05/25/2009 12:45 PM ET
Roster issues that need to be addressed
Mets would be unwise to stand pat at SS, catcher for now
By Howard Megdal / SNY.tv
How much longer are the Mets willing to give up defense at shortstop in favor of Ramon Martinez's bat? (AP)

A few years ago, on my way out of an Atlantic City gaming establishment, I had an extra dollar in my pocket. On a hunch, I played a dollar slot machine, and some bells and whistles later, had $45.

I didn't assume I had some magical gift of slots. I did not make future financial plans around my periodic ability to turn $1 into $45.

I took my gains and moved onto the White House Sub Shop for delicious sandwiches.

So it is with the Mets. The glow of Saturday night's epic victory over the Boston Red Sox, keyed by Omir Santos and his improbable two-run home run, has led some observers to suggest or even advocate keeping Santos, while dumping Ramon Castro once the ever-injured Brian Schneider returns from the disabled list, an event that seems to be drawing somewhat closer.

Let me put this bluntly: This would be making a roster move that ignores both the short-term evidence and nine years of data for both Santos and Castro. To paraphrase C. Montgomery Burns, "It's what dumb general managers do to lose ballgames."

Don't get me wrong: Omir Santos is a lovely story. As a journalist, having Santos succeed after a nine-year career in the minor leagues with a .650 OPS would be tremendously useful from a writing perspective.

But the number of players who post a .650 OPS in 2429 minor-league plate appearances, then magically become .750 OPS hitters in the major leagues ... well, it pretty much doesn't happen. It is rare enough that you don't bet on it, any more than you bet on a dollar slot machine paying out $45 again and again.

You are happy when it happens, of course. Then you move on.

What you don't do under any circumstances is cut loose a player like Ramon Castro, who has a career major-league OPS of .728-or 78 points higher than Santos's career minor-league mark-who is also producing for you.

While Omir Santos has been posting that .750 OPS, Ramon Castro has been hitting for a... .752 OPS. And if a catcher with a .750 OPS is what the Mets want, Castro more than fits the bill-his OPS in 2008? .753. In 2007? .887. In 2005? .756. Only in 2006 did it slip below .750... all the way to .714.

Which, it bears repeating, is still 64 points of OPS higher than Omir Santos's career minor-league mark.

How seriously should we take Omir Santos's 64 at-bats of .750 OPS production? About as seriously as Argenis Reyes's 43 at-bats of .706 OPS production last season. As seriously as Rey Ordonez's 117 at-bats of .815 OPS production in 2003. As seriously as Mario Mendoza's 83 at-bats to start the 1980 season, when he posted a .785 OPS.

It's still called the Mendoza Line for a reason.

So what else could it be? Is it defense? No, Ramon Castro has thrown out 7 of 15 would-be basestealers, Omir Santos 5 of 15. Opponents hit .264 when Castro catches, .262 when Santos catches-a tiny difference almost wholly based on Sunday's 12-5 loss, when Castro caught-and also homered and doubled, incidentally.

But my favorite part of this insanity is that the Mets have the option to keep both. Send Omir Santos down to Triple-A when Brian Schneider returns, and the Mets have an insurance policy. Release Ramon Castro when Brian Schneider returns, and the Mets are a Schneider injury away from a catching situation of Omir Santos or Bust.

If we've learned anything about Brian Schneider during his time with the Mets, it is that 1) he will struggle offensively, and 2) he will get injured.

Now, the Mets can either take their fortunate at-bats from Omir Santos and file him away as a solid, but likely unspectacular insurance policy when Schneider returns, or decide to bet much of the 2009 season on a poor minor league hitter because he has a short swing.

Bazooka Joe comics are short. For artistic merit, you'd still be wise going with Anna Karenina.

Unfortunately, the current problem with the Mets' roster leaves little reason for optimism that the choice will be made in favor of organizational depth.

The Mets, as presently constructed, don't have someone who can play shortstop. You've probably noticed.

This is inexcusable. I don't blame the Mets for getting into this mess-what were the odds that Jose Reyes, who has been durable for the better part of five years, would go down at the same time as the best Mets insurance policy for Reyes, Alex Cora, also got hurt?

But that happened more than a week ago. And in the eight days since, the Mets have received ample evidence that Ramon Martinez can't play shortstop. This is no fault of his: He hasn't played more than 15 games at shortstop since 2004, he's 36, he's recently recovered from a sports hernia -- but these are all good reasons for a major league team not to employ him as everyday shortstop.

The question is this: once Martinez made his debut as starting shortstop last Monday night in Los Angeles, and showed beyond a doubt that he was incapable of handling the position, where was the trade for a good-field, no-hit band-aid? The minor leagues are littered with shortstops who field their position well, but don't hit well enough to stick in the major leagues. How hard could it have been to trade a player to be named later, a non-prospect, a few hundred dollars, even future considerations for one of these players?

Even if, most optimistically, Jose Reyes returns tomorrow and is fully healthy, Alex Cora is still going to miss a good chunk of the season. That means, should anything happen to Reyes in any game, the Mets will continue to give away tons of defense at the most important defensive position, and for what -- the bat of Ramon Martinez?

If choosing Omir Santos over Ramon Castro is betting on unsustainable good luck, betting on Ramon Martinez over someone competent at shortstop is betting against very sustainable bad luck.

If your house burned down twice in a week, you'd make sure you had fire insurance, right? Ramon Martinez at shortstop is the house burning down. And right now, what passes for fire insurance appears to be Fernando Tatis.

The Mets need a stopgap shortstop. If they really wanted to lock in their gains, they could get a shortstop in exchange for a player whose trade value will never be higher: Omir Santos.

Howard Megdal is a contributor to SNY.tv, The New York Observer and Rotoworld.com. His book, The Baseball Talmud, is available now.
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