By Barry Duchan
Editor's Note: This is the ninth in a series of new articles Barry will be writing on Mets second basemen for this site. - M.S.
When the Mets signed veteran Jose Valentin in December of 2005, no one paid much attention to it. He was coming off a perfectly awful year with the Dodgers, batting .170 as a seldom used utility player. He was 36 years old and while his greatest asset was his power for an infielder, he had played very little second base and figured as nothing more than a very occasional fill-in and pinch hitter, if he even made the team.
It didn't take long for the Kaz Matsui era to draw to a close. Valentin began playing some second base, then some more and it was only a matter of time before he became the regular and Matsui was shown the door, going to Colorado for spare part Eli Marrero. Valentin had a remarkable and wholly unexpected season for the Mets, playing 94 games at second base as well as a handful at other positions. He batted a solid .271 with 18 homeruns, many in big spots, and although he was still prone to strike out, he cut down considerably on his total from past years. It was a terrific comeback season for Valentin and made it a little easier to forget how terribly disappointing Matsui had been. The Mets re-signed Valentin at a huge raise for 2007, even though a repeat of his 2006 season was probably too much to ask. He was performing well below his previous year's performance when on July 20, he fouled a ball off his right leg, breaking his tibia and ending his season after 51 games and a .241 batting average.
Damion Easley and Ruben Gotay got playing time at second base after that, but when the Mets had the chance to pick up former all-star Luis Castillo from Minnesota just before the trade deadline for a pair of B-level prospects, it was a move that was hard to criticize. Castillo played well for the Mets, hitting right around .300 and fielding better than anyone the Mets had used in the previous couple of seasons. Castillo was probably one of the Mets' better performers even through their historic collapse.
The Mets clearly made a mistake in rushing to sign Castillo to a multi-year contract following the 2007 season. He had an injury-plagued and overall miserable year in 2008 and there was every indication that the Mets were prepared to dump him in the off-season to any team that would assume at least a part of his contract. As I write this in January of 2009, it hasn't happened yet. Meanwhile, the two other players who filled in when Castillo was out, and later got playing time when Castillo came back and performed poorly, Easley and Argenis Reyes are out of the organization. What happens next ? I'll wrap it up in my next and final installment of this series.
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
Part 9 - 2006 - 2008 - Current Article
Part 10 - The Future