The Second Base Dilemma (Part 3 – The Final Four +2)

Chin-lung Hu

Chin-lung Hu: Perhaps Your 2012 New York Mets Starting Shortstop?

At the end of my previous post in this series, I left things off with four remaining contenders for the Mets starting second base position. Those final four are:

  • Daniel Murphy
  • Brad Emaus
  • Chin-lung Hu
  • Justin Turner

Before I go into more eliminations, I’d like to briefly bring up two other options – ones I dismissed out-of-hand, but wanted to revisit.

#X – Willie Harris

Willie Harris was picked up by the Mets in the 2010-2011 offseason to serve as a left-handed bat off of the bench, and a utility player. Harris can play 7 positions on the diamond (he’s never played catcher or first base), but his original home was second base. Willie’s had some spot time at second in ’08 and ’09 with the Nationals, but the brunt of his time at the pivot came with the White Sox in ’04 and ’05. The early returns on Harris’s ability to play second base are not good – as he was below-average defensively in his small sample size with Washington.

While Harris is available to deliver a little pop (10 HR in 262 PA last season), he’s not a good hitter – as evidenced by his wOBA of .294 last season – not far from his career .308 number. Not only that – Harris’s main benefit is his flexibility and skill at playing so many positions on the diamond. Not a reasonable candidate for a starting second baseman, at least in my mind.

#X – Reese Havens

I like Reese Havens as a ballplayer. Solid enough defender in the middle infield, and more than enough pop for second base. Unfortunately, Reese can’t stay healthy, and has never thrived above AA. Another year, please. But this could be his spot to command in ’12.

So, if you had any questions as to why I left these two players off the list of potential candidates for the position, now you know. But now, it’s time to eliminate one of our final four. And in my opinion, this is the last of the “easy” decisions that can be made.

#4 – Chin-lung Hu

Chin-lung Hu came over from the Dodgers in an offseason trade, and I think it was a smart one for the Mets. Although we gave up a left-handed arm that could be useful (Mike Antonini), Hu is a real-life major league regular. Hu has always been a solid hitter in the minors, notching wOBAs of .313 (’08), .326 (’09), and .345 (’10) playing for the Dodgers’ AAA affiliates. The only problem is that Hu has never been able to replicate his AAA success at the major league level. In cups of coffee with LA in ’08 and ’10, Hu couldn’t hit worth a lick, though that’s only about 150 plate appearances to work with. Also, Hu’s never shown any real power at the plate – he’s a strict singles hitter with a touch of speed.

But Hu’s always been known for solid defense. Just watching him play in today’s spring training game (versus Houston), I got a good look at his glovework at short, and there’s no question that he can transfer to playing second, especially given the time he put in there for the ’08 Dodgers. Hu is a gifted, young-ish (27 on Opening Day) player with years of cheap team control left – so why shouldn’t he be the Opening Day second baseman?

Because Hu should be the utility middle-infielder instead. And here’s why: Hu is the ideal backup middle infielder – able to come in as a defensive replacement on two positions (2B and SS), while still able to make enough contact to hold a spot on a major league roster. There’s probably not much upside left in the Taiwanese import, but there’s enough known about Hu to be able to count on him if the starter or Jose Reyes needs to take a day off or gets banged up. And given Reyes’s injury history – this might be a necessary weapon to have on the bench.

In addition, the other three options all probably have more offensive upside compared to Hu. If everything breaks right for Hu, he’d be a .300-hitting, .330 OBP, no-slugging second baseman. And while that’s fine, some of the Mets other options might be better at the dish. With Hu being out of minor league options, there’s no question that he should make the major league roster – but unless he finds consistency in his stroke, he’s best served as a backup shortstop and a reserve option at second.

So now we’re left with three remaining candidates for the second base job:

  • Daniel Murphy
  • Brad Emaus
  • Justin Turner

In the next post, I’ll eliminate one of these two from consideration. And it may not be the one you’re expecting.

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Filed under Chin-lung Hu, Reese Havens, Willie Harris

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