The New York Mets' payroll is burdened by a number of ill-advised contracts (see below) and as a result management was only able to make cost-conscious maneuvers (along with hoping players have healthier years) this offseason to patch up roster holes. The Mets open camp on Tuesday -- position players report on Feb. 19 -- and the position with the biggest question mark heading into Spring Training is second base.
Last year the Mets' collection of 2B's, which consisted of Luis Castillo, Alex Cora and Ruben Tejada, put together a pitiful .226/.307/.285 statline, with the MLB's second-to-last 61 runs scored, a league-worst one homerun and a league-worst (by nearly 30 points) .592 OPS. Hence, the competition -- which includes Luis Castillo, Brad Emaus, Dan Murphy and Justin Turner -- for the job this Spring is wide open.
Let's take an in-depth look at the candidates (alphabetically) and what they bring (or don't bring) to the table:
Luis Castillo: There has been some rumblings this offseason that the 35-year-old, who has one year, $6 million left on his bloated his contract, could be released, as his production has waned to the point of being a non-factor in the past few seasons. A speed/OBP guy with absolutely no power, Castillo not only had to deal with a number of foot/leg injuries last season, he has to also put up with age. Players of Castillo's ilk don't typically regain speed in their mid-30s. Last season Castillo played in just 86 games, with a .235/.337/.267 slash line to go along with eight steals. In his prime, Castillo was a good No. 2 hitter, who could drew a decent amount of walks and who was difficult to strikeout. Those days as a No. 2 hitter are now gone, however. In addition to a drop-off in hitting production, Castillo's fielding has also been on the decline the past few seasons and even though it improved slightly last year, what can really be expected for an older, now injury-prone middle infielder this season? Range isn't typically added as you age. He'll be given a chance this Spring, but silently Mets' management is not really rooting for him.
Brad Emaus: The Mets took the 24-year-old Emaus, a 2B/3B, in the Rule 5 Draft from the Toronto Blue Jays in December and he will get a long look just on the sheer fact that the Mets have to place him on waivers and offer him back to Toronto if he's not on their 25-man roster. The 6-foot, 200-pound Emaus has never played in the majors and has moderate power potential for a middle infielder, with decent on-base skills. Last season, across Double-A and Triple-A, he hit .290 with 15 HR, 61 RBI and 13 stolen bases, in a very hitter-friendly environment. He also had 32 doubles in 2010 and hasn't had below 28 in his three full seasons in the minors. Emaus had a .397 OBP (.364 in his minor-league career) across two levels last season, but his strength appears to be that he's tough to strikeout and he doesn't mind taking walks, similar to Castillo. It's worth noting, he did fare noticeably weaker against righties this offseason in winter ball. He's not a tremendous fielder, but if the Mets can get some offense out of 2B, they'll be more than happy. With J.P. Riccardi, the original GM who drafted Emaus, on his side, and his decent offensive skills, Emaus should be the early favorite.
Daniel Murphy: For the 25-year-old Murphy, this is a year of redemption. Set to be the starter at first for the Mets last year, he sprained his knee in Spring Training, then had to be on the sidelines watching as Ike Davis grabbed the position full time. The Mets then sent Murphy down to learn second base, as he's more of a natural third basemen despite not being particularly great at any position field, and he tore his MCL in his right knee while turning a double play, just weeks into the second-base experiment. On bat alone, Murphy is probably the Mets' best bet at second. He won't light up the power numbers, but in 2009 he did have 12 HR with 38 doubles to go along with a .266/.313/.427 slash line. As of now, Murphy has played most of his games at first base, but he's also played left field -- and third base and second base in the minors. As a super utility-type, which he's becoming, Murphy is a plus player, but as someone to rely on day-to-day at a defensively-demanding second base, it may be too much to ask. Murphy is a bit awkward in the field, but his transition to second base from a defensive standpoint is what will determine his playing time. Add in the fact that he has a noticeable split in the majors thus far (.240/.289/.442 against lefties to .282/.340/.436 against righties), and he may become a perfect platoon-guy with Emaus at second.
Justin Turner: Turner, 26, was claimed off of waivers from the Baltimore Orioles in May 2010. A good average hitter, Turner doesn't have a lot of pop or speed, nor is he known for his defense. As someone who has been on three teams since he was drafted, Turner doesn't really have a lot of upside, or else his previous organizations would've held onto him longer. At this point, if he's lucky, he profiles as a fringe utility player. In his short time in the majors, 21 games the past two seasons, Turner has a .114 AVG in 35 at-bats. He has amassed 38 HR in 1916 AB's in the minors with a .309/.373/.442 line. Another guy who doesn't strikeout a ton and has OK on-base skills, but with very limited chance to latch on to the 2B job without an overwhelming spring.
Other Potentials: Chin-lung Hu, 27, acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers, has never been great offensively at the major-league level, but has Paul DePodesta as a fan, and a good glove. He also had a 299/.341/.418 line in the minors. Hu probably becomes the Mets' top 2B/SS backup this season. Ruben Tejada: Terry Collins said that the light-hitting Tejada will head to Triple-A to play shortstop when the season begins.