The first week of spring training games are in the books and I still have no idea who is going to be the Mets' starting second baseman less than one month from now when the season opens. The field was originally comprised of four candidates:
- Kaz Matsui (aka The Incumbent)
- Anderson Hernandez (aka The Challenger)
- Jeff Keppinger (aka The Sparkplug)
- Bret Boone (aka The Crusty Veteran)
Anderson Hernandez, stolen from the Tigers last season in a deal for backup catcher Vance Wilson, has a lot of fans dreaming of a gold glove middle infield with tons of speed. If you'll recall, we had this same dream two years ago when Matsui first washed ashore. Hernandez has always relied on his defensive wizardry to get by as a prospect, but he finally put together a solid offensive season in 2005 to go along with his glovework. A .326/.360/.462 line in 261 at-bats in Binghamton last year had a lot of people calling for his promotion in September. Considering the morass of ineptitude otherwise known as the Mets' second base situation, any change would have been good. Like Keppinger, Hernandez doesn't draw a whole lot of walks and, though he has a bit more pop than Kepp, he's not exactly Albert Pujols in the power department. Unlike Keppinger, Hernandez plays great defense and steals a lot of bases. He also whiffs. A lot. Like 441 times in 2094 career minor league at-bats a lot. He may be the Mets two-sacker of the future, but it probably won't start opening day. Odds: 5:1
Kaz Matsui would probably have to punch Willie Randolph in the face and then urinate on a Subway sub to not be the opening day starter at the keystone. Despite an atrocious 2005 that was plagued by injury and poor play, and despite hitting just 2-for-14 thus far this spring, Randolph seems very loyal to Matsui, making it an almost certainly that Matsui will see the bulk of the playing time, at least at the onset of the new season. It's quite possible that he will be kept on a medium leash, and if he's hitting .230/.270/.330 at the end of April or May that he will start losing playing time to Chris Woodward.
I think many believe, as I do, that somewhere buried beneath the layers of shame and disappointment that a decent enough ballplayer lives inside Matsui. Unless the Mets' second base "curse" runs so deep and so wide that it would sweep across the Pacific rim and engulf players a half a world away, there is still a chance that Matsui might be a serviceable major leaguer. He should be soldered to the lineup's eight-hole and left to his own devices. He will easily be the dimmest light in the lineup, outshined by even right-fielder-to-be Xavier Nady. Maybe, given the relative obscurity of that slot, as he pales in comparison to the marquee names and attractions littered across the Mets' roster, maybe then Matsui can find his groove and make something out of nothing. Odds: 3:2