Mets free agent retrospective: The successful signing of Jose Valentin

New York Mets v Boston Red Sox
New York Mets v Boston Red Sox / Jim McIsaac/GettyImages

If there was one thing I knew about my 1996 versions Strat-O-Matic it was that Jose Valentin was a strikeout machine. He fanned 145 times in 628 plate appearances that year for the Milwaukee Brewers. It was a lot back then. A decade later, he’d find himself as a much different player for the New York Mets.

Valentin was a power-hitting shortstop throughout his career. Even into the early 2000s with the Chicago White Sox, Valentin could be counted on to swat 20+ home runs. It often came with a less impressive batting average. It’s one of the reasons why he became a free agent prior to 2006.

In 2005, Valentin batted .170/.326/.265 for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 184 plate appearances. His age 35 season, it was probably the end. The Mets took a chance on him by signing him to a deal on December 12, 2005. Valentin decided to go vintage for one more season.

A look back at the Mets free agent signing of Jose Valentin

The 2006 Mets were a special ball club. After the disappointment of the previous great run from 1998-2001 where the team failed to win it all, the 2006 club looked different. Valentin, now at second base, won his way into the starting job.

This was never the intention. Valentin was a low-cost depth piece for the Mets. He’d backup Kazuo Matsui. Unsatisfied with Matsui’s performance, the Mets traded him away and second base became occupied by Valentin.

The team got a completely unexpected performance from him. In 432 trips to the plate, Valentin slashed .271/.330/.490. These numbers were all significantly better than his career totals. He capped it off with 18 home runs and 24 doubles.

Something was contagious about the 2006 Mets. So many people, including a veteran on his last chance, figured out how to hit.

Valentin went hitless in the NLDS but did drive in 5 runs during the NLCS. He was no postseason hero for the team. They had still seen enough to re-sign him in the offseason. This time, he’d make $3.8 million.

Unfortunately, he didn’t produce at the same level. Valentin hit .241/.302/.373 in only 183 plate appearances. A midseason injury cost him significant playing time. The team would re-sign him again, this time to a minor league contract. However, Valentin hit similarly in the minor leagues, producing a .241/.302/.397 slash line on the farm. It was the end of his career.

Valentin isn’t the most memorable member of the popular 2006 team. Nonetheless, his addition turned out to be quite vital.

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