Cubic zirconia in the rough

Over at Amazin’ Avenue, Sam and Rob put together pretty solid lists of potential low-risk, reasonable- (not quite high-)reward pickups for the Mets.

Sam ran down the Minor League free agents, and Rob looked at potentially available pitchers. They’re both good reads, and they both reinforce a point I find myself making all the time: Every year, there are a bunch of talented players available for little cost that could provide value to a big-league club.

The Mets have a lot of holes to fill in the upcoming offseason, but one they should not overlook is their need for a capable backup middle infielder. Alex Cora was asked to do more than the Mets needed him for in 2009, plus he was hurt, so it’s hard to kill the guy for his performance. But he proved to be a poor defender at shortstop and didn’t hit at all.

Uncertainty surrounds Jose Reyes entering 2010, successful surgery or not. And Luis Castillo is unlikely to repeat his 2009 performance at the plate. The Mets would be wise to attempt to trade Castillo while his value is about the highest, but they could have trouble finding a taker for an injury-prone second baseman who can’t really play defense anymore.

So a contingency plan for the infield is a must. And it would behoove the Mets to find someone a little better than Cora so they wouldn’t be inserting an offensive black hole in their lineup if and when Reyes can’t play.

Wilson Valdez, who appeared to be the most capable defender of the backup-shortstop regiment in 2009, should return. But outside of a bizarrely awesome 2007 in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, Valdez has never been much of a hitter, and would probably be best served as an organizational safety valve stashed in Triple-A in case any infielder goes down with injury.

So then who? Well, your guess is as good as mine, so feel free to provide your guesses in the comments section or wherever. There are some free agents available who might be had on the cheap, but I have no idea what these guys are looking for or how the market will play out:

Akinori Iwamura: The Rays are apparently unlikely to pick up Iwamura’s option thanks to Ben Zobrist’s breakout season. He spent a big part of 2009 with a torn ACL, which is bad, but he came back healthy in September. He has been about a league-average defender at second and has stayed consistently around his career batting line of .281/.354/.393. But he’s never played shortstop and he’s coming off the ACL injury, so, you know, not a perfect fit.

Omar Infante: Infante may have played well enough over the past two seasons to earn a starting job somewhere, something he hasn’t had consistently since his first full big-league season as a 22-year-old in Detroit in 2004. He spent time on the DL in each of the past two years with HBP-related hand injuries, but he has been an average defender at second, short and third over his career and appears to be improving as a hitter. I suspect the Braves will want to bring him back, and again, I have no idea what he’ll cost, but he’d be a great fit as a potential super-sub.

David Eckstein: Please don’t sign David Eckstein. It would just be too irritating, plus he actually sucks at defense now.

And I’ll throw in, for good measure, a guy rumored to be on the block this offseason:

Mike Fontenot: Longtime readers will know that I’ve been advocating a Fontenot acquisition since 2006, when he was merely some guy hitting well and buried behind bigger prospects on the Cubs’ organizational chart. Now, after torching the ball in 2008 and not hitting at all in 2009, the tiny little Cajun could get dealt, even though he likely doesn’t have much trade value and he’s coming off a year in which his BABIP was .034 below his career line.

Fontenot hasn’t played a ton of shortstop in the Majors, but he’s been a good defender at second base and I’m convinced his offensive numbers will bounce back. I’m not certain Fontenot’s a perfect fit at this point, but I’d just like this to happen because I’ve been hoping for it for so long.

5 thoughts on “Cubic zirconia in the rough

  1. I suggested signing Adam Everett on my blog (http://www.blueandorange.net/?p=726) mostly because he has a real, identifiable skill, which is the ability to play really good defense. The Mets’ middle infield backups under Omar Minaya (Woodward, Easley, and Cora) have lacked any sort of redeemable skill that made them worth having around. Everett won’t hit, but at least is a defensive whiz at shortstop. His defense alone is worth $2 million, which is more than the sum of Alex Cora’s skills is worth.

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