Mailbag: Why Valentin over Giles?

Mailbag: Why Valentin over Giles at second?

I heard the Mets weren't going to go after Marcus Giles, and my first thought was, "Why?" I don't understand how general manager Omar Minaya is content with Jose Valentin. I am well aware that Valentin had a very good year in 2006, but do we all really expect a repeat? It is extremely likely that, at 37, he will regress to his previous three years (.239, .217, .179).

As for Giles, he is younger and could've been had at a very reasonable price due to a down year. And before 2006, his OPS from 2003-05 was .917, .821 and .826, clearly making him one of the better offensive second basemen.

In the Mets' lineup, in their clubhouse and with the motivation of playing in the same division as the club that released him, Giles was a no-brainer to pursue. I don't get how Minaya doesn't feel the same way. Your thoughts?
-- Stephen C., New York

Minaya has said he has no interest in Giles -- who agreed to a one-year deal with the Padres this week -- and that the club's interest in adding a second baseman began and ended with its pursuit of Julio Logo, who opted to sign with the Red Sox to play shortstop.

Often injured, Giles is seen as a somewhat reckless player, and he did have a down season -- for him -- in 2006. No question he was an offensive force before last season -- Braves general manager John Schuerholz characterized Giles in Spring Training 2005 as "our best player." Giles also is younger -- by nine years -- than Valentin.

But remember most of what Giles has accomplished has been done batting hitting high in order with Chipper and Andruw Jones behind him. Chances are Giles would have batted sixth or seventh with the Mets. Would he have adjusted to that assignment as well as Valentin adjusted to batting eighth?

I'm not saying he isn't an intriguing player, but the Mets do have Valentin -- and a budget. To add Giles and platoon him with Valentin would have made little sense. The Mets would derive something less than full value for each.

Giles' production against left-handed pitching last season was better than Valentin's, but that's not saying much. Giles batted .229 in 144 at-bats against left-handers, 10 points higher than Valentin's average in 96 at-bats. Giles batted .273 in 406 at-bats against right-handed pitching, and Valentin was a bit better -- .288 in 288 at-bats. And remember, there are far more right-handers.

In their careers, Giles has been more productive than Valentin against left-handed pitching -- .402 in 92 at-bats in 2004 and .298 in 141 at-bats in 2005.

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Why did the Mets miss a opportunity and not pursue a trade for Jose Vidro? Why did they have to go with Valentin? Vidro would have been a big pickup for them, don't you think?
-- David R., Queens, N.Y.

See the response directly above and understand Minaya had Vidro when both were with the Expos. That he didn't pursue a trade with the Nationals, who are close to moving Vidro to the Mariners, wasn't out of ignorance. Moreover, Valentin was a more productive player than Vidro in 2006.

Valentin in '06: 62 RBIs, 56 runs, 18 home runs, .271 batting average, .330 on-base percentage; and .490 slugging percentage in 432 plate appearances.

Vidro in '06: 47 RBIs, 52 runs, seven home runs, .289 batting average, .348 on-base percentage and .395 slugging percentage in 511 plate appearances.

Granted, Valentin was part of a more productive batting order and Vidro was injured late in the season, but 15 more RBIs in 79 fewer plate appearances says something. And Valentin did most of his hitting batting seventh or eighth. Vidro batted higher in a lesser order.

Valentin also played second base exceptionally well.

What is the status of Steve Trachsel? I really like him, but I'm concerned that he's not listed as a pitcher on the Mets' roster.
-- Calvin D., Hurricane, W.Va.

Trachsel no longer is on the Mets' roster. He is a free agent, and the Mets have decided not to pursue him.

In my estimation, if the new additions stay healthy, the moves Minaya has made will make serve the Mets well. We have a few outfielders who can help down the road, so if anything were to happen to Moises Alou, they would be covered. Also, they still have Endy Chavez. So take a moment and relax, Mets fans.

I saw you on SNY and read your mailbag as well. You really believe that Barry Zito isn't worth the money he's asking for? In my estimation, Zito has not been winning games the last few years because the A's are never able to keep their hitters like Jason Giambi and Miguel Tejada. I think that's why Zito hasn't flourished as much as he might have. Please show me your side for this argument.
-- Khurram B., Richmond Hill, N.Y.

Well, my sense of it is this. Zito is a fine pitcher, the best available in the current free-agent market. That doesn't make him an extraordinary pitcher. And the contract he's seeking -- even if it is "only" $70 million for five years -- seems exorbitant to me. Chances are the contract he signs will be far more expensive.

A year ago, a member of the Mets' hierarchy said Zito already was in decline -- not steep decline, not end-of-his career decline; just that he no longer was the dominating pitcher he had been in his first three seasons.

This statistic resonates with me: Zito's record in his first 80 starts in the big leagues was 30 games over .500. That's Hall of Fame stuff. But in four subsequent season (138 starts) his record is only nine games over .500. He has averaged 11 losses per season in that period. That's not an alarmingly high figure for a pitcher who has averaged 223 innings per season and 6.48 innings per start in those four years. But it doesn't strike me as a low total, either..

And he has pitched his home games in a pitchers' park.

Run support always is an issue for any starter. But the great pitchers find a way to win when support is lacking. It's part of what makes them great. See Tom Seaver, Greg Maddux, Johan Santana. I'm not comparing Zito to them. But because of his standing as the best starter available in the market, he is seeking a contract that would be commensurate with his being an elite pitcher. He isn't.

So I don't think he is worth an investment of $70 million-plus.

But if the Mets -- or any club -- believe they can win a championship because of him and that they can cover the expense through revenue derived from winning, then the investment might make sense.

Just like nearly all the Mets fans, I'd love to see Zito in the Mets' starting rotation next season. My question is, why do you and so many other writers/experts criticize his win-loss record over the last few seasons? Don't any of you consider that the A's teams have only been decent, at best?

The American League West has not been a very strong division in a long time with weak Angels pitching, poor Mariners teams and pitiful Rangers teams. It takes only an average team at best to win the AL West. Don't you think with his stuff and a great team like the Mets that Zito would have a much better record? A pitcher's success is rated by more than just a win-loss record.
-- Keith W., Jersey City, N.J.

A pitcher's success, to me, should measured by nothing other than his record and his team's record in game he has started. Isn't that the bottom line? ERA, strikeouts and all the other means we have of measuring a pitcher's effectiveness -- as opposed to his rate of success -- mean relatively little if he and his team doesn't win.

Leading the league in ERA, as Craig Swan did with the Mets in 1978, was a nice accomplishment. It would have been more beneficial for the team though if his ERA -- it was 2.43 -- was 50 points higher and his record was better than the 9-6 he produced, say 12-7.

A low ERA, fewer hits than innings, a positive strikeout-to-walk ratio are fine. But if a pitcher finds a way not to win -- if, with some regularity, he throws the one pitch or makes a bad throw that loses the game (see Victor Zambrano, 2005) -- what good are the other numbers?

A pitcher winning or losing is a team function, of course. And run support, defense and relief pitching all enter into a pitcher's record. (See Roger Clemens and the Astros). But in 1972, Steve Carlton won 27 games for a Phillies team that won 59 games. So it can be done, a pitcher can rise above it all and win even when those around him are unproductive.

There was no rule preventing Zito from winning more than 55 games and losing fewer than 46 decisions in the last four seasons. If he had won 80 games and lost 40, the money he is seeking wouldn't be an issue.

People have condemned Trachsel for his 2006 performance. But he won 15 games and the team won 20 of his 30 starts. He was doing something right.

What is your opinion on the Brian Bannister-Ambiorix Burgos trade? Who made out better?
-- Andrew H., Warwick, N.Y.

Neither team yet. The Royals acquired a young pitcher with a real sense of what he has to do and wants to do, and they addressed their need for starting pitcher. The Mets wanted a power arm for their bullpen and obtained a young pitcher with greater natural talent than Bannister, but with less feel for what it takes to win.

Burgos may prove to be reminiscent of a hard thrower the Mets obtain in the early 1980s, Juan Bergenguer. After watching Berenguer struggle with his control in a Spring Training game, a Mets coach said, "He's one of those kids who's actually likely to strike out four in an inning -- great stuff and a good bet to throw a wild pitch on strike three."

What's the situation with Duaner Sanchez? Will he be able to pitch come the first day, or is he still rehabbing his shoulder?
-- Mike B., Binghamton, N.Y.

Sanchez resumed throwing Dec. 1. If the "first" day you mention is the first day of camp, no. He can't be ready to pitch by then -- not that he needs to be. If your first day is Opening Day, it's too early to know.

Marty Noble is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.