Betty's No Good Clothes Shop And Pancake House
Saturday, December 13, 2003
  Mets get Cameron

There seem to be conflicting reports as to the exact monetary value of this three year deal, but it seems to be somewhere between 19 and 21 million dollars for the rights to Mike Cameron between the ages of 31 and 33.

I'm not quite sure how I feel about this deal. Sure, Cameron's defense in center field should be mighty helpful to the Mets' pitching staff. But aside from the fact that he meets the less than lofty standard of being more productive than either Roger Cedeno, Timo Perez or Jeff Duncan, Cameron doesn't really seem to put a significant dent into the Mets' offensive difficulties. And locking him up for three years seems to put to rest any idea of the Mets bidding for the services of Carlos Beltran after next season. If the Mets can manage to snag Magglio Ordonez next year, or even transform Victor Diaz into a competent major league right fielder, this deal might work out very well. But right now this seems like the kind of "win now" move we might have expected from the Steve Philips organization for a team that's not going to win much of anything now without putting serious money into the right field and starting pitching issues. I admit with no hesitation that Cameron will be an upgrade over anyone who played centerfield for the Mets last year and is almost certainly a better solution than anyone else available on the free agent market currently. I just don't quite see how this move fits in with the philosophy of looking toward the future.

Jim Duquette should feel free to put together a Floyd/Cameron/Guerrero outfield if he wishes, in which case I will do my best to built some sort of shrine at which I can worship him.

EDIT: I am rather pleased that Duquette's made two quality signings and given up zero draft picks, at least.
Tuesday, December 09, 2003
  On the great position shift...

So the New York Mets have themselves a brand new starting shortstop, which necessitates their moving their current starting shortstop a few yards to his left. Taking your starting shortstop and moving him over to second base is a controversial and potentially problematic move. Some might say that doing so could reduce his defensive or even offensive value. It could screw up his development. It could put him at greater risk for injury. The decision has already been made and the only thing left to do is try to predict how this move will work out. Luckily for us, the year is 1995 and the players in question are Rey Ordonez and Jose Vizcaino. Yep, this Ordonez kid is on his way to Shea Stadium and Vizcaino's going to have to get out of his way. Next year Ordonez will be at short and Vizcaino will have to move to second base. Luckily for us, and for those who decided to move Vizcaino out of the spot he's occupied for the last two year, we can in fact look into the future. We can look all the way to 1996 and see that Mets starting second baseman Jose Vizcaino will put up the highest batting average, on base percentage and slugging percentage he's ever put up with an NY on his cap. In fact, we'll see that those numbers are all career highs. Looks like the guys who decided he had to move didn't screw things up too badly...

Okay, so the situation isn't precisely analogous. Vizcaino was 26 at the time and had played 55 games at second base over his first seven major league seasons. And then he got traded to Cleveland at the trading deadline of his peak year. So are there other examples of players who made the switch from shortstop to second base? How about Edgardo Alfonzo? Yep, another Met who had to move off of shortstop to find a spot alongside Rey Ordonez on the Mets' major league roster. Alfonzo, a shortstop in the minor leagues, took up both third base and second base to assure himself a spot in the Mets' starting lineup. And aside from his injury-dampened 2001 season and his unfortunate post-New York 2003 season in San Francisco, he turned out all right. Now it's true that Alfonzo has had trouble with his consistency and his health since making the switch and hitting the major leagues. But Alfonzo had neither as promising a minor league career as Reyes nor a major league season as good as Reyes' rookie year until his third year in the majors. And he still managed to put up a .315/.391/.432 season at the age of 23, a .304/.385/.502 season at 25, .324/.425/.542 at 26 and .308/.391/.459 at 28.

Not impressed by Alfonzo as an example of a move from shortstop to second base working out all right? How about Alfonso Soriano, who moved from shortstop to second base in the minors to avoid conflict with Derek Jeter. Soriano didn't exceed the .307 AVG, .334 OBP or .434 SLG that Reyes put up in his rookie year until his second full major league season, and fourth overall, at the age of 24, but I don't think there's much reason to conclude that the move from shortstop to second base at a young age has either stunted his offensive development or diminished his offensive value. Don't like Soriano? How about minor league shortstop turned Hall of Fame second baseman Roberto Alomar? How about the man who moved from shortstop to second base at the age of nineteen, the same year in which he was named MVP of the South Atlantic League, before going on to a major league career that would earn him the nickname "Hammerin'" Hank Aaron, as well as the major league record for career home runs? That's right, Aaron, who played third base and shortstop in high school, played shortstop for the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro American League in 1952 until he was sold to the Braves. He moved to shortstop for Jacksonville of the Sally League in 1953 before Bobby Thomson's broken ankle opened up a spot for him in left field.

Sure, there are counterexamples. There are certainly things that could go wrong with Jose Reyes' development or his body at second base. But if he's got the talent to become the Mets' franchise player in the upcoming years, he's probably got the talent to pull off the switch from shortstop to second base. All indications are that Reyes is fine with the decision to move him if it'll help the Mets get another bat in the lineup. And if Reyes himself doesn't mind, who are we to argue?
Monday, December 08, 2003
  More on Matsui

The Mets ended this past season with three major holes in their lineup. The way they've gone about filling the hole at second base has been unorthodox to say the least. First they seemingly intentionally offered Luis Castillo less money than it would have taken to actually sign him. And now they've managed to plug up the gap in their middle infield by signing not a second baseman, but a shortstop. For the second year in a row, there's a Matsui headed to New York City and again we've got the problem of trying to project what his numbers will look like in Major League Baseball based solely on the statistics he put up in Japan.

Aaron Gleeman looked at Matsui and attempted to project his 2004 major league stats based on what happened to the numbers of Ichiro Suzuki, Hideki Matsui and Tsuyoshi Shinjo between their last year in Japan and their first year in the United States. He came up with .275/.325/.445 based on Kazuo Matsui's 2003 season in Japan and the drops in production that the three previous Japanese players experienced upon reaching the major leagues. That projection is a little disheartening and certainly doesn't look like the stat line of a player making seven million dollars a year, allegedly great defense notwithstanding.

So where's the room for optimism? Well, first of all, we're talking about the New York Mets, so I honestly don't particularly care how much money they're paying him. Even ignoring Matsui's likely positive influence on ticket and merchandise sales, his salarly is not going to cripple one of the richest and most free-spending teams in the league either now or in the future. If the Mets fail to sign Mike Cameron or Vladimir Guerrero this year, or Carlos Beltran or Magglio Ordonez next year, it's not going to be because Kazuo Matsui's big contract tied their hands. They paid what it took to sign him and that's really all that matters.

Secondly, there's the matter of Matsui's 2002 season. His .305/.368/.549 line from 2003 may look pretty good but it was actually a pretty significant dropoff from his .332/.389/.617 line in 2002. So why is a decline in production by a 27 year old a good thing? Well, if there's reason to believe his 2002 numbers were more indicative of his abilities that his 2003 numbers, that might allay concerns about paying seven million dollars and moving your top young star for a .275/.325/.445 hitter. In fact, Aaron's method of projection puts Matsui at .299/.345/.499 using his 2002 numbers. I've heard that Matsui's numbers in 2003 were down early because he was playing while still recovering from offseason surgery. I haven't been able to find any information on this, so if anyone can point me in the direction of information about the surgery or perhaps his monthly splits for 2003, I'd be very interested to see it. But just looking at his raw statistics, I see that his 2003 batting average of .305 was his lowest since 1996, when he was just 20 years old. His OBP was on the lower end of the range he'd been putting up since 1997. And while his slugging percentage was down significantly from 2002, it was still the third highest of his career and more in line with the increased power he'd been showing the previous three years than with what he'd been doing in the nineties.

What does all this tell us about what to expect of him in 2004? Well, it seems to me that, unless he's entered an extremely premature decline phase at just 27 years old, were to he to have remained in Japan, he'd likely have put up numbers somewhere in between his 2002 and 2003 statistics. His doubles, triples and home runs all saw a slight dip in 2003 from the 2002 season in which he established new career highs in nearly every offensive category. Either 2002 was a peak season that he would never duplicate, or he established a new level of production that was interrupted by injury in early 2003. Either way, there remains a lot of uncertainty about what to expect from him in the upcoming years.

Perhaps a closer look at the three players he's being compared to would yield more definite results. Of the three, Ichiro and Hideki Matsui saw far larger drops than Shinjo in both AVG and OBP. It's interesting to see the relatively small drop in production for Shinjo given that he, like Kazuo Matsui, came from the apparently tiny ballparks of Japan to the pitcher's paradise that is Shea Stadium. It's true that Shinjo didn't have nearly as far to drop as Ichiro or Hideki Matsui did, or as Kazuo Matsui does, hitting just .278/.320/.491 in his final season in Japan. And Aaron wisely points out and accounts for the fact that Ichiro and Hideki Matsui probably drew a lot more intentional walks in Japan than Shinjo and Kazuo Matsui did and a lot more than they did in the American League. But it's still interesting to note that of the three, the player whose change in environment almost exactly replicates Kazuo Matsui's was most able to keep up his established level of production upon reaching the United States.

All of this is to say that I don't know what Matsui's statistics will look like now, but I think I've got reaosn to believe that I'll be happy to see him in the Mets' starting lineup next year. As for whether I'll be happy to see him out at shortstop, well, I've rambled on enough about stats for now, and it'd be nice if I started posting here regularly again, so I'll leave the discussion of The Great Jose Reyes Position Switch until tomorrow.
  Mets get Matsui (the other one)

Well, it seems just about official. Kazuo Matsui is the newest member of the New York Mets. I'm cautiously optimistic as I am every offseason. (Yes, even last year. Go back and look if you don't believe me. I think I said something about the Mets' outfield not being a complete disaster.) So I've got visions in my head of ways this could work out extremely well. But of course there are reasons for concern. Who knows exactly how well Matsui's offensive skills will translate to the major league game? Who knows what effect moving Jose Reyes to second base will have on his offensive development? But the Mets' offseason is off and running now and the first move is a potentially exciting one. I'll be back with some more expanded thoughts on the Matsui situation tomorrow. But for now, I'll close by saying GO GET VLAD, JIM.
Disseminating descriptions and accounts of New York Mets games without the expressed written consent of Major League Baseball or the New York Mets since 2003.

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