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12 | September | 2007 | Mets Today
Archive: September 12th, 2007

The Marcos Carvajal Mystery

Marcos Carvajal pitching for the Mets in spring trainingAt the beginning of spring training — February 16th, to be exact — the Mets quietly claimed righthanded pitcher Marcos Carvajal off waivers from the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Steve Schmoll was dropped from the 40-man to make room for the 23-year-old fireballer.

Carvajal has been a nomad since signing his first pro contract with the Dodgers in 2002, getting traded four times and snapped up in the Rule 5 draft once before being waived away by the Rays. In addition to Tampa Bay, Los Angeles, and the Mets, he’s also been property of the Brewers, Mariners, and Rockies. In all that time, he’s spent one year in the Majors — 2005. As a 20-year-old for Colorado, he pitched in 39 games (all relief), posted an 0-2 record with a 5.09 ERA and 47 strikeouts in 53 innings. He also had one hit, a two-run single.

Sandwiched around 2005 were promising seasons in the minors, riding a fastball that is consistently in the mid-90s and nears triple-digits. As with most young flamethrowers, his control has been an issue; he’s walked 177 batters in 346 minor league innings.

The Mets assigned him to the AA Binghamton starting rotation to get lots of innings, hoping the volume would help him learn to command his electric stuff. The results were mixed, and less than impressive: 119 innings, 120 hits (including 13 homers), 63 walks, 92 strikeouts, and a 5.22 ERA. Those numbers hardly scream dominance, but you have to take into consideration the fact that he hadn’t started a pro game since age 17. Further, he’d never thrown more than 72 innings in a season — which explained his shift back to the bullpen in mid-August. By pulling him out of the rotation at the end of the year, it would appear that the Mets organization was showing some concern, and offering protection to the young enigma.

However, on September 7th, to make room for Carlos Gomez on the 40-man roster (Gomez was coming off the 60-day DL), the Mets DFA’d Carvajal. A curious move, as 23-year-olds who can touch 100 MPH don’t grow on trees, and the Mets just lost one of those — Ambiorix Burgos — to Tommy John surgery. Carvajal seemed pegged to be a pet project of Rick Peterson for 2008 — similar to what was done with Jorge Julio in ’06 and with Burgos earlier this year. With his heat, and the fact he was already on the 40-man, there was at least a hint of speculation he might come up in September to see what his stuff looked like first-hand, against MLB hitters.

Instead, the Mets have ten days to waive, trade, or release Carvajal. My guess is that they’re banking on him clearing waivers, and re-signing him as spring training invite over the winter. However, looking at the players currently on the Mets’ 40-man, the move makes little sense.

For example, Brian Lawrence is still on the 40-man. Please re-read that last sentence so it sinks in. And as you noticed in Tuesday night’s game, Aaron Sele is also still on the team. Now, maybe I’m nuts, but I’d much rather control the rights to a 23-year-old who throws 95 — even one with the mediocre numbers Carvajal put up — than either of the equally useless Lawrence or Sele. Further, the Mets still have both Damion Easley and Jose Valentin on the 15-day DL — yet it’s been announced that Valentin’s season is finished and Easley’s return is less than likely. Even if either of them are able to make it back by October, would they have any value to the postseason squad? Are you going to drop Marlon Anderson or Ruben Gotay to make room for either of these guys — especially with them being rusty and limping? Probably not.

Obviously, the Mets know their players better than we do. Maybe Carvajal has an injury that no one knows about, or perhaps his attitude is less than stellar. It could simply be that the Mets’ organization doesn’t see the eternal enigma having the aptitude to develop beyond his current skill level. From the outside, though, the move is a mystery.

Let’s turn back the clock to 1994, when the Yankees had a 24-year-old flamethrowing farmhand who couldn’t seem to get past AAA. He had a 5.81 ERA in 6 starts with Columbus, and sported a 5.51 ERA with the Yankees in 19 games (10 starts) in 1995. They moved the kid to the bullpen late in ’95, and he became the setup man for John Wetteland in 1996. I think you know his name.

Of course for every Mariano Rivera story, there is a Jorge Julio, Matt Lindstrom, and Henry Owens. But isn’t it worth the price of a Brian Lawrence or Aaron Sele to see how the story turns out?

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No. 13: Edgardo Alfonzo

Edgardo Alfonzo as a New York MetHopefully you do not suffer from triskaidekaphobia, because our focus today is on 13 — the uniform number worn by one of the all-time great Mets, Edgardo Alfonzo. (Oh, and look at that … the Mets’s magic number is ALSO #13 … huh.)

OK, Fonzie’s greatness was brief — a six-year run from 1997-2002 — and it wasn’t THAT great when you look at his numbers during that span. But anyone who was a Mets fan at that time would quickly point to Alfonzo as the team’s quiet leader and most valuable player.

His blue-collar approach to the game and clutch hitting endeared him to fans and commanded the respect of this peers. Managers around the NL routinely mentioned Alfonzo as one of the players they’d least like to see at-bat at the end of a tight ballgame, and he was one-fourth of “The Best Infield Ever” — a Sports Illustrated cover story.

Further, Fonzie’s team-first attitude could not be matched. Signed as a shortstop, and playing most of his short minor league career there, Alfonzo happily shifted to fill a need at second base in his rookie year (1996) with Rey Ordonez already entrenched at his position. The next year, the Mets imported Carlos Baerga to play second, and asked Edgardo to move to third. Fonzie flourished at the hot corner, batting .315 and developing quickly with the glove. He had another strong year in 1998, and his defense had improved to the point that there were whispers about him being a Gold Glove candidate. In 1999, however, the Mets brought in Robin Ventura to play third, and Alfonzo gladly moved back to second. It turned out to be a nearly magical year for the Mets, who captured the wild card and advanced to the NLCS behind the bats of Ventura, Mike Piazza, John Olerud, and Alfonzo, who had a breakout season — 28 HRs, 108 RBI, and a .304 batting average. It should be noted that those 108 RBI came with Alfonzo batting second in the lineup almost exclusively — quite a feat for someone at the top of the order.

To being the 21st century, Alfonzo had perhaps the best season of his career, batting .324 with 24 HRs and 94 RBI, leading the Mets to a World Series appearance against the Yankees. In 2001, however, he slumped badly, suffering from back problems, and hit only .243. Teammate Ventura also had a down year (his second in a row), and in the offseason GM Steve Phillips pulled off what at the time appeared to be a miraculous trade, but would eventually go down as one of the biggest busts in Mets history — the deal for Roberto Alomar. Since Alomar was coming off a career year and was a perennial Gold Glover (some say the best second baseman of all-time), Fonzie was asked to shift again, back to third base. As with the previous moves, Alfonzo had no quibble, and was simply happy to have a player of Alomar’s caliber joining the club. Though Alomar had a nightmare of a year, Alfonzo returned to form, batting .308 — though with diminished power due to his chronic back issues. After the season, he was stunned to find out that the Mets were not interested in bringing him back, and allowed him to test the free-agent market. Fonzie sadly signed with San Francisco — the one move he never wanted to make.

As it turned out, the Mets were correct in their assessment, as Alfonzo’s career took a nosedive. At age 34, he’s still trying to make a comeback, having played this past summer with the independent Long Island Ducks. When asked in July if he might like to return to MLB as a Met, he replied,

“I think that would be the best thing to happen to me,” Alfonzo said. “I always wanted to return as a Met. I think I’ve been a Met all my life. That would make my life happy, getting one more chance to return to the organization where I started, with my regular team.” (credit: Jim Hague, The Hudson Reporter)

We’re all pulling for you, Fonzie!

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