Browsing Archive November, 2007

Mets Trade Milledge to Nats

OK, everyone who saw this coming, put your hand up.

Um … all right … let’s try this again. ANYONE who saw this coming, please RAISE YOUR HAND!

Huh. No one raised their hand.

So for those who missed it, the Mets traded Lastings Milledge to the Washington Nationals for catcher Brian Schneider and outfielder Ryan Church.

On the one hand, the deal almost obliterates any chance of the Mets making a play for an ace pitcher such as Dan Haren or Johan Santana — we think. Of course, other teams might be higher on Carlos Gomez than we thought — though, I’m not comfortable dealing Gomez after trading Milledge.

On the other hand, the Mets were able to get one of the top defensive backstops in all of MLB, plus a legit starting outfielder, in return for a player who has not yet established himself at the big league level — that’s nothing to sneeze at. Naturally, we all thought that Omar Minaya would be using Milledge as bait in a deal for a big-time pitcher, but the Mets were able to get pretty good value in this exchange with the Nationals.

Brian Schneider

In an interview a few years ago, when Minaya was still in the front office for the Expos, he said that nearly every time an opposing GM called, the first question was “what do you want for Schneider?” Indeed, Schneider was a hot property back in the early part of this century (that’s a crazy thing to say, ain’t it? boy time flies … ) — good enough to push out Michael Barrett and be considered a future All-Star. However, Schneider is no longer an up-and-comer but a veteran, and just turned 31 a few days ago (nice birthday present!). While he continues to garner respect as one of the best defenders of the dish, his bat never quite came around after an inspiring .275 average and 19 doubles in his first half-season of MLB duty. His average has dropped steadily from year to year, plummeting to .235 in 2007. His power is nonexistent, though he probably will collect more extra-base hits than, say, Jason Kendall (which isn’t saying much). He did hit more than ten home runs in consecutive seasons — at age 27-28, a time when most players hit their prime. Who knows, maybe a change in scenery — to a winning team — may spark his offensive production.

However, it doesn’t matter, does it? Schneider is pretty much penciled in to the #8 spot in the order, and won’t be expected to do much. He batted anywhere from 6th to 8th for the lowly Nats, and there is one aspect of his game that has improved — his ability to draw walks. He drew a career-high 56 last year, and struck out an equal amount of times. So that’s something.

Schneider will be in the lineup for his defense, plain and simple. He’s a throwback backstop, and may remind some oldsters of Jerry Grote. Lord knows he’ll hit like Grote.

Ryan Church

Church had his first opportunity to play everyday as a 28-year-old and did well — not great, but far from bad. He was one of those guys who you probably had on your fantasy team if you played in a deep NL-only league, because he gave you a decent OPS. Is he an All-Star? No. Is he the traditional power hitter you expect from a corner outfielder? No. But he is a very strong defender, handles the bat fairly well, and is fundamentally sound. The lefty swinger batted anywhere from cleanup to the #7 spot for the Nats, and though he finished the year as a leftfielder, he started it as their everyday centerfielder — so he should be able to add some range to the Mets outfield. Two big things about Church’s offense — he’s patient, and he has gap power, witnessed by his 43 doubles in 470 ABs last year. Looking at his stats and his defensive ability, he compares favorably to Aaron Rowand at the same age. Here’s the bottom line: if Lastings Milledge won the RF job (as expected), he’d probably hit between 15-20 HRs, with a .275 average, a bunch of doubles, and spend most of the time in the #7 hole. We can expect nearly identical stats from Church in the same position of the order, plus offer a higher OBP and better defense. In the short-term, the players are a wash. Of course, Milledge could be an All-Star in future years, but the Mets are concerned with the present.

Bottom Line

From a PR perspective, it’s not a great deal. The litmus test is, does your wife have any idea who Ryan Church or Brian Schneider are? It doesn’t help that there were two very strong factions of Mets fans — those who loved Milledge and think he’ll be a superstar, and those who didn’t care much for his attitude and are happy to see him leave. In that vein, at least half the fans are ticked off. But when you look at the deal at face value, and consider the short-term — which is what the Mets are concerned with — then this is a pretty strong deal, and a fair one for both teams.

Let’s also consider that the dealing is not over; for all we know, one or both of these new acquisitions could be a piece in a trade to go down next week at the winter meetings. We’ll wait and see.

*** FYI, if you posted on this trade before this article went live, please be advised I moved all the relevant comments from the previous post to this one ***

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New Relief Option

While we ponder the previous potentialities of Dotel and Chacon, rest assured the Mets are already on the case — they’ve acquired Brian Stokes from the Rays for cold cash. Yes, THAT Brian Stokes — the one who logged a 2-7 record with a 7.07 ERA in 59 games for Tampa Bay last season, allowing 49 runs and 90 hits in 62 1-3 innings. I know, I know, it’s too exciting to breathe just thinking about it. This deal brings me back to that much-ballyhooed winter evening of December 10, 1985, when Len Berman came on at the end of the channel 9 news to tell us that the Mets had acquired Gary Carter. Despite this remarkable turn of events, I’m fairly sure that Omar Minaya is still pounding the cell phone in search of more relief to tandem with Stokes.

Seriously though, I wouldn’t put too much stock in the Stokes purchase. I’m guessing it was a favor to the Rays, who have a ton of young talent to protect on the 40-man, while the Mets have empty spaces all over the place. Tampa Bay was likely going to release Stokes outright, so instead they get some cash. There’s also the chance that Stokes gets sent back to Tampa Bay at the end of spring training, for “cash considerations” or a player to be named later. And then there is the absolute longshot that the Mets are actually interested in his services. Hey, I never understood their signing of Darren Oliver, Chad Bradford, nor Pedro Feliciano, and all those decisions turned out great (of course, there was also Jose Lima, Jeremi Gonzalez, Mr. Koo …).

Here is the scoop on Stokes from Baseball America, circa January 21, 2007:

“He also missed three months of the 2003 season with a right shoulder strain before having Tommy John surgery in August and sitting out the entire 2004 campaign. Stokes showed a better feel for all of his pitches last year, mixing his 90-mph fastball with a mid-70s curveball and improving changeup. His heavy fastball has natural sink and produces groundballs when he’s at his best. The key to Stokes’ success centers on throwing strikes. He gets in trouble when his fastball rises above the knees because it tends to straighten out, making it much easier to hit. At 27, Stokes is old for a prospect, but his rebuilt arm has relatively low mileage and he’ll be a strong candidate for the back of the Tampa Bay rotation or the bullpen in 2007.”

Well that’s a nice write-up, but the fact of the matter is that Stokes allowed nearly two baserunners per inning in 2007 while filling the back end of the Tampa Bay bullpen. Maybe The Jacket can work his magic and extract something special out of him, who knows. Or maybe the simple move from AL East to the National League will transform him into Jon Adkins. Ah … now we’re getting somewhere. The Mets need some AAA bullpen depth, and Stokes fits the Adkins role — a guy with big league experience who might be almost good enough to eat up some innings, but who will also be happy receiving a check to play baseball, even in the minors. Additionally, Stokes can probably be left off the 40-man roster if necessary … for example, to protect the next Jesus Flores.

Since the Mets gave up nothing but cash, and likely won’t have to worry about him hogging a spot on the roster, I have no qualms about the acquisition. The more the merrier.

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Relief Options

We all know the Mets need pitching, for the beginning, middle, and toward the end of games. And I’m not buying — for a second — Marty Noble’s announcement that “everything is secondary” to upgrading the starting rotation. Maybe that is specifically in regard to the trade market … but even then, I’m not sure; I think there is a possibility that the Mets trade for a better catcher than Johnny Estrada before they trade for an ace starter. While the Mets certainly would be a better club if they could get their hands on a Johan Santana or Danny Haren, I don’t believe that is the end-all and be-all of the winter. Plugging in a decent middle-of-the-rotation guy to fill Tom Glavine’s workload is a priority, yes, but that would NOT be considered an upgrade (more like, a “lateral move”). Additionally, if the Mets go into 2008 with Pedro Martinez as their nominated ace, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world — as long as they fortify the bullpen.

Signing a free-agent reliever is probably the easiest and most effective way to accomplish that task, and the recent buzz is that both Octavio Dotel and Shawn Chacon are interested in the Mets, and that the feeling is mutual. Actually, it’s a little better than “buzz” — it’s a direct quote from agent Dan Horwitz. This is the type of stuff I’m happy to hear.

Go ahead, bash all you want about Dotel’s health and Chacon’s flash-in-the-pan career. But the bottom line is that they are two of maybe three or four attainable relief arms worth pursuing (David Riske and Luis Vizcaino also come to mind) — I’m omitting guys like Troy Percival who prefer and will find a closer job. According to Horwitz, Dotel is interested in setting up, and because of his recent injuries, has no leverage to demand anything beyond a one-year deal. That’s good, because we don’t want another multi-year Mota / Show deal this winter. If healthy, Dotel will be the premier setup man in the NL East. If not, well, that’s a chance you take.

As for Chacon, I think he has more value than meets the eye. Because of his recent string of bloated ERAs, he similarly cannot hold out for some crazy 2- or 3-year deal. He doesn’t appear to have any health issues, and he still throws a good sinker. Ever since saving 35 games in homer-happy Coors Field for the Rockies in 2004, his role has been in constant flux — he’s been closing, setting up, mopping up, playing ROOGY, and starting. Maybe all he needs is a defined role. His issue is that he’s a guy who pitches to contact but also walks too many guys, which suggests one of two issues: either he’s going away from (or has no) plan of attack, or there’s a mechanical problem that precludes him from repeating his delivery. I haven’t seen enough of him to know which is the issue, but I know that Rick Peterson will be all over it and get him pitching more effectively (just give him ten minutes). Chacon is NOT worth slotting into a setup job, but he could be ideal for the “Darren Oliver” role that somehow disappeared when Aaron Sele arrived. He knows how to pitch out of the pen, and he’s been a starter and thus his arm has been through multiple innings. Start him out as the long man and who knows, he might eventually be valuable as an occasional 6th and 7th-inning guy.

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Garza Off the Market

The “buzz” had been suggesting for weeks that the Twins would trade hot pitching prospect Matt Garza to the Tampa Bay Rays for Delmon Young. Well finally, the deal is done, and it looks like a good one for both teams.

The Twins sent Garza, minor leaguer Eduardo Molan, and Jason Bartlett (wasn’t he just part of the Brad Lidge trade? oh no, that was Eric Bruntlett, never mind) to the Rays in exchange for the enigmatic Young, shortstop Brendan Harris, and outfield prospect Jason Pridie. Though Garza is highly rated, he was an excess arm in Minnesota, who was in need of good young bats. In Young they get a potential All-Star, in Harris a starting shortstop with pop, and in Pridie they might have their replacement for Torii Hunter — a centerfielder for the next 5-10 years.

How this effects the Mets? First of all, it puts an end to the Carlos Gomez (or Lastings Milledge) – for – Garza rumors. It also likely eliminates any more talk regarding Johan Santana, because the Twins’ most urgent need were young outfielders ready to step into big league jobs — and that is the one thing the Mets have to offer. Though there is some possibility that the Twins might consider flipping Pridie, I’m not seeing it. So two of the Mets’ most valuable chips in a deal for Santana — Gomez and Milledge — have become moot subjects in trade talks.

At the same time, the exit of Garza might mean the Twins would want to replace him with similarly talented and youthful pitching prospects. Suddenly Philip Humber, Mike Pelfrey, Kevin Mulvey, and Deolis Guerra become more interesting targets — though, a trade for Santana likely would have to include at least three or all of those hurlers. As great as Santana is, do the Mets want to completely empty their cupboard? My guess is no.

I could be wrong, but my guess is that this Garza-Young trade effectively ends any trade talk involving Johan’s transfer to the #7 train.

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Brocail Off the Market

Rumor has it that Doug Brocail has signed a contract with the Astros, which will be announced on Tuesday.

Oh, that’s right … we really don’t care.

In other news, Kerry Wood signed a one-year deal to remain with the Cubs; the presumption is that he’ll be a candidate to close, with Ryan Dempster moving back to the starting rotation. Though it might have been nice to see a pitcher with Wood’s talent on the Mets, there didn’t appear to be any interest whatsoever out of Flushing, and Wood seemed determined to return to Chi-town. That said, the Wood signing is something of a positive for the Mets, in that the Cubs now likely won’t be going after any other middle relievers on the market that might interest the Mets (i.e., Octavio Dotel, David Riske).

The latest “buzz” is that the Yankees and Twins are working on a deal involving Johan Santana. My assumption is that the Yanks would have to part with at least Philip Hughes, Ian Kennedy, and Melky Cabrera — and some pundits are guessing that Robinson Cano could be part of the package. If I’m Brian Cashman, that deal is a no-brainer — Hughes doesn’t look like the #1 ace everyone hyped him to be, and the ceilings of both he and Kennedy are questionable. Such a trade would be somewhat similar to another Twins deal that sent a Cy Young lefty to New York about twenty years ago — the Frank Viola trade to the Mets.

On July 31, 1989, the Twins sent Viola to Flushing in return for Rick Aguilera, David West, Tim Drummond, Kevin Tapani, and Jack Savage (Savage was actually a PTBNL). Back then, West was about as bright a prospect, if not brighter, than Hughes is today. Similarly, Tapani was comparable to Kennedy, and Aguilera was seen as a guy who was probably good enough to be a fourth or fifth starter on any team in MLB other than the Mets, who at the time had a 5-man rotation of Dwight Gooden, David Cone, Bobby Ojeda, Ron Darling, and Sid Fernandez (wow … those were good days for pitching in Shea!). Though the Mets toyed with Aguilera as a closer, he wasn’t supplanting 26-year-old fireballer Randy Myers anytime soon, and thus was expendable. The rest is history — Viola was 38-32 in two and a half seasons as a Met, Aguilera went on to become one of the AL’s most dominant closers and save 311 games, Tapani had a 13-year career as a solid #2 / #3 starter, and David West accomplished what can be most accurately described as “bupkis“.

I digress …

So if the Yankees do in fact pull off the deal, the Twins would suddenly have an excess of young starting pitching, which could help the Mets (can you say, Matt Garza for Lastings Milledge?). Additionally, I’d imagine that if Melky Cabrera goes north, then Andruw Jones becomes a Yankee almost immediately — does anyone else fit quite so perfectly in centerfield for them with Melky gone?

Further, if the Yanks and Twins do not come to terms, you’d have to think that either the Red Sox or the Mets are next on the waiting list. Are the Mets willing to send Mike Pelfrey, Philip Humber, Lastings Milledge, and a fourth prospect to Minnesota for Santana? I sure hope so. Problem is, I’d guess the Twins would also ask for John Maine or Oliver Perez, and/or Aaron Heilman. Unless they’re willing to add Joe Nathan and one of their young arms to the deal (Garza? Scott Baker?), I’d have to pass.

By the way, and speaking of Yankees, I haven’t heard anything on Luis Vizcaino. Wouldn’t he be a nice arm to add to the bullpen? Yes, I realize he’s been “Torre-ized”, but he might be related to Gumby and have no problem throwing another 80 games in 2008.

Completely off topic, Chris Snelling has been traded to the Philadelphia Phillies. I believe this is the 18th time he’s changed teams in the last ten months, and wonder why the Mets have been left out of the fun? I hope Omar hasn’t been banished from the “in” group.

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