NEW YORK -- The composition of the Mets' bench for 2008 has come into sharper focus. Marlon Anderson, pinch-hitter extraordinaire, will return; Jose Valentin almost certainly will not. The club has re-signed Anderson, who had filed for free agency, to a two-year contract for $2.2 million and declined to exercise its option on Valentin's contract for next season.
The latter decision prompted Valentin to file for free agency Tuesday. He remains eligible to re-sign with the Mets. But there is no indication the club has any intention of re-signing the 38-year-old veteran who played an integral part in the team's success in 2006 and fell victim to injury last summer.
With second baseman Damion Easley re-signed and the club taken by the performance of Ruben Gotay and intent on re-siging Luis Castillo to be the regular second baseman, there appears to be little room for Valentin, unless the club believes he can serve in the role it had tentatively designed for him last winter; that of backup outfielder and infielder, and allow him to compete for a roster spot as a Spring Training invitee.
Anderson, 33, appeared in 43 games with the Mets after the club promoted him to the big league roster July 19. He had been released by the Dodgers 10 days earlier and then signed to a split contract by the Mets. His 69 at-bats with the Mets produced a .319 batting average, three home runs and 23 RBIs, and his pinch-hitting numbers with them were remarkable: 10 hits, a .345 average, one home run and 14 RBIs in 29 at-bats.
A Met in 2005 as well, Anderson has a .329 average in 85 pinch-hit at-bats in his two tours with the team.
Once manager Willie Randolph's job was deemed secure by general manager Omar Minaya, the chances of Anderson returning improved. Anderson is a self-proclaimed "Willie guy," and Randolph appreciates how Anderson plays the game. The Mets' reluctance to offer Anderson a two-year contract after the 2005 season was, to some degree, a decision that made a modicum of a sense based on finances. But the two-year contracts subsequently afforded Julio Franco and then Guillermo Mota raised eyebrows and looked unwise when Anderson was so productive for the Dodgers in the second half of the '06 season.
Valentin had become one of Randolph's favorites in 2006, taking over second base in May after Kaz Matsui produced poorly. After a slow start as a reserve -- he was batting .136 in 22 at-bats through April -- he batted .279 with 18 home runs and 62 RBIs in 362 at-bats.
Because of two injuries, Valentin had merely 166 at-bats last season, 234 fewer than needed for his $4.3 million option for 2008 to vest. A since-repaired partial tear of the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, suffered April 28, prompted assignment to the disabled list through June 6. Still bothered by the knee and wearing a restrictive brace, he batted .214 with five RBIs in 98 at-bats before suffering a fractured bone, fouling a pitch of his lower rigtht leg July 20.
If Valentin doesn't return, his absence will be felt; it was felt last summer. The unsettling decline of Jose Reyes has been tied to various factors including the supposed influence of Rickey Henderson, no longer the Mets' first-base coach. But Reyes' occasional missteps began before the All-Star break, when Henderson was appointed. The absence of Valentin seemingly was a greater factor on Reyes. He played in less than one-third of the Mets' games.
One of the reasons Randolph inserted Valentin at second base in 2006 was to help keep Reyes in the game.
The club also declined its 2008 option on the contract of righty Brian Lawrence and outrighted lefty Dave Williams and utilityman David Newhan. Williams and Newhan opted for free agency. Lawrence was expected to.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.