Mailbag: Might Wright bat second?
Mets beat reporter Marty Noble answers fans' questions
Will manager Willie Randolph have David Wright bat second instead of Paul Lo Duca? Jose Reyes, Wright, Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado and Moises Alou is a pretty powerful first five. I'm curious as to your opinion of Wright batting second and just how seriously you believe Randolph is considering the change.
-- Mathew C., Eastsound, Wash.
Randolph is looking, no question. He's studying all the ramifications. If he's satisfied, he'll do it. I don't believe players' sensibilities are an issue for him, nor do I think the players involved in any of the potential batting order adjustments will be offended by changes.
But I don't know whether Randolph can be completely satisfied, nor does he at this point. My sense of it is that he will use Wright in the No. 2 spot at some point, maybe even in the season's first week. But I also suspect the change may be implemented in games in which Lo Duca isn't playing. Alou then would bat fifth, and Ramon Castro would bat eighth, Jose Valentin seventh and Shawn Green sixth.
The variations available to Randolph are too many to number and, of course, some make no sense. But some are intriguing. He has considered keeping Wright fifth and moving Valentin from eighth to second when Lo Duca gets his rest. Where Endy Chavez fits on those days he serves as understudy for Alou or Green is another question. And how often will Damion Easley's right-handed bat replace Valentin against a left-handed starter?
I think that latter scenario will occur more often than some folks anticipate. Valentin did have a rough run against left-handed pitching last season.
There are factors that I think about and that, I'm sure, Randolph considers. But I can't know yet how much weight he puts on each and where one stands in his thinking, relative to the others.
I think batting Lo Duca in a position other that second makes less than optimum use of his skills. He isn't the ideal No. 2 hitter. He doesn't see a lot of pitches. But then, Reyes has hinted he may run earlier in the count this year; that would make the number of pitches Lo Duca sees less of an issue. Would Lo Duca batting sixth or seventh with Wright batting second give the order the same deep look?
Wright would benefit of course if Reyes were to become aggressive and prompt more fastballs. And with Beltran coming off a special season, Wright probably would see better pitches if Castro were on first. But it goes deeper than that first layer of thinking.
Of course, Wright is more likely score from any base than Lo Duca. How likely is Lo Duca to score from second on a single? And most of his hits last season -- 118 of 163 -- were singles. But the catcher did score 80 runs in 124 games because of the extra-base prowess of Beltran and Carlos Delgado. How often would he score from first or second if he batted lower in the order? What pitches would he see with someone other than Beltran and Delgado batting behind him?
Moreover, batting second behind Reyes, Lo Duca has a better chance to drive in a run with a single than he has batting with anyone else on base. Wright is a doubles machine -- 82 in the last two seasons. But Lo Duca had 39 doubles last season.
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And what relative weight does Randolph put on what Lo Duca -- or any player, for that matter -- does well as opposed to what he doesn't do well?
The variables are almost overwhelming. Randolph said Alou is likely to play as much this year as Lo Duca did last year. Wright almost would have to bat fifth in the games Alou doesn't play; otherwise the protection for Delgado would be diminished.
Alou's presence is the genesis of all this, of course. His RBI acumen frees Wright to bat second. And the idea of the '07 version of Tony Perez batting sixth is troubling. But who can say? Before Xavier Nady was traded last season, he did significant damage in the sixth spot, because Wright was on base so much.
The concept of getting Wright to the plate more often certainly has merit, but the cost of that change has to be measured. That's what Randolph is doing these days.
With Ben Johnson and David Newhan swinging hot bats this spring, and all the talk of the two young outfielders the Mets have waiting in the wings, what role do the Mets envision for Lastings Milledge? Is there even going to be a roster spot for him? Might they try shopping him around if the pitching staff doesn't hold up early in the season?
-- Joe (address witheld)
The Mets are looking for pitching right now. To hear the scouts talk, they are more intent on bringing in a starting pitcher than they are saying publicly. Chan Ho Park has been mostly hittable. Jorge Sosa hits bats with remarkable regularity. Aaron Sele hasn't distinguished himself. And there is no indication yet that the club is certain it wants to begin the season with Mike Pelfrey in the rotation, despite his performance to date and impression he has made on Randolph.
The Mets have no player they are willing to deal who is as marketable and available as Milledge; marketable because he is talented, young, inexpensive and well short of salary arbitration eligibility; available because he has no defined role with the roster as it is now.
Milledge seemingly is more attuned than he was a year ago to what he needs to do to be a successful player and is more determined. His value has increased beyond what it was when last season ended.
There is no clear-cut role for him on the current team. If he were a left-handed hitter, he could play left field against tough right-handed pitching and right field when Green needed a day off. But those opportunities aren't available to him as a right-handed hitter. The Mets don't have a magic number of at-bats in mind for him; they don't say "OK, he can't get 250 at-bats with us, therefore he can't be on the big-league roster."
But it's hard to envision Milledge getting enough big-league at-bats so that his growth isn't stunted. That said, the Mets are very much in the business of winning this season, and if the team's well being is enhanced by Milledge's presence on the roster, his schooling will continue at the big-league level, even if he doesn't play regularly.
At this point, though, the Mets need is for pitching. General managers say Mark Buehrle of the White Sox could become available, because he is eligible for free agency after the '07 season and in position to score a lucrative contract.
I was wondering what the Mets' regular-season record has been when they had a "poor" Spring Training as opposed to when they have torn up the Grapefruit League. I know spring results are meaningless, but can a great Spring Training record bring on complacency come Opening Day, or is a little adversity in Florida something that might bring the team together and make them work harder? I'd appreciate your insight.
-- Sean S., Modesto, Calif.
The Mets teams that had won championships have been moderately successful in Spring Training -- 14-10 in 1969, 11-13 in 1973, 13-13 in 1986, 19-10 in 1988, 15-16 in 1999, 14-12 in 2000 and 16-14-1 last year. Their record in 1994 was 21-13. Elias Sports Bureau, with all its data common sense approach, has found no correlation between March record and summer success.
If a team is complacent on Opening Day -- for any reason, least of all success in exhibition games -- it ought to disband. Adversity in March has no bearing either. Remember, the late innings of exhibition games are manned by Minor League players. Believe little that you see in March.
Since the second-base position is pretty unstable for the future, would it be possible for the Mets to convert Fernando Martinez to second from the outfield? The Mets already have Carlos Gomez, Milledge and Beltran for the future. Anderson Hernandez still hasn't proven himself. Wouldn't this make sense?
-- Dylan N., Niskayuna, N.Y.
Fernandez, 18, is on the horizon, but the distant horizon. Chances are, the Mets will need a second baseman before he is Major League-ready. Even if he were on the threshold of the big leagues, there's little chance the Mets would change his position. He is an offensive player of considerable potential, not the kind of player to be exposed to the perils of second base.
With Sosa being less than impressive so far this Spring Training, and with Pelfrey making a strong push toward earning a spot in the rotation, why don't the Mets consider keeping Park for long relief and spot starting, should Pelfrey take the No. 5 spot in the rotation? Sosa has a tendency to giving up the long ball, which in later innings is not a good trait, while Park tends toward more ground-ball outs. Is there something in Park's makeup that would not make him effective in that role?
-- Don W., Kailua, Hawaii
Your scenario could be considered and implemented. Park probably could fill the role Darren Oliver filled last season. I agree with your assessment of Sosa and the peril his home-run tendency represents.
With Aaron Heilman's elbow tendinitis, Guillermo Mota on the shelf for 50 games and Duaner Sanchez likely not to be on the roster for Opening Day, what is the Mets' bullpen shaping up to look like, aside from Scott Schoeneweis and Billy Wagner? More specifically, with the brilliant spring Joe Smith has shown, what are the chances he would be on the Opening Day roster or an early callup?
-- Marc C., New York City
Heilman says he'll be fine and ready -- or at least willing to deal with the pain as he did last season. So he, Schoeneweis, Pedro Feliciano and Wagner are in place. Ambiorix Burgos, for all his velocity, is hitting a lot of bats; the same with Sosa. But Sosa seems likely to be in the 'pen either as the long man or the late man who finishes losses. Juan Padilla still has to show he is ready for regular duty.
Smith's chances improve almost every time Burgos or Sosa pitches. His sub-sidearm delivery gives the 'pen a different look, and with two left-handed setup man, he could find himself in St. Louis on April 1.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.