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2005 Infield

The sole true strength of our team is the left side of our infield. By Hardball Times' Win Shares measures, Melvin Mora and Miguel Tejada were among the very best left sides in baseball in 2004:

  1. Adrian Beltre and Cesar Izturis, 62
  2. Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter, 56
  3. Melvin Mora and Miguel Tejada, 55
  4. Scott Rolen and Edgar Renteria, 55
  5. Hank Blalock and Michael Young, 50

Does this say more than just saying, "These guys we have are really freaking good"? Probably not, but lists are fun. Of those teams, three of the five made the playoffs, and the Rangers had 89 wins in a tough division. Only our boys played for a club with a losing record.

Let's just go around in numeric positional order.

First Base
Rafael Palmeiro returns at age 40 after a moderately productive first season back with the O's in 2004. Palmeiro came alive in September, hitting .318/.396/.706 with nine homers and 23 RBI. Raffy's power was nowhere to be found the rest of the season, and he was absolutely horrible in June and July. I'm not really one to get all worked up about these things, but the fact is Palmeiro's an old ballplayer that had one outstanding month and three that had their uses mixed with two that stunk like crazy. He slugged over .500 in just that one month, and only in April (.486) did he slug over .418 otherwise.

Also troubling is his L/R split, which was putrid:

v. RHP: .286/.399/.491, 18 HR (391 AB)
v. LHP: .189/.254/.302, 5 HR (159 AB)

Overall in his career, of course, this doesn't reflect to near the same split. He has a career line of .280/.346/.492 against lefties, which while not great, is perfectly playable. But with a 40 year old player, I'm going to go ahead and take the most recent numbers versus those made pretty by the prime years of a Hall of Fame hitter. Raffy can still be a pretty good hitter, but he's clearly at the point where he needs a platoon, not splitting time at 1B and DH with Jay Gibbons, both expected to play every day.

Would you like another split that makes bringing Palmeiro back in this role look like a bad idea? OK:

Home: .240/.333/.408, 12 HR (292 AB)
Road: .279/.387/.469, 11 HR (258 AB)

Gibbons struggled with injury last season, limited to 346 at-bats in 97 games, and hit an awful .246/.303/.379 while healthy. Since he perhaps never played at 100%, we can try not to hold that against him. But Gibbons' two full years before were nothing to get worked up over, either for a right fielder or a first baseman. Gibbons needs to hit .270+ like he did in 2003 to really be a positive force in a lineup, or up his power back to 2002 levels (28 HR in 490 AB, .482 SLG). Neither is a sure bet or anything.

At best, Gibbons could be expected to hit .270/.330/.490 most likely. The good (?) news is that Gibbons is equally mediocre against both lefty, but his career .266/.307/.411 line against lefties, while well ahead of Raffy's abysmal '04, is hardly the solution to that problem.

Second Base
Oh Brian Roberts, you scrap-iron scrapping scrapper, we do love you so. This speeding speedster -- a delightfully short player! -- rapped out 50 doubles last season, a franchise record held previously at 47 by Cal Ripken, unless you want to consider Beau Bell's 51 doubles for the '37 Browns, which you probably should. I mean, if we're going to go around claiming Heinie Manush and George Sisler to any extent, we've got to give credit to Beau Bell's doubles, right?

Roberts is a wildcard to me. He's a switch-hitter who shouldn't be, splitting .299/.363/.404 against righties and .215/.301/.315 against lefties, and that year of his was fluky. I'm trying to be realistic and not be a guy overrating his team's players. Do I like Brian Roberts? Hell, I love Brian Roberts. I think he's a good guy and an exciting ballplayer. But I'm not going to delude myself into thinking we've got the replacement for Roberto Alomar finally. He stole bases at a 71% rate last year (29/41), which is not exceptional, but one figures fifteen-to-twenty of those doubles were singles instead, which is probably realistic from here on out, he could steal 40+ bases a year with relative success.

He's an OK glove at second base. He IS a hustler. He's a nice guy. I like Brian Roberts. But I'm not crazy about him.

Third Base
Isn't it a hell of a thing when you have a brilliant day, and you don't even know you're having it?

June 28, 2000: Traded by the New York Mets with Pat Gorman, Lesli Brea and Mike Kinkade to the Baltimore Orioles for Mike Bordick.

This was a day we as Orioles fans can truly be proud of. If Mora never played another game, we won that deal. Despite Brea, Kinkade and Gorman being nothing, we won that deal. Even though we brought Mike Bordick back for two offensively lame, injury-plagued Mike Bordick seasons (featuring his sweet glove!), we won that deal.

And why? Because in 2004, Melvin Mora was the best hitter on the team. In 2003, Melvin Mora -- all 96 games worth of him -- was easily the best hitter on our team. In 2002, he was one of the only players on the team that could hit at all.

All this for that one year Mike Bordick could hit? Thanks, Mets.

But Mora is 33 now, no spring chicken. The truth is he probably only has a few years left, and I think it's unlikely he'll match the numbers he put up last season. .340/.419/.562 is a monster year for just about anyone.

Defensively I think Mora is underrated. Not a Gold Glover by any means, but of his three thousand and six errors last season, about two thousand, nine hundred and ninety-four of them came (1) while he was still learning to field the position, and (2) while he was still wearing an outfielder's glove. Melvin settled down.

Want some disturbing Melvin Mora splits? Too bad, there aren't any. Melvin Mora is the man. Well, he does lose almost 300 points of OPS hitting on turf.

Shortstop
Is Miguel Tejada really worth the money he makes? Compare him to Derek Jeter's ridiculous contract, and it's a steal. Would the Yankees gladly take Tejada at Jeter's salary over Jeter at Tejada's? I don't know - would you? I love Tejada and I hate Jeter, but I can't say as though that would really be a good idea.

What's my point? Well, Miguel Tejada makes $12 million a year. This is for a guy who's a pretty fair defensive shortstop (good Range Factor but makes his share of errors), has 40-homer power, drives in the runs to make the salary look good, and can flat-out hit. He's also still in his prime years, and is said to be a good clubhouse guy.

He still has very little patience, which has never developed and isn't going to. So is his salary justified? Sure, I guess so. Tejada didn't really improve greatly moving from the pitcher-friendly 2003 Oakland Coliseum to Camden Yards, but overall 2004 was his best offensive season, better than his MVP year in '02 when the Coliseum played as a park very similar to that of his 2004 home. His '02 OPS+ was 122, his '04 was 126. For comparison's sake, Melvin Mora's last year was 149. Melvin Mora made $2.3 million last year, for whatever that's worth. It's worth more than Mike Bordick, I know that.

He set career highs in BA, OBP, SLG, total bases and RBI, and tied his career highs in homers. He hit 40 doubles and scored 107 runs. He was a damn good player. He will be for a while longer.

If you're wondering why I was wondering if Tejada is worth the money he's being paid, it was just so I could stretch this a little more than saying, "Hey, Tejada's a good ballplayer, ain't he?"

Bench?
Well, there's David Newhan, who can play 3B and may see time at 2B or 1B, and will definitely see some in the OF and at DH. Newhan was a useful hitter last season that got us through a couple of injuries here and there, but at the same if you want to put any stock into what a 31-year old utility man hit, then you're a braver fan than I.

BJ Surhoff, The Older Newhan, is around to spell at 1B. Ol' Sourpuss Surhoff and Newhan are both superior to Palmeiro/Gibbons hitting against lefties (both bat left-handed), and either could have a decent use giving Raffy the day off when facing a southpaw.

Then there's the eleven million guys we brought to spring training to win the utility infielder's job, notably Stynes, Gomez and Wilson. The best player among them is Gomez, he can play every IF position adequately and hits more than enough for a UT IF. Stynes is done for the year after shattering his leg. So who will we likely see too much of? Enrique Wilson. I think I've said enough about how bad of a player Enrique Wilson is, so I'll back off. But I will say this - Newhan would have to be one horrible defensive liability of a possible second baseman to make carrying Enrique Wilson around at all useful. And it would still be pretty useless, probably. All I'm saying in this plea is that Wilson is a really shitty baseball player. I expect I will keep it up until I'm sure he's no longer on the team. What I'm saying is, get ready for a full season of Enrique Wilson bashing.

You'd like to say, "Well, he beats Luis Lopez!" But does he? Does he really? Yeah, he does. But that's not the kind of support this movement needs.

Overall
First base I would rate a C+, as there's too much riding on injury-recovering Gibbons (who isn't that great to begin with) and old man Palmeiro. Second base I'd throw a cautious B-, which could easily be a B. Third base and shortstop, until proven otherwise, are solid As. The bench is a mystery as to how it will be used, but it's not particularly deep. This should, combined with Javy Lopez and a hopefully better outfield, give us a hell of a good offensive team. We're going to score runs barring any unforseen slumps or injuries. B

Next time out, we'll get to the group that needs to stop the other teams from scoring more runs than us.