The Mets Battle for Second…Base


Spring training is just around the corner-you can almost feel it.  The warm weather, the high expectations, the potential financial woes-all signs that the Mets baseball season is close to getting underway.  I for one can’t wait.

Despite numerous questions surrounding the franchise, the 2011 Mets lineup is pretty much set.  For nearly every position, there is a definite starter.  That is, every position except one: second base.  The competition for the Opening Day second baseman boils down to four candidates: Luis Castillo, Daniel Murphy, Brad Emaus and Justin Turner.

Out of the four options, Castillo is probably the worst choice.  Castillo was once a productive hitter (a career .290/.368/.351 line with an average of 35 steals per year) and solid second baseman (he has a positive UZR for much of his career).  With the Mets, however, he’s hit just .274/.366/.324 (the OBP is still fairly high, yes) and has posted large, negative UZRs for two out of his three full seasons in New York (it was positive last year, but the sample size was smaller than in 2008 and 2009).  Last year, in 299 plate appearances, Castillo hit just .235/.337/.267 with eight steals in eleven attempts, and lost his starting job to Ruben Tejada.  Despite the six million dollars he is owed this year, Castillo remains a favorite to be cut before the rosters are finalized.  He also dropped that popup against the Yankees.  Yeah…that image is burned in my mind forever.

One of the front runners to win the second base job is Daniel Murphy.  Murph was slated to be the Opening Day first baseman last year, but began the season on the disabled list.  While he was rehabbing, Ike Davis emerged as the everyday starter at first, so Murphy began to play second.  It was in June that he got taken out on a nasty slide and missed the rest of the year.  Now, Murphy will get a chance to show off his skills as he competes for the second base job.  Most of Daniel’s value lies in his bat, although his major league experience (707 PA yielding a .275/.331/.437 with 14 home runs) is still very limited.  However, Murphy is a career .295/.356/.452 minor league hitter, and has hit as many as 13 long balls in a minor league season.  His defense will be a question mark until he shows he can play at the major league level, but he also has value in that he can play other positions.  Murphy also hits better against righties (.282/.340/.436) than lefties (.240/.289/.442), which may lead him to platoon with…

Brad Emaus, one of the Mets’ Rule 5 picks from this year.  Due to the complications of the Rule 5 draft, Emaus must be kept on the team’s 25 man roster for the entire season, or else be exposed to waivers and possibly offered back to his original team, the Toronto Blue Jays.  Due to this restriction, his ability to play multiple infield positions (he’s played first, second and third in the minors) and the fact that he was originally drafted by former Blue Jays General Manager, J.P. Ricciardi, Emaus will almost undoubtedly be on the Opening Day roster.  He has decent pop for a second baseman, averaging just over 12 home runs in each of his three, full minor league seasons, and can provide a right handed complement to Murphy.  Last year, he hit a combined .290/.397/.476 with 15 homers between Double A and Triple A, while also swiping 13 bags in 15 attempts.

The final candidate for the second base job is Justin Turner.  Originally drafted by the Reds in 2006, Turner was claimed off waivers by the Mets from the Orioles this past May.  He has only 40 big league plate appearances, nine of which came in July with New York last season (not too much to show: one hit-a double- and one walk), but his minor league numbers are solid.  The 26 year old is a career .309/.373/.442 minor league hitter, and excelled with Buffalo last season, batting .333/.390/.516 with 11 home runs in 348 PA (somehow he did not earn a September call up).  He has struggled defensively, racking up 46 errors at second base in the minors (a .973 fielding percentage), but is capable of playing multiple infield positions.  What Turner has going against him is minor league options: he has two of them, which may lead to him starting the year at Buffalo.

My prediction: unless one of the aforementioned candidates has an unbelievable spring, Murphy and Emaus will open the season platooning at second base (Murphy will will the Opening Day job by virtue of facing Josh Johnson in the first game of 2011) until one of them catches fire.  The great thing about second base though is that it’s a premium position-that is, your big hitters aren’t expected to be second baseman (unfortunately there are two exceptions in the NL East-Dan Uggla and Chase Utley).  Considering the Mets got virtually zero offensive production from that position last year, however, anything will be an upgrade.