By Mike Steffanos
Remember early in the year when most of us felt that Jose Valentin was washed up? We waited for the Mets to tire of his strikeouts and send him quietly packing, but instead he found his stroke and played Kaz Matsui out of town.
Appearing mostly as a pinch-hitter, Valentin batted a scintillating .136 in April, with 3 singles in 22 at-bats. He had twice as many strikeouts as hits, with no walks, and had neither scored a run nor driven one in. He seemed to be around mostly to congratulate his more successful teammates and to be the butt of jokes for his 1980's style facial hair. Willie kept assuring us that Valentin was a pro and would be "all right", but we didn't really buy that. What was he supposed to say? Get me a left-handed bat that can hit.
Valentin didn't fare much better in early May, with 2 singles in 8 at bats while striking out 3 more times. The Mets seemed to be searching for a left-handed bat, and Jose's days seemed to be numbered. Then came a May 13 game in Milwaukee where Valentin was given a start. Valentin had a single and a home run, driving in 4 in a 9-8 Mets win. Willie rewarded Valentin with another start the next day, and he made his manager look smart by going 4-5 with a pair of RBIs. Although Randolph understandably didn't immediately anoint Jose as the every-day second baseman, Valentin forced his hand by batting .320 in 50 ABs in May, with 4 home runs and 16 RBIs. He also played a pretty damned good second base for someone who had never played the position much. According to Randolph, he worked very hard on his defense with the coaching staff, and it showed.
Failing to get the memo that his May performance was only a fluke, Valentin hit .301 in June, with 9 doubles, 4 HR and 10 RBIs, despite batting primarily seventh or eighth in the order. He's continued his solid hitting right into July, batting .288 for the month with 8 extra base hits and another 11 RBIs in just over 50 at bats. His line of .285 AVG/.322 OBP/.531 SLG in 200 ABs this season isn't bad for a guy making under a million, and he continues to get better at 2B. He's not only making all of the basic plays, he also turns in the occasional gem to remind us he's a pretty good athlete for a guy who will turn 37 in October.
I don't know about you, but when I go to the park this year, I'm going to cheer a little louder when the veteran second baseman with the funny 'stache comes up to the plate. For all of the players that have worn the Mets uniform in return for big bucks -- and then did absolutely nothing to earn it -- I have nothing but respect for a player that proved through his own hard work, with absolutely nothing handed to him, that he wasn't quite as dead as everyone insisted.
MetsBlog: Dontrolle Available
Matt's sources tell him that Willis can be had.
SI.com: On Willis
John Heyman offers this on the possibility of Willis coming to the Mets:
The Mets are willing to include highly-prized outfielder Lastings Milledge in a deal with the Marlins for Dontrelle Willis but are under the impression it would take their top two prospects, Milledge plus righthanded pitcher Mike Pelfrey, to land Willis. And one Mets exec said, "Pelfrey isn't going anywhere."
While there's been some talk about Phillies' outfielder Bobby Abreu, Mets officials are focused on pitching (Miguel Batista is another target) and pessimistic that the Phillies would agree to pay part of the $23 million remaining on Abreu's contract through 2007 (to say nothing of the $16 million '08 option he'd want picked up). The White Sox are another team that's recently made a run at Willis, offering what one executive termed "an impressive package." They, too, were rebuffed.
I would tend to agree that the Marlins would probably want something like Heyman specifies, but this one would seem to be against the rules. Although we have determined that teams have up to six months to complete a player to be named later deal -- which would allow the Mets to deal Pelfrey at the July 31 deadline and then wait until after his anniversary date in January to complete it -- the rules clearly state that a PTBNL cannot be traded in the same league. Since Pelfrey is now a Met, he cannot be traded to the Marlins as a PTBNL. All this stuff gives me a headache, anyway...
East Valley Tribune: Batista
Out in the Valley of the Sun, Jack Magruder notes the Mets interest in Batista and states the following (emphasis mine):
The D-Backs thought they had a deal with the Mets to obtain Scottsdale native Brian Bannister and other prospects for reliever Greg Aquino last winter, but the deal broke down at the last minute.
Bannister, however, has not pitched since April 27 because of a torn right hamstring, and although he is expected to begin rehab soon, it is uncertain when he could return to a major league rotation.
The D-Backs likely would have interest in Mike Pelfrey, the Mets' first-round draft pick in 2005, but it is unknown if the Mets would trade part of their future for a more proven veteran such as Batista, who will become a free agent this winter.
Batista is 35 years old. Aquino is 28, but has a 5.11 ERA in just over 100 major league innings. He has struck out 92, but also has walked 49 in that span. I personally wouldn't trade Bannister for Batista, but if Omar ever traded Pelfrey for this 35-year-old who has had a decent, but unspectacular career, Metstradamus will have to re-open his Hall Of Hate for the immediate induction of Omar Minaya. I don't quote this because I believe it will happen. My point is that the trade market is really out of whack when Mike Pelfrey's name can be brought up with a straight face in connection with a solid journeyman pitcher approaching the end of his career. The Mets have to do a better job developing their own pitching prospects.
Minor League Ball: Mets Prospects
John Sickels provided an update on his pre-season Top 20 Mets Prospects:
Milledge and Pelfrey are a nice combo at the top. Humber can rejoin them soon if his elbow holds up, and Fernando Martinez could be the best of all if his knee is OK. After that it thins out quickly. There are some guys with tools like Carlos Gomez, but most of them are held back by a weak approach at the plate. Watch sleeper lefty Jon Niese next year for major improvement. He is a projectable lefty that I really like intuitively.
The Metropolitans: Mike's Prospects
Mike from The Metropolitans, whose analysis is at least as good as anyone who makes a living at it, takes the opportunity to update on his top 20 pre-season prospects.
Mets Geek: Astros Pitchers
Andrew Hintz previews the 3 starters the Mets will face in the weekend series.
The Journal News: The Bench
John Delcos gives some well-deserved love to all of the terrific Mets reserves.
Newsday: To deal or not to deal...
David Lennon suggests the Mets might not feel pressured to make a deal, quoting "a person familiar with the club's thinking":
We're slowing things down. We don't really need anything. The prices are too high right now. Let's see where we are in 10 days.
Lennon opines that it may take a team coming to the point where they are willing to accept second-tier prospects to compel the Mets to deal.
Daily News: Dirty Laundry
While stating that an Abreu trade seems unlikely, Adam Rubin drags out some of the unsightly deals from Omar's past life north of the border.