Earlier last week, it was reported on Twitter by MLB.com's Matthew Leach that the St. Louis Cardinals signed infielder Ruben Gotay to a minor league contract, and the AP has confirmed that the New York Mets resigned veteran shortstop Alex Cora to a one-year, $2M deal.
On the surface, one would presume that the Mets added the better player, as they spent $2M guaranteed and a 25-man roster spot on Cora, a substantially higher price than what the Cardinals spent to add Gotay. But given their 2009 performance and their placements on the aging curve, it seems quite odd to me that Cora would command so much money.
Cora, who recently turned 34, has bounced around the majors as a back-up for five years now, spending the majority of that time with the Boston Red Sox and the Mets. While Cora has shown the ability to get on base at times, he's posted an OBP over .320 just once in the past five seasons, and finished 2009 with a paltry .251/.320/.310 line. He offers little value in terms of power, his career ISO is just .099, or baserunning, he's just 41 for 61 in 12 partial seasons in the majors, and his career BABIP of .271 reflects the lack of hard contact that he makes. Unless Cora is having one of his uncharacteristically high walk rate seasons (see: 2002, 2004, 2008), he's a major liability offensively. Combine that lack of offensive value with an apparently declining glove (consecutive seasons of below-average UZR numbers, 157 game sample size), and it's difficult to see how Cora commands $2M in this kind of market.
The Cora deal seems pretty disappointing when you see that Omar Vizquel, a substantially better defender and baserunner, took less money to sign in Chicago, and a guy like Ruben Gotay, who's coming off a really impressive season in AAA, can't even command a Major League deal.
Gotay, 27 in December, once regarded as Kansas City's second baseman of the future, failed to get a hold on the starting job with the Royals after posting a .277 wOBA in 317 plate appearances with the team in 2005, and stuck around in AAA before getting a shot with, ironically, the Mets in 2007. Quietly, Gotay posted a solid .295/.351/.421 line (.335 wOBA) in 211 plate appearances, making him a slightly above-average hitter. The Mets were satisfied with Jose Reyes and Luis Castillo as their keystone combo though, so Gotay was let go and consequently picked up by the Atlanta Braves for the 2008 season. He struggled, posting a .299 wOBA while striking out 32% of the time, and failed to get MLB playing time during the 2009 season.
Gotay certainly didn't play his way out of playing time, in spite of his impressive performance he was still behind Stephen Drew, Felipe Lopez, Augie Ojeda and Ryan Roberts on Arizona's depth chart, and the August trade for Tony Abreu essentially assured that Gotay wouldn't have a spot in Arizona. He certainly made the most of his time in AAA though, posting a .272/.429/.450 line in 479 plate appearances, including an eye-raising 21.6% walk rate for the year. While Gotay isn't plus defensively, the ability to work the count and get on base is clearly evident, and he can even offer some gap power from time to time. I wouldn't be surprised if Gotay got some time with St. Louis if the Freese/Ryan/Schumaker infield (non-Pujols division) doesn't work out, although he'd have to compete with Julio Lugo and Tyler Greene.
Although the Cora signing clearly is prioritizing Cora's defense and versatility, it seems to underscore his declining skills in those categories as well as his general lack of value in the other areas of the game. Meanwhile, guys like Gotay, who have shown some upside and could use a legitimate shot at playing time, are stuck to minor league deals with the hopes of having a big Spring Training. It was definitely an odd use of resources by the Mets given their lack of financial flexibility, and an astute one by the Cardinals, finding a potential contributor for practically nothing.