It’s a situation if you call it one, but it could also be a quagmire or a black hole too. The Mets are having open tryouts for second base next year, and the contestants are… shall we say, underwhelming. Still, it’s interesting just because these guys are all similarly challenged, what with the limp noodlery at the plate and all. Someone has to win and that someone might just be relevant in a really deep league, right?
The manager won’t help much, it seems:
“Hernandez is playing pretty good,” Manuel said. “I kind of like what I’m seeing with him. I think Tejada could use a breather here and there. So I’d like to see what we get from that combination. And we still have Louie [Castillo]. We still have [Joaquin] Arias. So we’ll see how it fits going down the stretch.”
The old man is suddenly the dark horse in this scenario, but he might provide the team’s best chance to actually get a 100 wRC+ offensive line from their second base spot. On the other hand, it’s probably not happening as the power as completely left him (.033 ISO, .061 career) and he’s had line drive rates around 15% three of the last four years, so the BABIP has started to come down (.257 this year, .329 career, .267 in 2008). His defense looks scratch by the numbers this year, but after two years of declining UZR/150s, it’s probably best that Castillo see his playing time reduced.
Spiderman doesn’t walk, like at all. But he’s quick (like a spider?), and could someday put together a BABIP-influenced league-average second baseman line with perhaps a little less on-base percentage at his peak. It wouldn’t be impossible for him to do something like .275/.315/.390 with a bunch of steals. He’s had 47 of those suckers over the last two years in Triple-A. But with his approach at the plate, a lot of luck would have to factor into him even putting up anything close to the league average. He’s probably a backup too.
Since his first season in rookie ball, Tejada has also eschewed the walk. He didn’t hit average walk rates in Single-, Double- or Triple-A. He also had a career ISO of .075 in the minor leagues (and flyball rate that fell as he advanced, which seems to predict little future power), so he kind of looks like a younger Castillo without the walks and a little better defense. The defense is the reason management thinks he is best candidate for this year, but the offense will limit him to a backup most likely. If only he walked more, or even had the exciting speed of Arias, he would have a secondary skill beyond defense and upside for more value.
Murph has done everything the team has asked of him, with moves from left field to first base on his resume already. Might he move to second base? He had two games at the position of his eight total games at Triple-A this year, and the team could definitely use his bat at the position if the glove can fit. A career .275/.331/.437 line would play much better at second base and that above-average isolated power (.161) probably represents the most power they could get from the candidates. The question his glove represents is a tough one to answer. Total Zone numbers had him as a scratch defender at third base in the minor leagues, and small samples in the major leagues have shown him to be a good first baseman and a poor outfielder. Even if it seems unlikely that he would be a good defender at second base, it’s worth remembering back to his days as a third baseman before counting him out completely. He’ll have the AFL to show he can be a decent second baseman, and if answers that in the affirmative, he might actually be the front runner in the spring.
Hernandez is a 26 year old with almost 900 career minor league games and a career .250/.302/.331 line that does not even hold water in this light-hitting group. He has played his high-contact game into some decent batting averages the last two years, if light on the power and OBP. He’s a little like Arias without the speed, but he does have one thing over the spidery one: he can play shortstop. At least, Total Zone thinks he can. if the backup second baseman is supposed to be the backup shortstop, which makes sense from a roster flexibility standpoint, then Hernandez might actually win a spot on the team next year.
Havens is by all accounts the future at the position for the Mets. He’s done some nice things, but it’s important to keep down expectations considering he hasn’t yet compiled more than 360 at-bats in a single year. Injuries have been a problem. Though his biggest sample – High A St. Lucie – doesn’t seem great at first blush (.252/.363/.431), the Florida State League is a notoriously tough league and he showed a nice eye at the plate (55 walks against 73 strikeouts in 353 at-bats). This year he really upped the flyball rate and the power before succumbing to injury yet again. The lack of at-bats make it hard to know exactly how special Havens is, but what he’s shown so far (12% career MiLB walk rate, .206 ISO) is enough to prove that he has the highest upside of this group. Most likely, the Mets start the season with something like Murphy and one of the better defenders (Arias, Tejada or Hernandez) splitting time while Havens proves his mettle and comes up later in the season, although this analysis assumes that the Mets can treat Castillo as a sunk cost and let him go, which is no sure thing given the Mets history. Act accordingly.