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Jose Valentin's right hand man

The first thing the Mets did this offseason was re-sign Jose Valentin to play second base. The deal was worth $3.8 million for 2007 with a team option for $4.3 million for 2008 that will vest if Valentin has 400 plate appearances this year. At the time it looked like Valentin was a bit of a contingency plan: the Mets knew what they were getting in him and they didn't want to run the risk of hitting the new year without any reasonable option for second base. You know, like they did in 2006 when they scrambled to sign a beleaguered Jose Valentin off of the scrap heap for $912,500 guaranteed smackers.

That move worked out well, but locking up Valentin for next season was a small but important move for the team. It allowed them to focus on other issues, knowing that they at least had *somebody* to fill the spot should they fail to find anyone better. For a little while there it looked like the Mets might have been considering bringing in someone to platoon with Valentin, who is notoriously weak against left-handed pitching.

   OPS     OPS
Year   vs RHP  vs LHP
---------------------
2001    .873    .682
2002    .824    .465
2003    .881    .386
2004    .801    .666
2005    .547    .890 (19 AB)
2006    .879    .644
It's remarkable that he has been able to garner any at-bats from year to year given this consistency of ineptitude against southpaws. Every single year he is a solid-to-great performer against righties and is basically useless against lefties. Names of possible platoon mates like Mark DeRosa and Rich Aurilia were tossed about earlier in the offseason, but both of those players have signed on to play elsewhere (DeRosa in Chicago and Aurilia to San Francisco as a first-baseman). Marcus Giles is another name that's out there, though the unlikelihood of him coming to New York may be exceeded only by the unlikelihood of him settling for part-time duty.

I hate to say it, but even Damion Easley would be a far superior option to play second base when a lefty is on the mound. Easley is a career .258/.329/.426 hitter against lefties; not great, but far from horrendous (horrendous = Valentin from the right side of the plate). There are a couple of other unsigned second basemen out there. Both held down full-time jobs in 2006 and may be looking for the same in 2007. Regardless, here are their exploits against lefties.

Player                 AVG   OBP   SLG
-----------------------------------
Mark Loretta       .274  .355  .392
Ronnie Belliard    .278  .357  .446
Belliard will turn 32 in April and hit just .237/.295/.371 in 194 at-bats after being traded to the Cardinals from the Indians mid-season. Loretta will be 36 in August and actually started in the All Star Game for Boston last season despite eventually hitting just .285/.345/.361. Either of these guys would represent colossal upgrades over Valentin from the right side. Will they come to New York to be part-time players? That remains to be seen.

Really anyone would be better than Valentin versus lefties. It's not clear whether Valentin can't hit lefties, can't hit from the right side, or some combination thereof. If I'm the Mets, I tell Valentin in spring training to throw away his left-eared batting helmet and try facing lefties from the left side. He is already borderline replacement level, so giving him a few weeks to try things a little differently isn't likely to produce substantially worse results. If he can't hack it at that, either, then he should be placed in a strict platoon situation with somebody -- anybody.

Throughout his career he has consistently OPS'd in the .800 range from the left side of the plate. If the Mets are going to go with Valentin as their primary second baseman in 2007 then they need to use his extreme platoon splits to their advantage and find an able right-handed complement to him. Such an arrangement would be a cheap, effective solution that should give the Mets one of the best middle infield combos in the game.