Saturday, January 28, 2006

Who's On Second?

UPDATE: Bret Boone has retired, so he is eliminated from the competition, as we predicted. It would have been nice to have a rejuvinated Boone as our second-sacker, but at 36 he has lost the love of playing every day. Let's hope A-Hern continues to impress, Kep continues to hit and a taker is found for Kaz.

Beginning today, we will address 10 questions about the Mets' roster across the next few weeks. We begin today asking a variation of the old Abbott & Costello routine, "Who's On Second?"

The Current Candidates:

~Kaz Matsui~
~Anderson Hernandez~
~Jeff Keppinger~
~Brett Boone~
Each candidate is ripe with possibilities and fraught with problems. In order, here is a review on each.

1.) Kaz Matsui:
Background: Now in the third and final year of his initial contract, we are still waiting for the real Kaz to step forward. Is he the star that we signed as the next coming of Ichiro, or is he the mediocre middle infielder that we've hated not to love the past 2 years? In Japan, Matsui was known for being an Ichiro-type, with more power and a lot of P.R. flair. He certainly made a splash when he first came to New York, with a charming personality and immediate loyalty to the Mets. He was counted on to better defense up the middle, add some pop and speed to the top of the order, and stabilize an infield that had been led (astray) by the likes of Robby Alomar and Rey Sanchez. We even moved Jose Reyes, our then-superstar of the future, to 2B in order not to upset our expensive import. Well, that didn't work, and last year it was Matsui moving to 2B in order to accomidate Reyes. What's most perplexing is the fact that Matsui has not shown any flashes of brilliance in the field, as had been predicted. Bobby Valentine, who to me is as good a judge of talent as anyone in the game, predicted we'd be enthralled by Matsui's good habits and skills. Sad to say, Bobby, you were waaaaaaaaaaaaay wrong this time.
Kaz is such a nice guy, and has certainly put tons of pressure on himself for failing to perform to expectations as a Met. However, with a potential pennant and dare we hope to dream, even more, at stake, we can no longer ask the question as to which Kaz we are going to see. We need to move on, and for his sake, he needs a change of scenery where expectations won't be as high.

Prediction: Traded before the season begins.

Possible Destinations: Boston, Tampa Bay, St. Louis, Arizona, Mariners

2.)Anderson Hernandez:
Background: Rarely has so much been accomplished by someone who was supposed to be minor league cannon-fodder. When we traded Vance Wilson, a beloved, defensive-minded catcher to the Tigers, no one was doing cartwheels when all he brought back was Hernandez. All Hernandez has done is exceed beyond expectations, both offensively and defensively, at every level. He was up with us briefly last year, certainly not long enough to make any kind of judgement one way or another. He hit for average, showed excellent range in the field, and actually showed surprising power based on his scouting report. He possesses excellent range in the field, and is starting to accelerate his performance as a second-sacker, converting from shortstop. He possesses all of the tools to be successful on the major league level, including, apparently, a great attitude. It would be a refreshing change to add yet another nearly homegrown talent to the roster, and he could provide excellent speed at the bottom of the order, batting in front of the pitcher (hear that, Willie?) and giving Reyes an opportunity to have someone on base to drive in once in a while.

Prediction: Starting second basemen for the New York Mets!!!!

3.) Bret Boone:
Background: This 3 time all-star and 4 time gold-glover is facing perhaps the end of the line, as he is coming to Mets' camp as a minor league invitee. Boone has had an excellent career, but has battled major injuries and the cloud of "weight loss/muscle loss" the past 2 years. Boone hit 19 or more homers in seven straight seasons, through 2003, and topped the 100 RBI-mark from 2001-03, driving in a career-high 141 runs in 2001, when he also hit 37 homers. Pretty heady numbers, not just for a second baseman, but for any positional player. Combined with his fielding prowess, Boone was headed for what appeared to be an almost hall-of-fame-like career, with numbers not that far from the likes of Joe Morgan. That was before injuries and other, shall we say, shaded, issues came up. For the small amount of money that Boone's signing would cost if he made it all the way back, this pick-up is positioned to be the potentially biggest yield for the smallest investment of everything that Omar did this off-season.

Prediction: Alas, it's not to be, as Boone's career as it was is no more at the young age of 36. Let's hope we're wrong, because that kind of power and fielding, for one year, enables Hernandez to get one more year of seasoning, Keppinger to get comfortable as a back-up infielder, and more power to be added to the line-up. The bet here is that won't happen, and Boone will end up packing it in, sadly. Let's hope not...

4.) Jeff Keppinger:
Background: This Miami native represents the classic overachiever, constantly overlooked but always performing above expectations. Before a wicked injury last year, based on his excellent bat and decent defense, it looked like Kep might make it to the Mets as their second baseman. Sadly, after half of a great year, he rehabbed for the remainder, allowing Hernandez's stats and upside to seemingly replace Kep as the second baseman of the future. Kep was a throw-in in the deal that netted the (since departed) Kris Benson (in exchange for Wigginton & Peterson), and little was expected of him. He was batting .337 with a .377 on-base percentage and .455 slugging percentage in 255 at-bats with Triple-A Norfolk before the injury to his kneecap that ended his season prematurely. Ironically, his injury coincided with a knee injury to Matsui, and therefore ended his chance to take over at 2B for the year. Who knows- it's possible that Kep would have opened this year as our regular 2b.

Prediction: With his age, stats, and salary, look for Keppinger to become the third utility infielder, along with Woodward and Valentin. Let's hope so, because this kid deserves a break, and not of the injury kind!

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