a position the Dodgers have to upgrade.

The Mets could send Daniel Murphy to Los Angeles, where he could play his natural position of third base. They could also send Lucas Duda, who would provide more of a long ball threat at first base than Loney. Minor league outfielders like Kirk Nieuwenhuis or Matt den Dekker could be valuable trade chits, as well, since more of the Dodgers top prospects are pitchers. Perhaps one of the Mets’ collection of fourth starters would have value if the Dodgers gave up a pitcher.

There seems to be ways for the two teams to make a deal, if the Dodgers are concerned about payroll. If not, then it becomes significantly harder. It seems odd to think about the Mets being able to add payroll, but they do have some money to spend, especially if Jose Reyes goes elsewhere. The key will be getting value, which seems more likely for the Mets in the trade market than via free agency.

But with the Dodgers, it gets tricky. How much is Ethier worth, since he’s eligible for free agency in 2013? Billingsley looked very good in 2008 and 2010 and more like Mike Pelfrey in 2009 and 2011 – do you pay any kind of premium for that? These types of decisions are why Sandy Alderson makes the big bucks.

Here’s a blockbuster to chew on, a type of deal that gets made in fantasy baseball but not real life. This is not meant as a serious proposal, but something more of a thought exercise – one that provides value to both clubs:

Mets get – Chad Billingsley, Andre Ethier, James Loney and Juan Uribe
Dodgers get – Jason Bay, Lucas Duda, Daniel Murphy, Jonathon Niese

Why Mets do it
Ethier an upgrade in RF, Billingsley is a 27-year old one season removed from a 4.5 WAR, get out from Bay’s contract. With no emotional attachment to Loney, they non-tender him and save millions.

Why Dodgers do it

Get three pre-arbitration players, two of which fill needs. Giving up roughly $35 million in 2012 salary and take on roughly $17.5 million, which is a huge deal for a cash-strapped owner. Duda is an upgrade on Loney, Murphy an upgrade over whoever else would play 3B. Niese’s 2011 3.28 xFIP is much better than Billingsley’s 4.14 xFIP.

Why trade would not get done
No one wants Jason Bay, Dodgers feel it’s too much risk taking on two players coming back from injury in Murphy and Niese, Mets not willing to assume roughly $12.5 million more in payroll or worried that Ethier is strictly a rental and not worth sacrificing three cost-controlled assets.

Here’s the Mets’ lineup after the deal:

Reyes
Tejada
Wright
Davis
Ethier
Pagan
Nieuwenhuis
Thole

Nieuwenhuis gets to break in the majors playing LF and the Mets outfield defense improves tremendously by getting Duda out of RF, as well as having two nominal CF in the other slots. Ethier reversed recent trends by having a good defensive year in 2011, but even if he returns to 2008-10 levels, he’s still significantly better than Duda.

Santana, Billingsley, Dickey, Capuano, Pelfrey with Gee in reserve for the rotation. Do you think that’s a team that can contend for the Wild Card?

Mets fans prefer to keep Ike Davis over David Wright

Last week we ran a poll at Mets360 asking which player you would least like to see traded. With 404 people voting, here were the results:

Ike Davis – 55%
David Wright – 28%
Daniel Murphy – 6%
Ruben Tejada – 6%
Lucas Duda – 5%

I figured that Davis and Wright would be the top two, but I’m surprised at the order and shocked at the spread between the two. I’m also a bit surprised in the spread between Davis and Duda. Davis is much better defensively than Duda but it’s far from clear which one is the better hitter. Here are their major league numbers:

ID – .271/.357/.460 in 750 PA
LD – .273/.347/.468 in 439 PA

Davis seems to be the better overall player, due to his glove plus the fact that he is a year younger. But it would not surprise me in the slightest if Duda ended up as the better hitter. These numbers so far are extremely similar, but Duda’s are brought down by what he did in his brief time in 2010 (.676 OPS) while Davis’ are pulled up by what he did in his brief time in 2011 (.925 OPS).

As fans, we always assume that hitters will come back as good as new from injuries. And most of the time this turns out to be true. But how many people out there figured that Davis would miss the rest of the year when he went down with an ankle injury in May? Adding to the surprise is that the injury did not require surgery. As fans, should we assume with normal confidence that Davis returns and is healthy and able to play at the level he did last year?

With a full season under his belt, Sandy Alderson has had the time to evaluate his team up close and personal. Hopefully he has come to the conclusion that he needs to do some serious tinkering to the roster as it currently exists. Let’s look at the trade value of the five players mentioned above:

Davis
Pros – Top notch fielder, bat appeared to take a step forward in 2011. Has great power and could easily develop into consistent 30-HR hitter. Pre-arb player
Cons – Coming off an injury that took much longer to heal than originally anticipated. Much uncertainty over the type of offensive player he will be.

Wright
Pros – Has a track record of being one of the top hitters at his position for 7 years. Would probably benefit by a trade to another organization, where he wouldn’t have to be the face of the franchise.
Cons – His defense is an issue and his strikeouts are something of a concern. His salary at $15 million for 2012 is no longer cheap and limits the teams that could potentially acquire him. If traded, his 2013 option becomes voided, so acquiring team has him for just one season.

Murphy
Pros – Can handle both 1B and 3B. Good contact hitter who could handle batting anywhere in the lineup. Pre-arb player.
Cons – His last two years have been truncated due to season-ending injuries suffered in the middle infield. Does not have the power you would want from a 1B.

Tejada
Pros – Can handle both 2B and SS. Was essentially a league average hitter (96 OPS+) as a 21-year-old middle infielder in 2011. Pre-arb player.
Cons – Limited track record in both the majors and minors. Has virtually no power and is not a fast runner.

Duda
Pros – Posted a 136 OPS+ in his first extended look at major league pitching. Had an .854 OPS versus LH starters last year. Pre-arb player
Cons – By UZR/150 he was the worst defensive outfielder in the majors in 2011 with at least 300 innings played. Not a highly-regarded prospect (7th-round pick) prior to his 2010 breakout.

Most trade talks do not heat up until after the World Series, so it’s not surprising that we have not heard much hot stove action yet. However, there are reports that the Rockies are very interested in acquiring Wright. They have the need at 3B and with Troy Tulowitzki around he certainly would not become the team’s savior.

But can they afford him?

In 2010 the Rockies had a franchise-high $84.3 million payroll and last year it was at $82.3 according to Cot’s. Colorado already has $61.1 million allocated to 2012 payroll for 12 players. If they add Wright and his $15 million, that would leave 6-8 million dollars left for 11 players to fit in the 2010-2011 payroll mold. Both Seth Smith and Dexter Fowler are arbitration-eligible for the first time and are likely to see significant increases to their minimum-wage type contracts of 2011. The Rockies have three other players besides Smith and Fowler that are arbitration-eligible and they have four other players who are free agents.

For the Rockies to fit in Wright, they will likely have to bump their payroll over $85 million and probably nearer to $90 million, unless the Mets agree to send money in the deal. And that’s with filling in with minimum wage players. Alderson has shown a willingness to include cash, as he sent $4 million to the Giants in the Carlos Beltran trade and an estimated $5.9 million to Milwaukee in the Francisco Rodriguez deal.

In the Beltran deal, they were essentially buying Zack Wheeler. In the Rodriguez deal, they were doing whatever it took to get out from under his 2012 option. Would Alderson be willing to do it again for a player he claims that he does not want to deal? It’s possible, but I would not go so far as to say it was likely.

And that’s why it seems doubtful to me that Wright will be dealt in the offseason. Alderson has said that the Mets are not shopping Wright which seems to mean that he will look to acquire full value in any deal for him. With Wright coming off an injury-plagued season, along with his current contract status, it seems unlikely that the perfect storm of team with a need for a 3B, a team with salary room to pay him and a team willing to meet the Mets’ asking price all comes together at once.

The contract status of the four other players, all pre-arbitration, should make them more attractive to other teams. They all have questions for sure, but then again so does Wright. And would you rather pay a king’s ransom for a guy like Wright, who now comes with back issues and that you control for just one expensive year, or would you rather have a Duda or Tejada, who you can control for five inexpensive years, and seemingly acquire for less of a cost?

The other four players listed do not have the track record of Wright. But this is why teams have scouts and number crunchers on their staff. Is Tejada for real? Can Duda continue hitting in the majors? These risks should be calculated without great difficulty by professional teams. We’ve already seen this risk calculated by fans, who by a nearly two-to-one margin prefer that they keep Davis over Wright, regardless of track record.

It figures to be a fascinating offseason for the Mets. It may be a tough one to swallow for fans, as the possibility exists that the team could lose Jose Reyes to free agency and Wright via trade. But however things shake out, this will be the year where Alderson firmly puts his stamp on the team. Fans have been happy to this point with the job Alderson has done. Let’s see if they say the same thing on Opening Day 2012.

It’s still Groundhog Day for Nick Evans and Daniel Murphy

In 2008 the Mets did not have a starting left fielder. Angel Pagan drew the Opening Day assignment but he made just 20 starts that season. Pagan was one of 12 players to start in left for the Mets in 2008. By September manager Jerry Manuel had a platoon in left field featuring 22-year-old Nick Evans and 23-year-old Daniel Murphy, two players who combined for 26 games of experience in the minors at the position.

But fans really grew attached to both halves of the platoon. The righty Evans had a .905 OPS over his final 13 games while the lefty Murphy had a .313/.397/.473 line in 151 PA. Fans were excited for both players, figuring the club had just promoted two guys who would play big roles for the team in the next 10+ years.

However, Evans fell out of favor with management and did not even make the club out of Spring Training in 2009, a feat he repeated in both 2010 and this season, even though he was out of options in 2011. Meanwhile Murphy began 2009 as the team’s full-time left fielder. He started off fine, but a few high-profile fielding gaffes helped put him in a slump which eventually cost him his starting job.

Only the team’s never-ending injury parade allowed Murphy not to get buried and suffer the same fate as Evans. Finally, he discovered himself as the club’s starting first baseman, broke out of his offensive funk and had an .825 OPS over his final 266 PA of the 2009 season.

But Murphy was not out of the woods. He had the inside track to the first base job but then got hurt in Spring Training. Shortly after the 2010 season, Ike Davis established himself in the majors and Murphy was trying to convert to another position in the minors and came down with a season-ending injury.

In the 2009-2010 seasons, Evans appeared in just 50 games. He was limited to just 106 PA with the Mets and produced an uninspiring .708 OPS. His career, which seemed so bright as a 22-year old, was now at a crossroads. There was no room for him as a starter on the 2011 squad and the club brought in veteran Scott Hairston, who offered the same skill set, to compete for one of the bench spots.

As Spring Training was underway, Murphy was ostensibly in the running for the second base job but most people predicted he would be a super-sub while Evans was in a dog fight to make the Opening Day roster. With no options remaining, it appeared that this was Evans’ last chance with the Mets, as surely someone would claim him if he was placed on waivers.

It turns out that Evans did not make the Opening Day roster and was not claimed, either. He got a promotion to the majors in the third week of May but was sent down a few weeks later, again still not claimed by any of the other 29 clubs. Amazingly, this process was completed again in July. While Evans was not producing in sporadic playing time with the Mets, he had a .313/.375/.462 line at Triple-A and could play either outfield corner, first base and even fake it at third base. Now on his third stint with the Mets, Evans has a .424/.474/.697 line in his last 38 PA, with six of his 14 hits going for extra-bases.

Murphy played himself into the every day lineup for the 2011 Mets and turned out to be one of the team’s top hitters. Just when he looked like he was establishing himself as an important part in the team’s future, he suffered his second straight season-ending injury while covering the bag at second base. The Mets seemed very hesitant to use him as a second baseman before this happened and it’s extremely unlikely he will play the position in 2012, at least for the Mets.

Next year Ike Davis is likely to be the team’s starter at first base, while Lucas Duda is staking a claim on right field. That would leave no open starting jobs for either Evans or Murphy, despite what they have done here in 2011. A bench featuring Evans and Murphy would seem like a terrific thing to have. But if they end up sitting behind Jason Bay and Justin Turner, that’s a poor allocation of resources and something that would be surprising for a guy with Sandy Alderson’s reputation, especially given the team’s status as a below .500 also-ran.

Murphy’s bat is too good to be a reserve on a non-playoff club. Evans should be in a platoon role somewhere. Perhaps a Duda-Evans timeshare could work, but Duda has an .813 OPS versus LHP this year, which is not screaming out for a platoon partner.

No one was interested in Evans when they could pick him up for free, so it’s hard to imagine he has any trade value. And how much would Murphy, a guy with no established defensive position and one who’s suffered consecutive season-ending injuries, fetch in a deal?

Alderson has his work cut out for him because his available pieces apparently don’t fit and there are enough question marks to severely limit the trade value of his extra pieces. Duda and David Wright probably have the most trade value, but Wright is the face of the franchise and unless they could get a top-of-the-rotation starter, it would make no sense to trade a cost-controlled asset like Duda.

So, we likely end up with Evans and Murphy in limbo once again in 2012. It’s easy to picture both of them waking up like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, turning off the alarm clock that plays “I’ve Got You Babe.” But for Evans and Murphy, 2012 would be the fourth year of running in place, trying to establish themselves as fixtures on the major league roster. It’s not what we thought would happen at all after their impressive debuts in 2008.

Why the Mets should move David Wright to LF

Since the middle of 2004, David Wright has been a fixture at third base for the Mets. Since then, he’s made the All-Star team five times, finished in the top 10 in MVP voting three times and he’s claimed two Gold Glove Awards. Wright is the Mets’ all-time leader in doubles and total bases and he is the face of the franchise. And now he needs to move to another position.

Much like Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, Wright is thought of by the average fan as a good defensive player. However, advanced fielding metrics are unanimous in their belief that he is a poor fielder. Here are his fielding numbers this year by three different systems:

UZR – (-9.4)
Total Zone – (-10)
DRS – (-13)

Now, it is important to remember that these are counting numbers, like RBIs, meaning that they are influenced by the number of games played. So far this year, Wright has played in just 71 games. So his defensive numbers would likely be even worse if he hadn’t spent considerable time on the disabled list. UZR and Total Zone each have stats that extrapolate partial-season numbers to a full season. Here are Wright’s numbers with those metrics:

UZR/150 – (-24.9)
Total Zone per 1,200 innings – (-20)

Now, Wright was hurt this year. Did the fracture in his back have anything to do with his poor defensive numbers this season? Total Zone had him in negative numbers five of the past six seasons. UZR had him in negative numbers four of the last six seasons and DRS had him in negative numbers five of the last seven years. So it’s fair to say that the poor numbers this year are not due just to his bad back.

So, what should the Mets do?

Back in 2001, a third baseman put up a .320/.427/.605 line in the National League East as a 29-year old. However, he was a poor defender, especially compared with the other third basemen in his division. Four of the five clubs in the East had a full-time player at third, while the Expos used multiple players at the hot corner. Here’s how the four regulars stacked up by Total Zone:

Mets: Robin Ventura – 6
Marlins: Mike Lowell – 7
Phillies: Scott Rolen – 10
Braves: Chipper Jones – (-14)

Jones volunteered to move to left field so the club could add Vinny Castilla to the lineup. Castilla turned in a +2 in Total Zone in 2002 at third base while Jones posted a +3 rating in left field. The Braves jumped from 88 wins in 2001 to 101 wins in 2002. Now, the defensive switch played just a small part in that 13-win improvement. But it’s a real-life case to illustrate that a team can move their franchise player to a different spot and be better off.

Wright in 2011 is a worse fielder than Jones was in 2001.

Moving Wright off third base would allow Daniel Murphy to play his natural position, which hopefully would keep him on the field and away from injury. In limited action at third base this year, the advanced defensive metrics are mixed on Murphy. Total Zone has him at -1, which works out to -5 over 1,200 innings. UZR has him at + 0.7 or + 4.8 over 150 games. DRS has him at +2. But upgrading from Wright to Murphy would be around a 20-run improvement over an entire season. Essentially, 10-runs equal one win, so the Mets would be two wins better on defense alone.

Of course, the switch also is about offense. The Mets could move Wright to left field where he would replace Jason Bay in the lineup. Not many are talking about replacing Bay because of his big contract, but his offensive production is killing the team. In parts of two seasons with the Mets, Bay has a .245/.332/.371 line in 824 PA.

There are 30 left fielders who have amassed 750 or more PA in the past two seasons combined and Bay’s .703 OPS ranks 27th in that span. For a player brought in because of his bat, that’s just terrible offensive production. Wright has an .833 OPS in that time frame, which would rank seventh overall.

But while Wright would replace Bay in left field in this scenario, basically he would be replaced by Murphy in the lineup. Murphy did not play in the majors in 2010 due to an injury but he posted an .803 OPS this year, 100 points better than Bay in his tenure with the Mets and 144 points better than Bay in 2011 in exactly the same number of PA (423).

Earlier this month there was hope that Bay was turning things around. In a 14-game stretch he posted a .415/.483/.679 line and fans were optimistic that he had rediscovered his hitting stroke. Instead, it was a dead-cat bounce. In his last 10 games, Bay has a .053/.143/.079 line as he has gone just 2-for-38.

Bay is trying his best and he continues to play surprisingly good defense in the outfield. Additionally, he busts it down the line whenever he hits a grounder. No one doubts the effort he has put in to turn things around. But the simple fact is that he has not hit for two years and is unlikely to ever again be the offensive force he was between 2004-2009.

The Mets can solve a lot of problems by moving Wright to left field. They get their franchise player away from a position he can no longer handle defensively. They create a spot for Murphy, who posted a 124 OPS+ this season. New York was 46-44 (.511) in games when Murphy started and 16-24 (.400) when he didn’t. And they move an offensive sink hole in Bay to the bench.

Hopefully, Wright volunteers to make the switch like Jones did a decade ago. But the Mets have to take him up on the offer and Wright has to adjust to playing the new position. It’s not a slam dunk to be successful by any means. However, Wright has deteriorated enough on defense to make it a switch worth trying.

Jones spent two years in left field before moving back to third base, where he remains today. He put up a +9 Total Zone rate in his first season back at the hot corner, so it’s not like if Wright made a similar move he would be unable to move back to his traditional spot on the field.

After three straight seasons of being below .500, the Mets need to try to improve wherever they can. Moving Wright is a way for the Mets to maximize the talent they already have on the roster, which should be an appealing thing for a franchise that is pinching pennies after years of free spending.

Nature Of The Beast: .500 Mets Are Jekyll & Hyde

Apparently, I spoke too soon: fire the fanboy.

I suppose this is what a .500 team looks like. A sublime string of wins, crisp games and smart play is followed by a ghastly stretch of boneheadism, vapid offense and corresponding losses. Baby steps, I suppose, but that doesn’t make the dour, Indian-pudding taste of these last three games go down any easier. Each one was winnable in its own way, but each was littered with mental mistakes, limp-noodle bats at the wrong time and just…one…bad…inning in a nearly flawless effort from the odd starter or reliever. That’s all it takes for a season to turn to trash in a big hurry. It would seem that the only difference between a .500 ballclub and a .667 one is consistent bad timing: the hit with the bases loaded that isn’t made, the botched cutoff throw that leads to a run, the Jerry Meals call the pitcher doesn’t get. Ron Darling’s mantra from 2007 and 2008 is playing in my head: “A lot of times, it’s not ‘how many,’ but ‘when’ that makes the difference.” The last three games, the “when” has not been the Mets’ friend.

Again, this is how it seems to go with .500 teams. The stars never seem to align in just the right way, and the sad fact is, a .500 team can pretty much only rely on the fates. Casey Stengel famously told us in 1963 that “You make your own luck.” Shaping your own destiny takes talent, as well as confidence and hard work. Right now, there isn’t enough talent to win the day, and the a scrappy attitude can only take one so far – despite whatever Wayne Hagin thinks about David Eckstein. Until the David Einhorn money comes in and/or the Bernie Madoff lawsuit is settled, there is little that can be done to remedy the situation. Then, Sandy Alderson can put his Jedi mind tricks to use in the off-season and acquire some frontline players – preferably a true slugging outfielder to relegate Jason Bay and a quality starting pitcher to replace Mike Pelfrey – and some prospects to restock the farms.


We fans can see better times ahead. The horizon looks clear, despite this franchise’s widely noted propensity to screw up the best of circumstances. Until that future comes into a little sharper focus, we fans are going to be stuck on the rollercoaster.

Mets need to move Daniel Murphy back to 2B

With Jose Reyes and David Wright both seemingly on the verge of returning from the disabled list, the Mets are inching closer to having their full offensive team available. When those stars return the obvious plan is to have Justin Turner and Ruben Tejada battle it out for the starting job at second base. But if that’s what the Mets do, it will be a mistake.

Seemingly, one of the goals of 2011 has been to compete for a playoff spot as long as possible while also keeping in mind that the team is in transition and that another goal is to determine who fits where for 2012 and beyond. With that second goal in mind, the Mets should be working Daniel Murphy back into the mix at second base.

If one thing should be obvious to everyone by now, it’s that Murphy is a better hitter than either Tejada or Turner. For a few weeks it looked like Turner and Murphy were equals at the plate but the further we are removed from Turner’s three-week hot spell, the sillier that thought appears. Let’s look at the preseason ZiPS projections for all three players:

AVG OBP SLG OPS
Murphy .278 .329 .435 .764
Tejada .250 .315 .330 .645
Turner .267 .320 .377 .697

Coming into the season, ZiPS saw Murphy as being 67 points better in OPS. And this was with Murphy coming off a year in which he missed the entire season due to injury. Now let’s look at the actual OPS numbers:

Murphy — .809
Tejada — .623
Turner — .677

Both Tejada and Turner are slightly below their projected OPS numbers, while Murphy has exceeded his by 45 points. So, Murphy was thought to be the better hitter at the start of the year and has only lengthened the gap between he and the other second base candidates with his play in 2011.

Of course, offense is only part of the equation. Most believe that Murphy is the worst of these three players defensively at second base. But does his supposed weakness in the field outweigh his known superiority at the plate? How bad would he have to be for Tejada or Turner to be the preferred choice as the starter at second base in 2012?

In Spring Training, I looked at this offense/defense question in regards to Murphy and Luis Hernandez, who was the flavor of the moment for the starting job at second base. Giving Hernandez the supreme benefit of the doubt, it was assumed that Murphy was 61 points better in OPS. Using fWAR as the measure of a player’s total contribution, we found that a difference of 10.3 UZR would not be enough to make up the 61-point OPS advantage.

In an extremely limited sample, Murphy has a 13.8 UZR/150 this season while playing second base. Now, I do not believe Murphy is that good defensively at second base. I would expect a fair amount of “regression” to occur if he were to play there for a full season. But, from what we’ve seen in a limited sample, there is nothing to identify him as a terrible fielder.

Turner would have to be the best defensive second baseman in the history of the game, if Murphy’s 2011 UZR numbers are to be believed, to be a better option at second base. He would have to be the third-best fielder in 2011 (or as good as Ian Kinsler’s been this season) to be equal if we assume that Murphy is an average fielder at second base.

But here’s the dirty secret that nobody talks about. For second baseman with at least 200 innings played defensively, Turner ranks 38th out of 41 players with a -12.7 UZR/150. Tejada also makes the list, and his UZR/150 is much better at 4.6 (tied for 13th) but still nowhere near enough to catapult him ahead of Murphy.

Basically, there is no reason to think that anyone other than Murphy should be the club’s starting second baseman in 2012. He is clearly the best hitter and his defense has given no signs of being an issue. Meanwhile, Tejada’s defense is not nearly as good as his reputation and Turner’s is actually as bad as Murphy’s was rumored to be.

The Mets have to get Murphy more reps at second base the remainder of the 2011 season. He should start getting some right now, with either Lucas Duda or Nick Evans getting the playing time at first base. I know fans think that Turner should be in the lineup on a regular basis but there is no objective reason to want him out there.

ZiPS didn’t think he was all that great with the bat coming into the season and Dan Szymborski’s projection has turned out to be an optimistic one, with Turner actually 20 points beneath his preseason forecast. Plus, Turner has been awful defensively at second base this year.

Turner is an MLB-quality player, just not a starter. But the Mets should use the rest of the 2011 season to find out if Duda and Evans should be part of the 2012 team. Most importantly, Murphy should play games at second base, whether Ike Davis returns this year or not.

Mets struggle with 2nd spot in lineup

Fans often make big deals about who bats where in the lineup but in the overall scheme of things it does not matter very much. Now, that does not mean teams should pull their lineup out of a hat or start batting their pitcher leadoff. But the standard lineup does not come out much worse than the optimized lineup over an entire season and if Joe Star wants to bat third – that’s an easy concession to make.

But you will have to forgive members of the 2011 Mets if they check the lineup and then mutter if they see themselves batting second on a particular day. This year, the Mets have gotten less production from the second spot in the order than they have from the eighth. And it’s not any one person you can point to and blame for this, either. The Mets have had 11 different players get at-bats in the two-hole this season.

The National League average for hitters in the second spot is .258/.318/.370 for a .688 OPS. This is higher than the average for the either the seventh (.682) or eighth (.656) spots in the average NL lineup. Overall, the Mets rank 14th in OPS production from the second spot in the order, a point ahead of the Nationals. The Marlins bring up the rear with a .564 OPS, with most of the damage done by Omar Infante, who has a .575 OPS in 241 PA.

Here are how the Mets have done with the second spot in the lineup:

G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS BAbip
Justin Turner 35 163 143 15 36 8 0 1 19 12 19 .252 .333 .329 .662 .282
Dan Murphy 22 95 86 11 22 6 0 2 7 6 9 .256 .319 .395 .714 .267
Willie Harris 11 48 40 13 11 1 0 1 4 7 16 .275 .396 .375 .771 .435
Angel Pagan 8 35 31 2 2 0 0 0 0 3 6 .065 .171 .065 .236 .080
Josh Thole 8 32 27 3 5 0 0 0 4 5 6 .185 .313 .185 .498 .238
Ruben Tejada 2 9 8 1 2 0 0 0 1 1 2 .250 .333 .250 .583 .333
Chin-lung Hu 2 5 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 2 .000 .200 .000 .200 .000
Jason Pridie 3 5 5 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 .000 .000 .000 .000 .000
Scott Hairston 2 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 .000 .500 .000 .500 .000
Ronny Paulino 1 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 .000
Carlos Beltran 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 .000
Francisco Rodriguez 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
D. J. Carrasco 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Pedro Beato 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Team Total 100 397 348 45 78 15 0 4 35 36 64 .224 .314 .302 .616 .263
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/5/2011.

Now let’s compare their OPS while hitting second compared to their overall OPS and their OPS at whichever position they’ve hit in the most outside of the second slot.

Overall OPS OPS batting 2nd OPS in other position
Turner .696 .662 .700 (6th)
Muprhy .774 .714 .745 (4th)
Harris .644 .771 .627 (7th)
Pagan .697 .236 .831 (5th)
Thole .660 .498 .734 (7th)

Of the five players who’ve batted the most in the second slot, only Harris has done better there than elsewhere. Most players have performed noticeably better when they hit elsewhere in the lineup, no one more so than Pagan. That .236 OPS is not a typo – he really stunk up the joint when he was hitting second.

The fact that the Mets have one of the better offenses in the National League is surprising given how many big bats have spent time on the DL for them this season. It’s even more of a shock given how poor they have been at the second spot in the lineup.

Hopefully, when David Wright returns after the All-Star break, he replaces Turner in the lineup and Pagan replaces Turner in the second spot in the order. I do not believe that Pagan will be the anchor he was earlier in the season and I expect him to provide better production going forward than any of the team’s numerous other candidates did in the first half of the year.

Who Are These Mets?

Four games, 52 runs scored, 69 hits, only three of which were home runs – all hit in a single game and two of those were grand slams.

As Casey Stengel meant to tell us all those many years ago, “The Mets are amazin’.”
Every cylinder of the offense is firing, the pitchers are unfettered by miniscule leads or any kind of deficits, the bullpen is getting rest, the dugout is happy and the sun is shining brighter. It’s been awhile since a stretch like this – five years, to be exact – and I’d forgotten what the feeling is like. The true orange ‘n’ blue in me doesn’t want to trust it, can scarcely believe what I’m seeing. Right now, there’s a pride in this team among its fans which has been missing since 2006. In 2007, there was five-and-a-half months of hubris/entitlement/arrogance and by the end of September…well, seven up with seventeen to play. 2008 was a miniature version of the year before – with the character flaws remaining entrenched. 2009 and 2010 was a deadly mix of bad luck and bad management. The fan base was flattened, the club ridiculed, the ownership in tatters. Enter Sandy Alderson, Paul DePodesta, J. P. Ricciardi and Terry Collins. Even in the face of injuries to two of their major offensive cogs, the 2011 edition seems to have pulled together in a way that those previous squads wouldn’t or couldn’t.

We as fans are starting to salivate, thinking of the day when David Wright returns from his broken back – and what a metaphor that is – and Ike Davis’s dented shinbone appears less catastrophic, but for now, Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes, Jason Bay and a bunch of guys named “Joe” are shooting line drives through any hole available. The names are Angel Pagan, Daniel Murphy, Ronny Paulino – a former Met antagonist in the gold and black of the Pirates – Ruben Tejada, Justin Turner and Jason Pridie. This band of merry men has taken wins from the defending American League champions and the leaders of the American League Central and given the fans thrills they weren’t expecting until 2013 or so. It’s beyond fun.

Now, this could all turn to dust at any minute, just as it arose from nowhere – the baseball gods giveth, the baseball gods taketh away: just ask the Florida Marlins. By the end of August, we fans could be left with no Beltran, no Reyes, no Francisco Rodriguez and only a few more wins than we have right now: in 2010 at this point in the season, the Mets were 44-34 before they basically went oh-for-July. We could still end up looking longingly at 2013.

But for now, I’m going to savor the play of Carlos, Jose and the other guys.

(PS – Since David Einhorn dropped his deuce on the Wilpons on May 26, the Mets have gone 18-14. I’m just sayin’…)

The Mets should employ a Duda-Turner platoon

Ike Davis has been out so long that we almost forget how good he was the first six weeks of the season. Since then, the Mets have been in survival mode, trying to keep alive in the Wild Card race until Davis and David Wright return. But much like in 2009, we face the real possibility that the injured star – in this case Davis – might be lost for the season.

Earlier, we were wondering how the Mets would handle things when the big guns returned because Daniel Murphy, Ruben Tejada and Justin Turner were all hitting well. Since then they have all cooled off to varying degrees and another variable has been added to the mix.

Lucas Duda has been promoted and in his last start had a four-hit game.

Jerry Manuel had many faults as a manager but one thing he did right is that he did not bury young players. Duda looked completely overmatched when he came up last year, but Manuel stuck with him and at the end of the year, Duda started hitting with authority.

In his first 37 plate appearances, Duda had just one hit, a double. That resulted in a .030/.135/.061 slash line. Manuel could have easily put someone else in the lineup at this point, but he believed in Duda and kept writing his name in the lineup card. In his final 55 PA, Duda posted a .314/.345/.647 line, with 4 HR and nine extra-base hits.

It’s easy to say this was a slump followed by a hot streak. Overall, Duda had a .678 OPS last year, which is nothing to get excited about from a corner bat. But what has been talked about frequently this year in regards to Duda is confidence. Perhaps Duda got confidence last year from Manuel sticking with him. Perhaps finally getting some regular at-bats here in June is doing the same thing for Duda’s belief in himself.

So, now that Duda seems to be finding his confidence again, what happens now? It’s a little easier to get him in the lineup now, with interleague games. But when the Mets go back to an exclusive NL-only schedule and Wright returns, how do the Mets get him consistent playing time?

My idea is a Duda-Turner platoon.

Against RHP, Duda plays first base and Muphy plays second. Against LHP, Murphy plays first base and Turner plays second. I expect that this idea will be met with resistance, as people still think Turner should be playing every day. And there are still some who balk at Murphy playing anywhere except first base.

But the Mets need Duda’s bat in the lineup for his long ball potential. While Duda has yet to hit a HR in 65 PA in the majors this year, he had three doubles in his last start and it seems like a homer is just around the corner. Duda also had a big homerless-stretch last year before breaking out.

Having a Duda-Turner platoon keeps from burying Turner, as he knows when he’ll be in the lineup and it will give him the platoon advantage in most of his at-bats, giving him the chance to break out of his slump. Plus, with Turner’s ability to hit with RISP, he provides a nice pinch-hitting option late in games where he starts on the bench.

So, if the Mets need Duda’s power, why not a Murphy-Turner platoon?

Here’s how our three players have performed in June:

Duda – .297/.333/.405 in 42 PA
Murphy – .318/.347/.386 in 95 PA
Turner – .198/.298/.272 in 95 PA

Plus here is how Duda and Murphy have performed overall this year versus LHP:

Duda – .222/.300/.333 in 10 PA
Murphy – .296/.304/.389 in 56 PA

In more than twice the playing time overall in June, Murphy has been every bit as productive as Duda and this is despite a 3-25 stretch in the middle of the month. Plus, Murphy has hit better versus southpaws in more playing time. Murphy has earned the right to be in the lineup on a regular basis with his play over the entire 2011 season. Duda’s recent hot streak has earned him additional time.

If Duda continues to hit, then maybe he can become a full-time player. But right now a platoon gives him the necessary ABs and puts him in the best position to succeed. Plus, despite his lousy play in June, Turner does not deserve to be buried and he needs a chance to be on the field.

Tejada becomes the odd man out here and he should go back to the minors where he can play every day once Wright returns. But this is still a couple of weeks away and Tejada still has time to make his case to remain in the majors.

Meanwhile, I am going to dream about Jason Bay, Duda and Wright combining for 30+ HR after the All-Star break. If the Mets can be 20-18 with Wright out of the lineup and the offense providing no home runs – just imagine what the Mets could do with some long ball threats around.