Ever since the 2004 major league season ended, the Mets have been without one particular commodity, a “super-utility” player. On March 17th, 2005 the Mets released #11, Joe McEwing, and in so doing, ended an era, the “age of Super Joe”. McEwing only played five seasons with the Mets, but during that time, he quickly became appreciated by Mets fans everywhere. His offensive stats were pedestrian, but his play was described as “hard-nosed”. If you asked a Met fan in 2004, what’s Super Joe’s lifetime Mets batting average? They might well have guessed, .275-.280, but in actuality? It was a Swoboda-esque, .243. His Met slash line? .243/.296/.348 for 1048 AB’s over his five seasons in Mets’ pinstripes.
The closest the Mets came to finding a player with a knack for filling in at a variety of positions, as well as McEwing did, was during the 2008 and ’09 seasons when Fernando Tatis briefly resurrected his career with the Mets, batting .297 and .282 over 613 total AB’s. In 2008, Tatis played four positions for the Mets: 1B, 3B, LF, and RF. In 2009, he played all those positions, and also logged time at 2B and SS.
McEwing played everywhere over his five seasons with NY, except pitcher and catcher, making appearances on defense at: LF-125, 2B-123, SS-92, RF-58, 3B-57, 1B-39 and CF-21. This season Willie Harris was supposed to handle the role, and has played mostly LF, but has seen limited time in CF, RF, and at 2B and 3B, while hitting .243 in 181 AB’s. Harris, however, has not performed with kind of intensity that he showed as an opponent of the Mets over the last handful of seasons. His defense is a shell of what it once was, he has very little speed anymore, he no longer hits any HR’s, and he has never been able to ingratiate himself with the Mets faithful.
Where are the Mets to find the next Super Joe McEwing? I believe he is on the roster right now, and he wears #2. If you look at the current roster, and the top level of the minor leagues, there are several players with multiple positions on their resumes, but not many can play both infield, and outfield. The only ones that will, barring a trade, likely be with the Mets next year are Turner, Murphy, Duda and Evans, but Turner is the only one able to handle SS. Murphy is strictly an infielder, he was lost in LF, reminiscent of Todd Hundley playing LF for the Mets after they acquired Piazza. Big Duda is strictly a corner OF/1B. Evans too, with a little 3B thrown in.
But what about Turner? I know he has been the Mets starting 2B this year, by virtue of his 61 games played there, which leads the team by a wide margin. But although he has exhibited himself to be a “gamer”, with occasional HR power who is not afraid to get his uniform dirty, he does not really look like an everyday 2B on a contending team. His defense, for one thing, is rather uneven, and his range and arm are somewhat suspect. His hitting too has been in a state of decline as the season trundles on, and word has soaked into every nook and cranny around the league that Turner’s strength is taking it the opposite way. He is now being jammed constantly, and as a result his 2011 slash line has dwindled to .255/.323/.356, and he finds himself dropped to the 8th spot in the order.
There is no doubt that one of the key positions, the front office will try and upgrade this winter is 2B. But Turner is too good a ballplayer to simply discard. The intangibles that make up his game are those of a player that would be nice to keep around, and the more positions Turner can adequately play, the more value he would have as your first man off the bench. I feel the Mets should make it a priority this off-season, to find some playing time for Turner in an OF somewhere, and a little time at 1B couldn’t hurt either.
Has Turner ever played OF in the minors, you may ask? The answer is, ummmm….not really. Not since 2006, while playing for Billings (Mont), in the rookie level Pioneer League, when he appeared in 8 games, 4 in LF and 4 in RF. Eight games in the OF, of nearly 500 minor league games played, does not look too promising, but Turner is a baseball player and has better than average speed and smarts, who hopefully in time, could become an adequate defender in the green expanses of Citifield’s OF, at least in a pinch. I for one would like to see the Mets try and create the next super-utility player for this team, and I think Justin Turner would be an ideal candidate.
Whatever became of Super Joe after he left the Mets? He signed on with Kansas City, and played there for the 2005 season hitting .239 in 180 AB’s. He tried to play the 2006 season but was cut by the Astros after just 6 AB’s. After signing with the Red Sox for the 2007 season, Joe spent his last year as a player in Pawtucket (AAA), before taking a job as hitting coach of the White Sox AAA affiliate, the Charlotte Knights for 2008.
McEwing spent 2009 and 2010 managing the high A Winston-Salem Dash, in the Carolina League. Under McEwing, the Dash went a combined 154-123 and made the playoffs in both seasons. In 2010 McEwing led the Dash to a league best 81-58 record and an appearance in the Carolina League championship series.
In December 2010 the Chicago White Sox named Super Joe the manager of the AAA Charlotte Knights. Charlotte is currently 64-69 and in third place in the Southern Division of the International League.