This is #5 of 5 Key Mets for 2007.
I always saw Jose Valentin as little more than a middling infielder, some guy who I wouldn't have wanted on my fantasy team, except as a last ditch emergency pick, through most of the 90s, as he toiled with the Brewers. Unspectacular, didn't hit much, sparing power. Sure, he popped 24 HRs in 1996, but with a .259 Average that put you to sleep.
At some point when nobody was paying much attention, however, Valentin flipped the switch and became a perennial 20 HR, 80 RBI guy while playing for the White Sox in the early 2000s. Sure, the average never got much over .270, but suddenly, he garnered some interest.
Then he vanished again.
Then the Mets signed him before the 2006 season. I didn't think much of it at all. I was surprised that he even made the team. I wasn't surprised when he started the season at a Rey Ordonez-esque 3-for-22 in April. Kaz Matsui looked better by comparison.
I have no explanation as to how or why he then proceeded to blow Matsui out the door and all the way to Colorado over the rest of the season. Expected to do little or nothing and likely be released by midseason, Valentin instead started whacking key hits and popping Home Runs all through the summer, and was the galvanizing force at the bottom of the Mets lineup, easing the loss of Floyd and the trade of Nady, and providing some protection for guys like Green and Chavez.
And he was making his hits count. On July 8th, a grand slam and 7 RBIs helped Pelfrey win his Major League Debut. Another grand slam on July 21st was the big hit in John Maine's first career shutout. His bases-loaded single in the 10th inning on July 26th plated the lone run in a 1-0 Mets victory. And his 2 HRs paced the way in the Mets division-clinching game on September 18th.
The defense was good. Not great, simply good. Despite having never played second base, Valentin performed admirably well there over the course of the season. But there were often questionable decisions. Game 1, NLDS. Mets are ahead 4-1. With no outs and a man on first in the top of the 7th, a hot shot is hit at him. He bobbles the ball, but is able to knock it down. But rather than throw to first for the sure out, Valentin shuffles a hasty throw to 2nd. But it's too late. The Dodgers rally to tie the game. It's forgotten, because the Mets went on to win. But at the time, a costly mistake.
The options behind him don't excite you. Anderson Hernandez is a smart player with no punch. David Newhan is a mystery (why is a ragtag middle infielder getting so much ink?). We're riding with The Other Jose at 2nd this season, and I have a feeling we'll know pretty early on which Jose Valentin will show up. The lower part of the lineup isn't especially fear-inducing if we get the tired, aging Valentin hitting 7th or 8th.
We'll see what happens...