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Report: Mets targeting Eckstein

Report: Mets targeting Eckstein

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NEW YORK -- Thinking -- and acting -- outside the box, as general manager Omar Minaya says he likes to do, the Mets are pursuing a career shortstop to play second base and provide some of the fire the team lacked last season. Free agent David Eckstein -- not Luis Castillo -- appears to be the Mets' primary target for second base.

The 32-year-old veteran, the shortstop for two World Series champion teams in the last six seasons, has been wined and dined by the Mets, according to a report in the New York Daily News on Saturday. The paper reported the Mets' interest, though it said it couldn't measure Eckstein's interest in changing teams or positions.

Eckstein hadn't returned phone calls from MLB.com on Friday, and his agent, Ryan Gleichowski, wouldn't go so far as to acknowledge contact with the Mets.

The Daily News reported Minaya and manager Willie Randolph, an admirer of Eckstein's spunk, had met this week with the MVP of the Cardinals' 2006 World Series champion team in Greenwich, Conn., hometown of Mets COO Jeff Wilpon.

Whether Eckstein in inclined to change positions is unknown. He has played 14 games at second base -- all in 2001 -- in his eight seasons in the big leagues. The rest of his career has been spent at shortstop, where he has overcome a modest arm to play regularly or almost regularly.

Because of injuries, he has started 231 of the Cardinals' 323 regular-season games the last two years. Despite the games missed, Eckstein is widely recognized as one of baseball's foremost gamers.

The Mets may see him as source of the grit and resolve their team lacked last season, and may hope Eckstein would provide some of the fire Paul Lo Duca provided in his two seasons as their catcher. Lo Duca's time with the Mets seemingly came to an end when the Mets reached an agreement on terms for a three-year contract with free-agent catcher Yorvit Torrealba. But the club said Saturday it no longer was pursing Torrealba. It gave no reason and club executives declined to say whether Torrealba had failed or even taken a physical.

The News said Eckstein is thought to be seeking a four-year contract worth $36 million, which, the paper said, exceeds what Castillo is expected to command.

A person familiar with Eckstein said Friday he believed the former Angel would opt to play shortstop in St. Louis rather than second base in New York, if all other issues were equal. He also said the Cardinals retain interest in Eckstein, but they believe his defense deteriorated last season.

Hot Stove

Eckstein played fewer innings, 943 2/3, in 2007 than in any other season and committed a career-high 20 errors.

His hitting for average improved, though. A career .283 batter through 2006 with a career high of .294 in 2005, Eckstein batted .309 in a career-low 434 at-bats -- 377 as a leadoff man -- in 2007. His respective on-base and slugging percentages were .356 and .382, each higher than his pre-2007 career numbers. Considered a master of the contentious at-bat, Eckstein batted .244 in 88 at-bats with runners in scoring position after batting .281 in those circumstances in the previous five seasons.

Playing for an offensively-challenged team -- the Cardinals scored 725 runs, the sixth fewest in the National League -- Eckstein scored 51 runs and drove in 38.

Orlando Hudson, the Diamondbacks' Gold Glove second baseman, is the Mets' other option at second. But they would prefer to sign a free agent to play second rather than trade for one, and use their primary prospects to deal for a starting pitcher.

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

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