El Duque, Valentin re-sign with Mets
Right-hander agrees to two-year, $12 million contract
The pitcher whose age is routinely questioned and whose postseason pedigree seldom is will take another shot at a Shea Stadium World Series in 2007. Orlando Hernandez, who would have started Game 1 of the 2006 Series had the Mets survived the National League Championship Series, will rejoin the Mets next season. The veteran pitcher used his free agency to prod the Mets into paying him $12 million for two years and to make a career U-turn.Omar Minaya, the Mets general manager and a longtime admirer of Hernandez, made the re-signing official on Tuesday night in a conference call with reporters. He also confirmed the club's re-signing of another free agent whose age is an issue, though for a different reason. Jose Valentin, a critical figure in the Mets' 97-victory season, is back as well and back, Minaya said, to play second base. Official word of the signings came as no surprise; each had been reported before Tuesday. But the Mets' decision to grow older at two key positions came as something of a surprise. Hernandez is as young as 37 or as old as 41. And though he is a physical specimen in top condition, his body did fail him and the Mets at a most critical juncture last month. El Duque was to have started Game 1 the NLDS against the Dodgers, but he tore a muscle in his right calf jogging in the outfield one day earlier. Given his fitness, the injury was stunning; given his age, it wasn't. Now he has a two-year contract because as Minaya said on Tuesday, "In this market, you weren't going to get Orlando Hernandez for one year." At the same time, the Mets have retained the services of Valentin, who will play next season at age 37; this after Willie Randolph regularly expressed concern about Valentin's 36-year-old legs during the veteran's renaissance summer. "El Duque and Jose are two of the players we targeted that we had to have back," Minaya said. "Orlando was just superb the last part of the year and will be one of the anchors of our staff this season. Jose got so many key hits for us last year and fielded his position flawlessly. We expect more of the same in 2007." While Minaya noted that Valentin can play other positions -- he played third base, first and the outfield in 2006 -- he also said, "Jose Valentin is our second baseman today" and that Valentin will play "pretty much every day." Playing regularly seemingly will allow Valentin to assure himself a third season with the Mets. The contract terms he has agreed to will earn $3.8 million for 2007. And if he has 400 at-bats next season, his contract for 2008 would vest.
"He's going to get his at-bats on a regular basis," Minaya said.
Valentin was nothing short of a revelation in 2006, batting .261 with 62 RBIs, 56 runs and 18 home runs in a 384 at-bat season that began slowly. He batted .167 with one RBI and no extra-base hits in his first 30 at-bats. Then, from May 12 through the end of August, he played regularly, batting .298 in 275 at-bats. But he batted merely .183 in 109 subsequent at-bats, postseason included.Hence, the questions about age and late-season fatigue. No such questions arose about El Duque until his calf betrayed him. Hernandez had produced a 9-7 record and 4.09 ERA in 20 starts with the Mets after they had acquired him from the D-backs in May.
"It's always better to stay with a player who you know rather than one that you don't know," Minaya said. "We know El Duque can pitch in New York City, and that's a very big thing. Also, he had a pretty good year for us last year -- one of his best years, by the way."Four days after the Mets' loss in the NLCS, Randolph said he hoped the club would re-sign the Hernandez. And Minaya quickly made the first move to restore the Mets' starting rotation. Without Hernandez, Tom Glavine and Steve Trachsel, all of whom had filed for free agency, on the roster and with Pedro Martinez disabled until late summer, Minaya had gone to the GM meeting in Naples, Fla., with none of the four pitchers who made 105 of the Mets' starts in the 2006 season in place. With Glavine unsure of his preference for a 2007 employer and Trachsel no longer of interest to the club, the Mets are looking elsewhere to fill the vacancies. They have contacted the agents representing Barry Zito, Mark Mulder and Vicente Padilla. And they claimed right-handed reliever Jason Standridge off waivers from the Reds but said a baseball official has indicated the reliever might opt to become a free agent.