The U Files #16: The Case of the Bygone Shortstop

Many people believe in Karma. They say, "What comes around, goes around." Rey Ordonez may be rethinking his notion of karma after Sunday's trade. The unproductive shortstop who had called Mets fans "stupid" has been unceremoniously shipped off to a baseball hellhole called Tampa Bay. The team reeks, and an abandoned morgue draws more people than come to the home stadium. What's more, the Mets may have actually hauled back something decent for their garbage.

The deal as officially reported has Ordonez sent to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for two players to be named later. Early rumor had it that one of those players is outfielder Ben Grieve. Later Jayson Stark of ESPN reported that Russ Johnson would be traded, and not Grieve. Stark also reported that the Mets will pay $4.25 million of Ordonez' salary. Grieve, like Ordonez, has one year left on his contract. Ordonez is due $6.25 million in 2003. Grieve is due about $5 million (exact salary data not available). Johnson made $575,000 last year. Either way, the Mets save a little over $1 million.

General manager Steve Phillips has strongly hinted that phenom Jose Reyes will be brought up at some point in the 2003 season.

Ordonez has long been one of the worst hitters in baseball. In the league since 1996, he has consistently produced embarrassing numbers. His career OPS is a woeful .594, forty one percent lower than the league average over his career. He is one of the few to post a career On Base Percentage under .300 (.290) and last as long as he has. The most remarkable thing about his offense is the sole home run he hits in September.

Noted for his defensive prowess, his defense has tailed off in recent years. His Range Factor, at least 33 points over league average in his first four years, was just three points higher in 2002 and below average the two years prior.

Grieve has some offensive talent, but has been known for striking out too much and under performing. Still, he has a career OPS of .818, 13 percent better than league average. Though he has struck out over 100 times in every full season, he has maintained good walk rates and has posted a career OBP of .368. In his two best years in Oakland, he hit 27 and 28 home runs. In his worst full year, he hit 11, and in the other two he ht 17 and 18. His career slugging percentage is .450.

Russ Johnson has been the league as a utility infielder since 1997, producing a career OPS of .724. He's played more at third base than anywhere else in his career, but his defensive statistics at third base are not good. In 1123 career innings at third base, he has posted a fielding percentage of .956, a Range Factor of .261 - a truly awful number, and his zone rating is .768 (According to Stats Inc, he fields 76.8 percent of balls in his "zone" at third base). He likely is not Phillips' answer at third base, as he'd be the worst starting third baseman in the NL.

The deal is certain to improve offensive production for shortstop. Any of the candidates to keep the spot warm for Reyes - Jose Hernandez, Mark Loretta, etc, would be a significant upgrade over Ordonez. If Ben Grieve were included in the trade, then we'd have improved offensively in the outfield as well. The Mets should then aim to dump Roger Cedeno on some unsuspecting fool, if in fact the Grieve rumor is true. If not, then the belief we'd robbed the Rays of Grieve was nice while it lasted. At the very least, Phillips has once again displayed his remarkable talent for trading bad contracts, and this time did not get a worse contract in return.

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