In light of reports that Mets management has met with Alex Rodriguez’s agent Scott Boras, it’s worth considering what would happen if the team actually did go ahead and spend the estimated $300 million or more it would require to land the megastar free agent. First question: how to fit Rodriguez into a prospective 2008 lineup, considering that the two positions A-Rod has played, third base and shortstop, currently belong to New York’s headliners David Wright and Jose Reyes.
By far the move with the highest upside and the best chance of both short and long-term success is to move David Wright to second base.
The other choices are far less attractive.
The most obvious alternative would be to move Reyes to second base, a position swap the Mets tried to terrible effect after acquiring Kazuo Matsui. Injuries plagued Reyes, while Matsui was an unmitigated disaster both at bat and in the field. More important than the past, though, is Reyes’ plus fielding at shortstop, which is likely to get better as he enters his prime, and Rodriguez’s likely fielding at the shortstop position after four years away, which is likely to get worse as he exits his prime.
Let’s look at the benefits of shifting Wright to second to make room for Rodriguez, producing an infield of Rodriguez, Reyes, Wright and Carlos Delgado. 2007’s edition had Wright, Reyes, Delgado and Luis Castillo at second base. Castillo is a good player, but his 2007 on base plus slugging percentage (OPS) was 743. Rodriguez’s 2007 OPS? 1067. And Castillo is unlikely to top his 2007 numbers—they represented a higher on base and slugging percentage than his career norms.
As far as Wright’s ability to play second base, there’s no direct evidence either way, since he’s never tried the position. But there’s precedent.
One of the best second basemen of the 1980s, Ryne Sandberg, came up as a third baseman. So did Rogers Hornsby, one of the finest second basemen of all time.
More recently, the Mets had Edgardo Alfonzo move from third base to second base at the same age Wright is now. Chase Utley of the Phillies moved from third base to second base between his age 23 and 24 seasons—one year younger than Wright would be as he made the change. Alfonzo became the part of one of the best defensive infields in recent years on the 1999 Mets, while Utley just completed another season as the best second baseman in the major leagues. Wright is arguably quicker than either of them.
According to nearly every reputable fielding metric, Wright’s range at his position is the best in baseball—that is, he reaches the most balls out of his immediate fielding zone. His erratic throwing across the diamond, however, drags down his overall fielding numbers. Putting him at second base, where his range can be on display without the challenging throws, might actually be a better use of his overall athletic talents.
By contrast, Luis Castillo, the second baseman the Mets would likely re-sign in the event that A-Rod went elsewhere, is likely to continue losing range as he ages. And he is entering his age-32 season: players peak and decline earlier defensively than they do offensively.
It’s up to the Mets now to decide whether to accede to Boras’ unprecedented demands for his client.
But if they decide to go for it, then the sooner it happens the better. Let Wright come to spring training with an infielders’ glove, and the Mets will greatly increase their chances of going home for the winter as champions.