The U Files # 28: Fonzie, Nori and Wiggy, Oh My!

The subject of this article isn't nearly so cheerful as the title. In fact, this is about the position the Mets have transmogrified from a strength into a hole. The Mets third baseman in 2002 was Edgardo Alfonzo. The Mets had other plans when beloved lifetime Met Fonzie became a free agent. They'd hoped to ink Japanese slugger Norihiro Nakamura to replace the Fonz, but in a confounding plot twist Nakamura left the Mets in the lurch, spurning them to stay in the Land of the Rising Sun.

Since then, the Mets have been Wigging out over the third base void.

Edgardo Alfonzo was once widely regarded as one of the best players not to do anything flashy. Then, a back condition left him to trudge through the muck in 2001. A cursory peek at his 2002 stat line reveals that he apparently hadn't regained the power stroke that produced two consecutive 40 double seasons. One scouting report I read proclaims that Fonzie will need to rebound from two off years to discredit his critics.

A stathead's glance at the stats reveals a different story. Heyyyyy! It seems Fonzie was not only the coolest third baseman in baseball, but he led all NL hot sackers in OPS. He hit .308 and got on base 39.1 percent of the time, leaving Scott Rolen and others to bite his dust as he took his walks. And, for all his ballyhooed lack of power, he outslugged Mo Vaughn. Edgardo slugged .459, while Maurice came in at a disappointing .456.

It boggles the informed mind that the Mets let Fonzie go without offering arbitration. The "worst" that could have happened is, the Mets wind up with 2002's best hitting third baseman at a higher price tag. Were Fonzie to have signed with the Giants anyway, the Mets would now be the proud owners of San Fransisco's first round pick. However, it makes perfect sense that the Mets would go after Nori (or is it Naka?). If you translate his stats from Japan into MLB, he comes out seeming the best hitting option after Fonzie. These projections have been on target with Japanese batters Ichiro Suzuki and Tsuyoshi Shinjo. Reasonable estimates of Nori's hitting prowess have him knocking around NL pitching to the tune of a low .800's OPS.

Naka reciprocated the Mets interest in him. Reports had it that he and the Mets had agreed on the structure of a contract. Nobody seems to have figured out how Nori came out the next day accusing the Mets of being dishonorable and the Mets walked away with Cliff Floyd instead. What we do know is that the Mets have entered Spring Training with the leading candidate to nab the third base job being Ty Wigginton. Other options include Russ Johnson and Jay Bell.

Free agents Bill Mueller and Jose Hernandez were available to the Mets to fill in the void. Mueller, an on base artist, signed with the Red Sox. Hernandez signed on with the Rockies. The Mets have explored a trade for Boston's Shea Hillenbrand, who's best talent is his remarkable inability to take a walk. The Mets somehow never worked up the verve to make a move.

Many have speculated about what proportion of thunder lies in Wigginton's bat, however all we know for sure is he'll be Wigging out on a regular basis (I promise that's the last lame Wiggy joke). People have pointed to his 2002 ML stats, when he got Wiggy with it (so I lied) to the tune of an .879 OPS. Others point out that the bashing took place in a smashing 116 at bats. I will point out that his performance was well over what his minor league stats project to.

Wiggy was never regarded as a Biggy prospect. His seemingly decent minor league stats belie the fact he was old for every league he played in. This is a prospect no-no. In contrast, Jose Reyes inspires such a hubbub because he's put up his real-nice-but-not-eye-popping stats while young for every league he's played in.

For his career in the minors, Wiggy has posted a .339 OBP and a .451 SLG while facing less advanced competition. At triple A his stats are .348/.409 in 643 AB. As triple A has been found to be .91 times as difficult as the major leagues, multiplying his stats by .91 produces a .316 OBP and a .372 SLG. Regression to the mean tends to push his projection up a bit from the depths of the abyss. One projection I've seen for Wiggy is for a .324 OBP and a .413 SLG. Another is for .318/.387.

Those projections come from stat geeks who post on the NYFansonly Mets forum, and were arrived at through analytical methods. What is clear is that third base will be a position of weakness. Indeed, Wiggy is certainly a bad defender, so he'd have to be a fair bit above average offensively just to be an average third baseman.

The Mets acquired Russ Johnson from Tampa Bay in the Rey Ordonez dump. He's just about what you'd expect to get back in exchange for the load of crap we gave up. A career bench warmer, his best offensive skill is getting on base. Yet, his career OBP is just .349. His career SLG is a far-from-Bondsian .375. He's a guy that can only aspire to post Wiggy's projected stats if he somehow finds his way into the lineup.

Jay Bell signed a minor league deal with the Mets just as Spring Training was getting under way. A career starting major league player and an about average bat for his career, he's nearing the end of his career. Now 37 years old, he missed most of the 2002 season after four years as a starter in Arizona's infield. His 1999 for the Diamondbacks was a career year. He followed that up with two below average years as a starter, than missed time due to injury in 2002. He intends to compete for the starting third base job for the Mets in Spring Training. He's just another candidate who's not very likely to distinguish himself.

The Mets made a mistake in letting Fonzie go for nothing and got burned when they inadvertently insulted Plan A. Plans B through D outside of the organization never got anywhere. The Mets are left with a handful of candidates who couldn't hoist Fonzie's jockstrap with a pulley. If you like third base, it's time to start the countdown until prospect David Wright makes the bigs.



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