Monday, August 20, 2007


Right now, there is no problem at second base for the Mets...and there might not be for a few years. Luis Castillo was a great trade acquisition - by far an upgrade over Jose Valentin - and the Mets would be wise to give him a three-year deal at year's end. But that doesn't hide the fact that the Mets have had problems at second base for the past three years, all because of one man - Kaz Matsui.

It's not that Kaz Matsui was so awful with the Mets (though he certainly wasn't good...and I was an ally of his for a long time). It's more what the Mets missed out on by committing to him for as long as they did.

First of all, the Mets dodged a big bullet in the failed "Move Reyes" experiment. When they first signed Matsui, the Mets wanted to appease him by putting Reyes at second base and allowing Matsui to stay at shortstop, his preferred position. Reyes risked injury, and Matsui was an average (at best) shortstop, so that came to an end after one season. Thank goodness.

When the Mets had signed Matsui, they were coming off a year where a young man named Marco Scutaro had shown promise in a September callup. Scutaro was shipped to Oakland as Matsui became a Met. Scutaro put up decent numbers in the Bay Area on some playoff teams...those could have been years where he was a Mets second baseman. But he wasn't, because of Kaz Matsui.

The Mets traded Ty Wigginton in 2004 because he had become their regular third baseman, and they needed to open up third base to bring up David Wright. The Mets traded Wigginton because they couldn't move him to second base (despite his tremendous versatility), because that position was being blocked by the money they had invested in Kaz Matsui. Wigginton has been a very good hitter and player with a few teams since his Mets days - but imagine if the Mets had been able to keep him as a second baseman - they would have had three-fourths of their infield coming from their own farm system. Too bad.

Finally, and most recently, there is the case of Jeff Keppinger. I've liked Keppinger since his quick call-ups, and followed him for a while in the minors. I had thought that when the Mets finally gave up on Matsui, the position would be handed over to Keppinger. There was a time last year when I thought Keppinger actually earned the job out of spring training. You may also remember a couple of years ago when Keppinger was hot at Triple-A, and was on the fast track to a call up, and he was spiked on a sort-of-cheap-play at second base, and ended up breaking a leg. Anyway, I feel like the Keppinger star has been rising for some time - but it may finally have arrived. Keppinger was called up about a month ago by the Cincinnati Reds (the Mets had traded him to the Royals a year ago for Ruben Gotay...who, incidentally, is hitting .340), and since then has been on fire. Keppinger is hitting .368 in about 30 games, with 20 RBI. Another missed opportunity for the Mets.

But all's well that ends well...and though I may wonder what could have been with some of these young guys manning second base for many years, I'll take the here and now, where an established veteran could be filling the role of what had been the missing piece on a championship team.

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