clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Top 50 Mets of All Time: #50 Rey Ordonez

We begin our list of the fifty best players in the history of the Mets' franchise with the unusual selection of Rey Ordonez. What makes his inclusion so bizarre is that his value as a Met came exlusively from his glove. Ordonez was so bad with the bat that he's actually the worst hitter in the history of the franchise according to VORP at -18.1. In plain terms that means that any given readily-available Triple-A shortstop would likely have been two wins better than Ordonez with the bat over the same time period. Offensive ineptitude aside, it's Rey-O's glovework that lands him on this list.

Reilando Ordonez Peirrero (sometimes cited as Reynaldo or Reinaldo) defected from the Cuban national team during the World University Games in Buffalo on July 12, 1993. Ordonez planned his escape from the athlete's villiage three months prior to the trip and met his mother-in-law in Miami less than four hours after fleeing via getaway car. Ordonez had left his wife and six-month-old daughter back in Cuba, along with his $118/month Cuban baseball salary, and found himself amid a crush of reporters and player agents in south Florida. Ordonez hoped to sign with the Florida Marlins, but Major League Baseball rules stipulated that players to defect from Cuba to the United States were not free agents but were actually required to enter the draft or, alternatively, enter a weighted lottery. Since the draft wouldn't be held until June, Ordonez entered the lottery and was awarded to the Mets who, having finished with the worst record in baseball in 1993, had the most consideration.

Ordonez officially signed a minor league deal with the Mets on February 8, 1994, and was assigned to St. Lucie of the Florida State League. Prior to the lottery Ordonez appeared in fifteen games for the independent St. Paul Saints of the Northern League, hitting a respectable .283/.322/.350.

Year  Team         Lg   Age  Lvl  AB  XBH  BB  AVG/OBP/SLG
1994  St. Lucie    FSL   23  A+   314  25  14  309/343/408
1994  Binghamton   East  23  AA   191  13   4  262/283/351
1995  Norfolk      IL    24  AAA  439  27  27  214/266/294
His Mets' career got off to a promising start as he posted a .751 OPS in 79 games in St. Lucie. With the benefit of hindsight we now know that Ordonez would never even remotely approach that line in the rest of his time with the Mets. Nevertheless, he was underwhelmed by FSL pitching and was quickly whisked away to Binghamton of the Eastern League where he put up numbers more indicative of his career to come. His walk rates of 4% and 2% were abysmal, but the Mets had him on the fast track and he began 1995 -- and finished 1995 -- in AAA Norfolk of the International League. That year he improved his walk rate to almost 6% which, while still awful, could at least have been considered something like progress. Unfortunately the rest of his offensive game took a nosedive, as his batting average plummeted to .214 and he socked just 27 extra-base hits in 439 at-bats.

The Mets must have seen some silver lining in his paltry triple-a performance because Ordonez began the 1996 season with the big club. More likely, they had been regaled with stories of his defensive prowess and figured, incorrectly it seems, that he would hammer out any offensive deficiencies on the main stage. Defensively, Ordonez did nothing to disappoint when he debuted at Shea on April 1, 1996. In a game against the Cardinals, with Ozzie Smith sitting in the St. Louis dugout, Ordonez threw out Royce Clayton at home from short left field to end the seventh inning. What elevated it from a merely great play to a spectacular one was that Ordonez made the throw from his knees.

Rey-O picked up a single during the four-run rally that followed his web gem, but far more often than not during his tenure with the Mets his offensive ineptitude was as frustrating as it was consistent.

1996   25  530   17  22  257/289/303  .210    3.9   -9.4
1997   26  391    9  18  216/255/256  .187    1.6  -18.1
1998   27  548   23  23  246/278/299  .205    1.6  -14.5
1999   28  588   27  49  258/319/317  .227    4.6   -2.9
2000   29  155    5  17  188/278/226  .178   -0.3   -9.6
2001   30  505   31  34  247/299/336  .227    3.9   -1.5
2002   31  499   28  24  254/292/324  .222    3.6   -3.9
The statistics above provide plenty of empirical evidence to support the widely-accepted claim that, even at his best, Rey Ordonez was simply dreadful with a bat in his hands while attempting to make contact with a thrown ball. He posted a negative VORP during every season with the Mets, and -- rather mindbogglingly -- was almost two full wins below replacement level in 1997. The biggest difference between WARP3 and VORP is that WARP3 includes defensive contributions while VORP considers only offensive ones, so Ordonez actually winds up a bit better than replacement in almost every season -- save his injury-shortened 2000 campaign -- thanks entirely to his exploits with the leather (high road, people, high road).

Even by traditional metrics Ordonez was little more than an out-making machine. He never cracked .260 in batting average, .320 in on-base percentage or .340 in slugging percentage. His walk rates were absurdly low, and would be even lower if we disregarded intentiona walks since he was only awarded those because he was considered (marginally) better than the pitcher batting behind him. Ordonez was issued 64 free passes in his seven years at Shea and drew just 123 all by himself. For those scoring at home (aren't we all?), that's 123 unintentional walks in 3,216 plate appearances, or one for every 26 times he came to the plate. Fifteen times in baseball history a player has drawn 123 or more unintentional walks in a season, a feat which Ordonez accomplished in just under seven seasons. Despite his uselessness at the plate, Ordonez provided plenty of excitement on the field. He was really a joy to watch, and I feel like I could have sat there for hours as he fielded even the most routine of groundballs. What sticks out in my mind more than anything was that play he would make famous, where he would field a ball hit to his right by sliding feet-first and then glove it, plant and throw in what seemed like one continuous motion. That, and his annual September homerun which he hit in each of his first four seasons, the last of which was a grand slam.

Some of my final memories of Ordonez as a Met included his skipping the team photo and autograph session in 2002 because he was left out of the starting lineup one day, and the time he dropped this little ditty after being booed:

"I don't want to play here no more. The fans here are too stupid. You have to play perfect every game. You can't make an error. You can't go 0-for-4. Are we like (bleeping) machines?"
Ordonez was eventually dealt to the Devil Rays on December 15, 2002, along with a boatload of cash, in exchange for minor leaguers Russ Johnson and Josh Pressley.

It's a shame that Ordonez's time with the Mets ended on a sour note, because he really did leave a lasting positive impression on the Shea collective. For a while there he showed why great defense is sometimes as much fun as great offense. If he could have provided even replacement-level offense (for a shortstop) he would have likely cracked the Top 35 on this list; had he hit like an average shortstop he would have been Top 20. As it stands he was one of the few best defensive players the Mets have ever had, and possibly the very best on a per-season basis. He never exceeded replacement-level offense in any season with the Mets, though his stellar glovework made up for that sizeable shortcoming more often than it didn't.


Gold Glove, 1997
Gold Glove, 1998
Gold Glove, 1999


Rey Ordonez at The Baseball Cube
Rey Ordonez at
Rey Ordonez at Baseball Prospectus

Websites linking to this article

Baseball Primer Newsblog
Mets Refugees Message Board
Always Amazin'
The Book Blog