Monday, November 10, 2008

I'll Be The Judge: Carlos Delgado

2008 Season: It was a tale of two seasons. At the close of business on June 30, Delgado's season line stood at .228/.307/.419 with 14 HR and 45 RBI - pathetically bad numbers for a first baseman. His season output would've been even more embarrassing if it wasn't for a career day on June 27 where Delgado hit two homers and drove in nine runs at Yankee Stadium.

Something happened on July 1, though, and Delgado suddenly began to resemble the slugger he was in the prime his career. He terrorized National League pitching from there on out and put up a .313/.396/.617 line with 24 HR in 300 at-bats the rest of the way. No one really knows why - it has been speculated that it had something to do with the firing of the former manager - but Delgado nevertheless rediscovered his stroke and put up final numbers worthy of his $16 million annual salary.

Contract Status: The Mets had a $12 million club option on Delgado that they exercised at the end of last month. As it stands now, he will be the starting first baseman in 2009.

The Verdict: Picking up Delgado's club option makes sense - keeping him does not. The final 80 games of the season were more likely that not the final death rattles of an engine that is about to blow. Delgado looked hopelessly overmatched at the plate for the first half of the season and had literally no trade value going into the All-Star Break. A season tally of 38 home runs will do wonders for your trade value, even if all signs indicate that such an impressive total will not be duplicated again.

Frankly, Delgado is emblematic of what's been wrong with the Mets over the last two years. He is another quiet clubhouse guy who cannot or will not stand up and take command of a room when this team starts to choke. He is yet another veteran getting overpaid in New York for the numbers he put up for a different ballclub. His post-July 1 production felt so much like a contract drive by a man who suddenly realized he was letting millions of dollars slip away and there's just no reason to believe that, at 37 years old, he will be able to do it again.

I like Mark Teixeira, but I am not a big advocate of committing $20 million-plus a year to him. Let's see Omar Minaya do something creative by shipping Delgado to one of the losers in the Teixeira sweepstakes for a starting pitcher or a left fielder. The free agent market for first basemen is pretty bare after Tex, but Minaya could swing another trade or take a one-year flier on the likes of Jason Giambi or even Doug Mientkiewicz. (Don't laugh about Giambi - he had a higher OPS+ than Delgado last year despite superficially inferior counting stats. That's what happens when you have 140 less at-bats.)

2009 Outlook: The Mets will keep Delgado, because Minaya does not have a creative bone in his body these days. Delgado will get off to yet another terrible start in the first half of the season before rallying somewhat in the second half. The final totals will not match up to 2008 production, but Delgado will fool enough people into believing that he can still hit that risk-averse fans will call for his return in 2010. Minaya - otherwise known as King of the Risk Averse - will concur and will probably offer Delgado a two-year, $30 million extension. I will curse a lot.

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