By Jack Dickey
Editor's Note: This is Jack Dickey's first contribution to this blog. - M.S.
Most of us who were baseball fans during the 1990s and after recall an image of a fearsome terror north of the border: Carlos Delgado. He was a lethal member of the Blue Jays, and although he had never appeared in the playoffs, his stats were gaudy beyond belief: seasons like his 2000, where he posted a .344/.470/.664 line with 41 homers and 57 doubles.
This was the norm for Delgado, who, despite a pair of subpar seasons in Flushing, still averages 38 homers, 39 doubles, and 121 RBI per 162 games. He even put up a rather reminiscent season last year, appearing vigorous at the plate most of the time, despite atrocious fielding and prolonged slumps which kept him out of the top ten of MVP voting. But the 2007 edition of Carlos Delgado is absolutely woeful, showing once again, last night, en route to a 1-for-4 performance to celebrate his 35th birthday against Mike Maroth. Delgado has actually been better against lefties this season than he has against righties, posting a whopping .281/.301/.365 line. Abysmal.
This season's incarnation of Delgado has had its high points, to be sure, as evidenced by a pair of multi-home run games, the best being the balk-off masterpiece against Armando. He hasn't been all bad, and there have even appeared to be points where Delgado is generating that great bat speed, pulverizing a ball down the line, through the shift, or off the right field scoreboard.
But Delgado's struggles this year are totally undeniable: Baseball Prospectus' VORP (Value Over Replacement Player), which measures Delgado's production relative to the first base crop who would be able to easily replace him from the minor leagues, quotes the slugger a figure of -2.9. Not even Ben Johnson was more detrimental to the team at the plate, and after all, Johnson was like the nineteenth outfielder on Omar's call-up list, right after "Ice" Williams and right before Eli Marrero. His .288 on-base percentage is in between Oliver Perez's .269 and Tom Glavine's .357, and he's been sucking up at-bats from all of the other viable first-base candidates on the Mets, like ... (trying to think of someone on the roster capable of playing first base that isn't the starting right fielder or old enough to be Jose Reyes' father) ... hm. Perhaps Omar Minaya made a conscious decision not to threaten Delgado's starter status, appointing an aged player/coach as his immediate backup, instead of a potential platoon partner or prospect.
Unfortunately, it seems as though much of the Mets' front office (if not their fan base) is addicted to the image of Carlos Delgado as an elite power hitter, and as an elite hitter in general. To be sure, Delgado's prime is long past, but he has showed an attrition in 2007 which conjures up images of Mike Piazza's long and slow decline into complementary player-dom. We do not know whether Delgado is hobbled by unrevealed injuries, though given that his absence from the lineup has not proved itself a curse to the Mets (see Sunday's romp to sweep Oakland, a quarter of the Mets' 4-0 record this year when Delgado doesn't play), I'm not sure that a stint on the DL would bury the team.
Because of Delgado's age, it is ridiculous to assume that this swoon is only a fleeting phase: how many players (save for the absolutely positively drug-free Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens) have unprecedented surges of success in their late thirties? Perhaps Delgado will gather enough momentum in the second half to resume respectability, but with Moises Alou out for the foreseeable future with strained everything, respectability is not what we need. Delgado's role has to be minimized in order for the Mets to be a contending team. His batting is subpar, his fielding atrocious, and his home runs and doubles numbers nowhere near where they should be for a championship-caliber first baseman or for a first baseman of Delgado's reputation.
Yet with Delgado, the reputation doesn't match the player on the field. He might even be feared by opposing teams, with the thump that his foot makes into the front of the left-hand batter's box before unloading a charge into an unsuspecting baseball. He is a shadow of his former self, unfortunately, and it doesn't take much effort amongst the fan base to realize that. But is there not the potential to reinvigorate Delgado by offering him days off more frequently and not playing him into the ground? This plan seems to make sense, but realignment of the defense, such as putting Shawn Green at first, would be necessary in order to keep Julio Franco (who, apparently, is injured and unable to play in the field, but is still on the active roster) out of the lineup.
The need to rearrange the roster to include another first baseman involves displacing Franco, who, by all accounts, is a useful force within the clubhouse. I wonder if we could give him a uniform and everything else and just keep him from ever setting foot on the field unless the game reaches blowout status (i.e., "The Aaron Sele Treatment"). Once Franco leaves, the Mets have their vacant roster spot, open to anyone who is capable of putting on a first baseman's mitt.
Perhaps it is time for the Andy Tracy era: he has 18 HR and 58 RBI at first base for AAA Norfolk and hit 11 HR once with the Expos (2000). He may be 33, but he's really the only one in the organization capable of supplanting Delgado until Mike Carp gets a few more minor league seasons under his belt. Franco's departure, though, probably won't come until the end of this season, at the earliest. I can only propose one thing: offer Julio the ultimatum of retiring or his release, and then call up Tracy or trade for another platoon-type player. The rest of the division will find a way to challenge, and the Mets don't have forever to sit on their laurels while Delgado slumps all the way to the bank (he's earning $14.5 M this year, tops on the club). Now is the time for action regarding the aged slugger. I hear Mo Vaughn isn't doing much these days.