Character guys like Alex Cora

Adam Rubin wrote today that the Mets hope to re-sign Alex Cora, a player who probably inspires five times as much debate around this office as anyone else.

This debate, I should mention, almost always features me.

So much was made about what Alex Cora brought to the Mets’ clubhouse this year, and I’m not going to argue otherwise. By all accounts, he’s a nice guy and a smart player and will make a great coach someday.

The problem is he’s not very good at baseball anymore.

Cora played much of 2009 with torn ligaments in his thumbs, which might excuse the .630 OPS he posted in over 300 plate appearances. The problem is, that line is not really that far off Cora’s career .658 mark, and unsurprising given the expected decline of a 33-year-old player.

Moreover, depending on which metric you prefer, Cora played somewhere between average and below-average defense at second base and shortstop. To the eye, he demonstrated a lack of range that likely affected the Mets’ groundball pitchers like Mike Pelfrey and Sean Green.

The co-worker with whom I usually engage in this debate argues that Cora’s deficiencies on the field are more than made up for by his additions to the clubhouse, and claims that to build a winning team, the Mets need more character guys like Alex Cora.

Far be it for me to say a team doesn’t need character guys, but if it does, it should be able to acquire ones who are above replacement-level. And Cora isn’t.

I like to believe that, on a good and successful ballclub, character guys will surface and in nearly any group dynamic, leaders will emerge. In other words, I don’t think a team should be in the business of acquiring leaders or clubhouse guys. I think the team should focus on acquiring the 25 best players it can to fill out its roster rather than building a team on what Theo Epstein might call “psychobabble.”

If Alex Cora could be had at the league minimum, then sure, why not? He could be a helpful guy to have around during Spring Training and if he could prove he merited a spot on the roster, great.

But Alex Cora will not be had at the league minimum, and that’s the problem. Cora cost the Mets $2 million last season, and the Mets — as Rubin points out — are operating with a finite budget.

Every time I post this criticism, someone jumps down my throat and argues that $2 million is a drop in the Mets’ payroll bucket and should not be the difference between signing a bigger-name free agent or not.

Maybe that’s so, but consistently dropping $2 million on players of Cora’s caliber, ones that could by definition be replaced by someone earning the league minimum, adds up. It does. I know we all want the Mets to be able to spend like the Yankees, but until they do, we need to root for them to spend more efficiently.

Finally, with Jose Reyes still something of a question mark moving forward, the Mets should have a backup plan in place that’s better than Alex Cora.

Certainly the best-case scenario for the club would have Reyes playing 150 games at shortstop like he did every year from 2005 to 2008. But though Reyes is supposedly on the mend, his injuries have beguiled the Mets before, and it would behoove the team to have a backup in house who could at least defend the position well, if not also hit a little bit.

If the Mets are so gung-ho on Cora returning to their clubhouse, there’s a bench coach position still waiting to be filled.

11 thoughts on “Character guys like Alex Cora

  1. David Eckstein signed on to play for the Padres for a 1 year $850,000 contract. Mets gave Cora $2 mill. Eckstein is a character guy and proven winner. The Mets didn’t even speak to Eckstein. Maybe if they told him they would offer him $2 mill he would’ve signed.

  2. “Maybe that’s so, but consistently dropping $2 million on players of Cora’s caliber, ones that could by definition be replaced by someone earning the league minimum, adds up.”

    Thank you for making this point, as there are plenty of Mets fans who still don’t appreciate that spending, say, $10 million on 5 replacement-level players is a worse idea than spending $2 million total on 5 replacement-level players.

  3. Alex Cora is waste of roster spot and dollars. I totally agree with Ted. We need legit mid infield sub with real defensive capability, not a poorly ranging Cora and so so arm who isn’t good enough with the bat either.

    Cora is nice guy but we must to do better. If Omar insists on Cora, might as well then opt for Melvin Mora who gives you at least the same D, plus third base, the outfield, and a solid bat off the bench with real pop to threaten the opposition. Get Melvin to replace Tatis and then pick up a true mid infield sub with real range and good hands and arm. To Omar: None of this Alex Cora nonsense, please.

  4. “The problem is he’s not very good at baseball anymore.”

    Ted, please direct us to a point in Alex Cora’s career when he WAS very good at baseball (after little league, I mean).

  5. I think Cora is a smart player who has maximized his potential, but at 33 and $2 million, this is a not a good investment – at anything above the league minimum, he is not worth it.
    But what are we looking for? Cora was supposed to be a backup infielder who played once or twice a week, and got 200 plate appearances over the season. He was the insurance policy in case that Luis Castillo failed to produce. Cora at second with a healthy Reyes at short would have been fine, even over half a season. But Cora ended up being the long term replacement option for Reyes, and there was no replacing his defense AND offense with one player, no matter how creative Omar was. At $2 million and at short, he was exposed.

    Does anyone expect the Mets, or any other team to have a backup infielder who can play an excellent short or second and can hit above replacement level for most of a season? That’s a starter, not a backup, and would cost more than $2 million.

    And the word on Eckstein was that he went to San Diego because he was offered a chance to start, which, ironically, he would have had in New York.

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