Archive: July 18th, 2006

Fonzie Back; Lima Won’t Leave

While nobody was looking, the Mets signed free-agent Edgardo Alfonzo to a minor league contract and assigned him to Norfolk.

Fonzie’s return comes after being dumped by three teams in the past two years; after three so-so season with the Giants, he was shipped to the Angels for Steve Finley, but was released after batting .135 in 50 at-bats, then picked up and released by the Blue Jays after just 37 at-bats.

The Jays were — and still are — desperate to upgrade their middle infield production, and Fonzie seemed like a worthwhile, cheap gamble. But after a dozen games, the Jays figured they were better off with Aaron Hill at 2B.

How about the Mets? Can Fonzie be the answer? What can Alfonzo do for the Mets that he couldn’t for two other teams that needed a second sackman?

Actually, the question may be more directed to how and why Alfonzo’s stock has dropped so low so quickly. A few whispers mention steroids, since he had 25-HR campaigns in ’99 and ’00 but never again came close to those numbers. More likely, the power loss was due to back problems, which were the main reason the Mets let him leave for the West Coast after the ’02 season. There is also the question of his age; his Venezuelan birthdate is listed as 1973, but some wonder if his real DOB was in the 1960s. His age, his injuries, and a 2-HR, 43-RBI campaign in 2005 forced the Giants to send him packing, and he has been godawful in 2006.

However, there may be some light at the end of the tunnel. It was only two years ago that he batted .289 and drove in 77 runs — not bad for a second baseman. Unfortunately for Alfonzo, those are mediocre numbers for a third baseman, which was his primary position that year. Had he been at 2B, he might very well still be considered a productive player. His poor production last year could be partially attributed to his difficulty in transitioning from an everday player to a bench guy. And looking closer, his 2005 wasn’t really THAT bad … he did hit .277.

As for 2006, I’m going to go out on a limb and say his terrible performance was due mainly to the switch to the AL. Many, many ballplayers have had a major problem switching leagues at first, especially those who spent their entire careers in the other league. Playing in the same league, you learn the parks and the tendencies of the pitchers and catchers, and you apply that education to your advantage when hitting. Alfonzo had not only a new league with new pitchers to adjust to, but also had to adjust to a new team, new manager, and new role (bench).

Let’s also throw something else out there: Jose Valentin. On May 12th, Valentin was batting .167. I was one of many people calling for his head, wondering why in the world the Mets were keeping such a lousy, over-the-hill, useless spare part on the roster, especially with guys like Jeff Keppinger chomping at the bit in AAA. However, the Stache turned it around on May 13th, and is proving to be a vital cog in the Mets machine. Who’s to say that Edgardo Alfonzo — if given the opportunity by the Angels or Blue Jays — wouldn’t have turned himself around?

The cost to bring back Fonzie was next to nothing, the only negative being that he likely will take at-bats away from Keppinger and Anderson Hernandez. There are a few factors playing in his favor. First, if he is truly 32, he may not yet be washed up. Secondly, he’s a veteran with playoff and World Series experience; at one point some opposing managers considered him the best overall player in the NL. If not the most talented, he’s always been known as a very smart ballplayer. And as Mets fans will remember, he was also a clutch hitter, routinely getting big hits late in games. Finally, over his career, Alfonzo has put up better numbers after the All-Star break.

Though Fonzie is a shell of what made him the Mets’ 40th-anniversary team all-time second baseman, he just might be effective enough to platoon with Jose Valentin at 2B and provide some big hits. Granted, Chris Woodward has done a great job as the Mets’ “other” second baseman as well as Mr. Everything, but it would be nice to see Fonzie come back and help the Mets to another playoff berth.

Meanwhile, another move that snuck under the radar was Jose Lima’s assignment to AAA Norfolk (again). This is what, the third time he’s been DFA’d? He — and more frightening, the Mets’ brass — still believes he can pitch at the ML level. This time, though, he’s going to work on a split-finger fastball. Unless he can learn a Bruce Sutter-like splitter in two weeks, I’d be very surprised to see LimaTime reappear on the Mets’ roster. Of course, dumber things have happened …

Speaking of smarter things, Mike Pelfrey throws tonight. How great would it be if he can settle down, spot his fastball, and shut down the formidable Cincinnati lineup? I’m having visions of Tom Seaver, circa 1967 …

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