By Barry Duchan
Editor's Note: This is the eighth in a series of new articles Barry will be writing on Mets second basemen for this site. - M.S.
After disposing of Roberto Alomar, the Mets went into the 2003 off-season with Danny Garcia as the likely successor at second base. Jose Reyes looked like a potentially outstanding shortstop, but his future double play partner was very much up in the air since Garcia still had to prove he could hit big league pitching. The Mets' solution to the problem was a bit unconventional. They signed the much-heralded and widely sought Japanese star shortstop, Kaz Matsui, and announced that Jose Reyes would move over to second base.
Matsui became the cover story for ESPN Magazine right after he signed. Scouts acclaimed him to be the best overall player in Japan. No doubt, Ichiro was a better hitter, and Hideki Matsui had more power, but Kaz Matsui's alleged combination of defense, speed, power, and batting average stamped him as a potential all-star, possibly even an MVP candidate. In 2002, playing for the Seibu Lions, Matsui batted .332 with 36 homeruns, 87 RBI, 193 hits, 119 runs, 46 doubles, 6 triples, and 33 stolen bases. He was a 4-time gold glove winner, as well. Sure, Reyes was a top prospect, but for a "proven star with a great glove", he could be asked to make the move to second base.
As usual for the Mets, things didn't quite work out as planned. Although Matsui had a decent, if not especially good, year at bat for someone new to American baseball, he was a huge disappointment defensively, showing limited range and poor technique. Reyes seemed out of position at second base and was injury-prone as well. During his time on the DL, the Mets looked at Danny Garcia, Jeff Keppinger and Ty Wigginton at second base, before concluding that their best option for the future was to move Reyes back to shortstop and Matsui to second base. And that was the opening day tandem in 2005. Unfortunately, Matsui didn't even hit as well in 2005 as he had in his rookie year, and his defense was barely acceptable at his new position. Veteran Miguel Cairo began getting playing time, but clearly he wasn't going to be a long-term solution. Matsui was back at second base for Opening Day 2006, but it didn't last long. Fortunately, the Mets had a surprising one-year solution to their second base woes. More in the next installment.
Part 1 - A History of Mistakes
Part 2 - The Sixties
Part 3 - The Seventies and Eighties
Part 4 - Gregg Jefferies
Part 5 - Jeff Kent
Part 6 - The Carlos Baerga era/error
Part 7 - Roberto Alomar
Part 8 - 2004 - 2005 - Current Article
Part 9 - 2006 - 2008
Part 10 - The Future