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.
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.
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.
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 ***