With a (hopefully) fully healed Jose Reyes likely to get more days off than usual next season, the importance of having a capable backup shortstop is amplified. Reyes played almost everyday from 2005-2008, so fill-ins like Damion Easley, Ruben Gotay and Chris Woodward rarely saw time at the six spot. Rather than go the route of signing an expensive gritty veteran to fill the role, a la Alex Cora, the Mets might be wise to give the job to Wilson Valdez.
Pressed into an unexpected everyday job after Reyes’s injury, Cora disappointed this season. His performance was about replacement level, most certainly not living up to the relatively hefty price tag. After years of decent defense, he was quite poor in the field, his age perhaps catching up with him. Cora brought some strong intangible value to the Mets, I suppose, but a silver lining here is that maybe the Mets front office realized handing out multi-million deals to players like him isn’t necessary, when comparable players are freely available for league minimum cost.
In another time, the Mets could dole out $2 million for a backup player like Cora and not bat an eye. Just another “drop in the bucket” for a team with a ~$140 million payroll. A big market organization like the Mets could overpay for their wins. It appears those blissful days might be ending, with Mets purse strings tightening for whatever reason, most likely the Madoff/Wilpon relationship. Expensive backup middle infielders are no longer a luxury the Mets can afford, especially with gaping roster holes at 1B, corner OF spots, and the starting rotation. Omar Minaya must attempt to adopt a small market mentality in order to fill out some roster spots. Enter Valdez, who was acquired in May to some positive and negative reactions.
Valdez has lived up to his poor-hitting, strong-fielding reputation in limited time this season. His .261 wOBA is about what was expected, and his UZR/150 at shortstop is a strong +10.2. For his career his UZR/150 is an outstanding +16.3. This is supported by his plus/minus defense rating according to John Dewan’s system, and is consistent with minor league performance and scouting. The Mets’ infield defense has been awful of late, so improving it is a worthwhile goal this offseason. Valdez would be a small step in that direction. He has barely played second base in his career, but based on his performance at shortstop I don’t see why he couldn’t do it well. Call him Infield Endy.
Anderson Hernandez seems to be in the midst of an audition for the backup middle infield job next year. He is receiving the bulk of the playing time at shortstop right now, and isn’t exactly playing it well according to the advanced defensive metrics. This is consistent with his career performance. He can play second base admirably, which is useful considering Luis Castillo’s recent injuries and more-than-occasional day off. However, his inability to play shortstop, coupled with an anemic bat (career .276 wOBA in about a season’s worth of at-bats) makes him an inferior choice to Valdez for the backup spot. Yes, Hernandez will only be 27 next year so it’s possible he will improve at the plate (Valdez will be 31), but a career minor league OPS of .665 in 3000+ plate appearances suggests otherwise. Hernandez is basically a younger version of Ramon Martinez.
Most free agent shortstops available this upcoming offseason are either unimpressive (John McDonald, Bobby Crosby) or unlikely to take a non-starter job (Miguel Tejada, Marco Scutaro). An enticing option is Adam Everett, a defensive specialist in the mold of Valdez. If he can be had for cheap it might be a smart pickup. Should he command much more than the $1 million he was paid by Detroit this season, forget it. Valdez is already here, making the league minimum. As far as other in-house options go, Ruben Tejada looks like he has a bright future. However, there is no reason to deprive the 20 year-old of everyday playing time in the minor leagues. Jose Coronado was a disappointment this season, struggling at Double-A and Triple-A. Scouts generally like his defense though, so another season in the minors might give him a chance to show that his bat is good enough to be a reserve contributor in the future.
Valdez should atleast be at Triple-A Buffalo next year. Cutting him loose would be a mistake. He is not the difference between an 85-win team and a 90-win team by any means, but is exactly the type of player that should be retained in the organization.