Blanton for Milledge?

Happy New Year’s to everyone. Hope everyone has a healthy and happy 2007!

With that out of the way, there isn’t much else to report, other than a tidbit from Ray Ratto suggesting that the Oakland A’s will trade Joe Blanton for Lastings Milledge.

Granted, this could be as much a guess as the NY media thinking the Yankees were trading Randy Johnson to clear salary for a Barry Zito run. However, it’s been a slow few days, and the most passionate (read: insane) of us are happy to attack and ponder any hint of a rumor we can find in early January.

Straight up, Milledge for Blanton is a nice, fair deal for both sides. The A’s need some outfielders, have a surplus of solid starters, and Billy Beane supposedly covets Lastings Milledge. The Mets don’t appear ready to insert Milledge into the starting lineup in 2007, and are hungry for an innings-eating starter. Looking at what became of Alex Ochoa, Alex Escobar, and even Jay Payton, bargaining the future by trading a “potential star” such as Milledge in return for a solid (if unspectacular) starter who can make a contribution now seems like a good idea for our Flushing favorites.

Yes, there are some people who like to compare Lastings Milledge to Gary Sheffield. Unfortunately, the comparison includes not only raw skills but attitude. The chance that Milledge eventually matures into a “good” Gary Sheffield — meaning, the guy who lost the clubhouse cancer personality and evolved into one of the top five pure hitters in MLB — is slim. Even after hitting 33 HRs and driving in 100 RBI as a 23-year-old in 1992, Gary Sheffield was still a punk, and was enough of a distraction that the Padres still found it a good idea to move him. It really wasn’t until 1999, when he turned 30 and played under the laid-back Davey Johnson, that Sheffield began to shed his bad reputation — despite occasionally putting up great numbers.

At age 22, Lastings Milledge is nowhere near where Sheffield was at the same age. He might get there in, say, two or three years — but by then the Mets should have Carlos Gomez ready, and/or have a good idea of what Fernando Martinez will become. The Mets are built to win in 2007, and with Gomez and Martinez waiting in the wings (and Carlos Beltran locked up through 2011), can afford to flip Milledge without compromising the future.

There are some who may feel that the Mets should get something more than “just” Joe Blanton in return for Lastings Milledge. However, two things need to be considered. First, the 26-year-old Blanton has won 28 MLB games and pitched nearly 400 innings over the last two years — nothing to sneeze at. Those numbers place him as a legitimate #3 starter in the Mets’ rotation — in fact, his sheer stats make him their #2. Secondly, this offseason’s market has seen people such as Gil Meche get 5-year contracts, and Jason Jennings fetch three top prospects. If the Mets could get Joe Blanton for Lastings Milledge straight up, there shouldn’t be a moment’s hesitation.

The problem is that Billy Beane knows the market all too well, and wouldn’t dream of releasing Blanton for just Milledge. He’ll try to squeeze Aaron Heilman out of the Mets as well, and/or Mike Pelfrey or Philip Humber. At that point, the Mets must say “no thanks” — after all, Pelfrey or Humber have much more upside than Blanton, and Heilman may very well be as competent a starter as Blanton if given the chance.

Unfortunately, the Mets don’t have too many “expendable” trade chips beyond Milledge. Gomez and Martinez are widely coveted, but probably untouchable — especially if Milledge is dealt. John Maine and Oliver Perez would be decent chips if the Mets weren’t so reliant upon them both to fill out the back end of their rotation. Newly acquired Ben Johnson, Jon Adkins, and Jason Vargas might be expendable, but there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of interest in this trio. Alay Soler and Anderson Hernandez didn’t show enough last year to impress anyone, and former KC Royals prospect Ruben Gotay has fallen off of most scout’s lists. The only decent prospects they have at AA and AAA were left off the 40-man, available to anyone in the winter draft. It seems that if the Mets are to acquire a worthwhile starter without overpaying, they’ll either have to find someone who overvalues Lastings Milledge, is willing to include a prospect of their own, or lasso in a third team to make a trade happen.

In the end, if the Mets can’t get Blanton — or someone similar — straight up for Milledge, I’ll be happy if they stand pat. I’d rather see Oliver Perez and John Maine fall flat on their faces (but give the youngsters another year of seasoning), than watch Mike Pelfrey, Phil Humber or Aaron Heilman win 15 games for someone else. Apparently, I’m still not over the Scott Kazmir deal.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.