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Should the Mets Look at Jose Lopez?

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The talk out of the new front office seems to suggest that the Mets will be bargain shoppers this offseason, so watching the non-tender list might help a person spot potential acquisitions. At least, it would be more fruitful than drooling over potential high-priced free agent acquisitions, as sexy as Jayson Werth and Carl Crawford might be.

In that vein, MLBTradeRumor's recent newslet - that Jose Lopez will be non-tendered by the Mariners - should lead to a raised eyebrow or two. I detailed most of the in-house options (sans Justin Turner) last year for FanGraphs, but recent talk by new skipper Terry Collins seems to suggest that Luis Castillo and Daniel Murphy are the prime contenders for the starting second base spot in the lineup. Could Lopez out-perform that less-than-dynamic duo?

First, a word about the younger options, Justin Turner and Reese Havens. Havens is obviously not ready just because he hasn't shown a full healthy season yet. Turner? Let's throw him in the mix, and use Carson Cistulli's writeup from FanGraphs as a jump-off point. He used Dan Sxymborski's Major League Equivalency lines and mixed in some fun facts:

Name: Justin Turner, 26, 2B
Organization: New York (NL) Level: Triple-A
Actual: 348 PA, .333/.390/.516 (.351 BABIP), .395 wOBA
zMLE: 348 PA, .288/.340/.434 (.308 BABIP), .343 wOBA
Notes
• Is graded as -9 run true-talent fielder by Sean Smith’s most recent CHONE projection.
• A good thing is how he struck out in only 12.2% of his plate appearances at Buffalo this season.
• That ranked him 20th among batters in the International League with at least 100 PAs.
• Was claimed by Mets off waivers after being DFAed by the Orioles to make room on the 40-man for Scott Moore.
The Scott Moore.

That's an eminently decent MLE. If Turner could do that at the major league level, he might be the best option, were it not for that poor defense. Bill James likes Daniel Murphy for a .281/.339/.455 line, but his projections are often a little rosy, and that doesn't include any thoughts on defense. Offensively, these two - Turner and Murphy - represent the best options available to the Mets without a significant cash outlay.

Can Daniel Murphy be better than a -9 defender? It's hard to tell. His minor league defensive numbers (+1 TotalZone at 2B) suggest it's possible, but history is not littered with successful moves from the corner outfield to first base to second base. Also, given a full slate of at-bats and a .340ish wOBA, Turner and Murphy might be worth 1.2 wins with the bat - so their glove work becomes important. An 'average' player should be able to put up 2 WAR and replacement wins at second base are worth around 2 WAR - so if they take a win away with their glove, they'll both be hovering right around 'average.' Given their cost, that might be good enough, but someone that could add with both the bat and glove would have more upside.

The last time Luis Castillo had a .340+ wOBA, he was in a Marlins uniform and it was 2005. Though he was a plus with the glove in 2010, UZR is best used in three-year increments. He was terrible in 2009 (-12.7 UZR/150) and poor in 2008 (-9.5 UZR/150). He's not likely to be a plus with the glove or the bat in 2011, actually. We'll see how long it takes for him to prove this with his play, but he's looking like a player worth releasing.

So, enter Jose Lopez stage right. Sure, he's coming off of a poor season (.239/.270/.339 with a .268 wOBA, 68 wRC+, and 0.7 WAR), but he's also a year removed from helping with both the bat and glove (.272/.303/.463 with a .325 wOBA in the more difficult league - worth 101 wRC+ and 2.6 WAR). In other words, he's already twice showed a season that we might be hoping Turner and Murphy can replicate in their own ways.

Lopez won't take a walk (3.7% career), but Moneyball was about finding undervalued assets (repeat the mantra after me), not OBP monsters, so that doesn't preclude him from being a target from the new FO. What he does do is field decently (-0.6 UZR/150 career at 2B) and show some pop (.134 ISO career, but career highs of .191 and .146 in 2008-2009, in SafeCo). Bill James projects him at .265/.301/.406, but here I believe there's a tiny bit more upside.

Lopez is a right-handed hitter, and the home run park factor in SafeCo for righties was 84 last year (it was 94 at Citi). For doubles, it was 103, a slightly damning factor for those that want to faithcast more power away from home. We might be drawn in by the fact that Lopez slugged .413 away from home for his career, .385 at home - but that's a .133 ISO away from home and a .134 ISO at home. Maybe James' .141 ISO is about right for a bounce-back.

Here's the thing - if Luis Castillo is going to be a negative with the glove, he's probably not worth a spot on the team. Now we're looking at possibly finding an offense-first starter and a defense-first backup - and that might just be Ruben Tejada, because of his cheap cost. But it also seems that Jose Lopez can hit better than Ruben Tejada, at least in the short-term. Would a platoon of Murphy and Lopez be the best option?

Murphy bats lefty and has a career .335 wOBA against righties (.314 against lefties). Lopez has a career .314 wOBA against lefties (.297 against righties) and owns the better glove. This might actually be the best option, provided that Lopez is cheap (he should be), and the team is ready to release Luis Castillo (they should be).