Answering Bud Abbott
Surely you remember the old Abbott and Costello routine: “Who’s on First?”
With Opening Day less than two weeks away, the Mets have Ike Davis on first, are asking what’s on second, and I don’t know about third base — and it’s no joke.
The dreaded and mysterious injury of the intercostal has befallen both Daniel Murphy and David Wright, creating gaping holes at both positions. For the Mets to have any chance at a winning season — meaning, winning at least 82 games — Wright has to play nearly every day and hit like he did last year, and Murphy needs to hit like he did in 2011, while playing as often as he did in 2012.
During the WBC, Wright was hitting like he did last year. However, that’s not helpful if he’s on the DL. We have no idea how long he’ll be disabled, and the Mets’ description of his injury as a “moderate” strain does not imbue optimism. It should be noted that intercostal strains are graded as “Grade 1″ (mild), “Grade 2″ (moderate), or “Grade 3″ (severe — a muscle tear). By the Mets’ description, we’ll assume the injury is “Grade 2,” which means Wright will be out a minimum of three weeks, though he could be out of action for up to five or more.
Meanwhile, Murphy has already been out a month, and still isn’t ready to take five at-bats against MLB pitchers.
So what is on second? Could this be Jordany Valdespin‘s “Wally Pipp” moment? The swaggering 25-year-old has been swinging a hot stick in the spring, though he hasn’t been playing much second base. Still, that’s his natural position, so we’ll assume he’ll be there on Opening Day if Murphy isn’t ready.
As for third base, like Lou Costello, I don’t know. It was Justin Turner for about five minutes, but after rolling his ankle the position is wide open. One would think that Zach Lutz would be next in line, and if he’s not, he might want to consider a career change. Lutz has shown the ability to hit for average and power in the minors, as well as a penchant for getting on base. He hasn’t bust through to the bigs yet for three reasons: David Wright, Ike Davis, and injuries. Now 26 and turning 27 in June, if Lutz doesn’t take advantage of this opportunity, he’ll almost certainly be stamped with the “AAAA” label.
After Lutz, things get murky. Technically, the “backup to the backup” would be Brandon Hicks, he of the .133 AVG through 98 MLB plate appearances. Originally a shortstop, Hicks has a strong arm and a history of being solid defensively. He’s flashed homerun power on and off in the minors, but overall has been inconsistent at the plate, with high strikeout totals.
Next in line is Brian Bixler, but, I don’t see the 30-year-old journeyman filling in at 3B. Bixler is not on the 40-man roster, while Lutz and Hicks are, and Bixler doesn’t have the upside of the other two. Though, he could sneak onto the 25-man roster as a utility man.
Finally, there is Wilmer Flores, who spent all spring playing second base. Would the Mets suddenly shift him back to the hot corner? I’m thinking no, if the Mets are committed to making Flores a second baseman. Eventually, Wright will be back, and will remain at third base for the next eight years. Which brings up a new question: if Flores will be playing 2B — presumably in Las Vegas — then what are the Mets doing with Reese Havens? The former first-round pick has been riddled with injuries and has yet to play as many as 100 games in a season. In the few appearances he made in spring training games before being reassigned to minor league camp, Havens lacked confidence and looked overmatched. Now 26 years old, time is running out quickly for the lefthanded-hitting infielder. Will he return to AA Binghamton to start the year, while Flores mans 2B in Vegas? Does Wright’s injury change anything for Havens? For example, might the Mets try Havens at 3B while Flores learns 2B and Lutz fills in for Wright? And in doing so, might Havens be groomed to be a “super sub”? Maybe the only way to keep him on the field for the length of a season is to play him three times a week.
But, we’re getting off track. Back to the questions at hand: what’s on second? Does anyone know who’s on third? Answer in the comments.