Friday, November 30, 2007

Did Lastings sleep with Omar's wife?

The Mets traded OF Lastings Milledge today to the Nationals for C Brian Schneider and LF Ryan Church in one of those trades that just doesn't make sense, from a lot of angles. Let's break this one down, step-by-stupid-minaya-step:

1.) The Mets' biggest need is starting pitching, specifically a front-of-the-rotation No. 1 or No. 2-guy, with the loss of Tom Glavine to the Braves and the question marks surrounding Pedro Martinez entering the 2008 season. The Mets' biggest bargaining chip this offseason? Milledge. If Omar Minaya wants to trade for starting, which seems to be his primary goal, why give use your best chip for anything other than an ace?

2.) For the sake of argument though, let's assume Minaya learned the Mets wouldn't be close on Johan Santana, and the combined prospects of dealing with Billy Beane for Dan Haren didn't entice Minaya enough to go after the A's starter. If that's true, rather than seeking to deal Milledge, Minaya should have held on to the outfielder and waited and hoped for one of two things to happen: A) Milledge lights up pitchers in the spring and plays his way into a starting spot, taking Shawn Green's to the bench and giving the Mets an outfielder under 30; or B) Milledge plays well, but continues clashing with manager Willie Randolph and the Mets veterans.

In scenario A, everyone is happy and Minaya looks like a genius by not giving away talent. In situation B, while acknowledging Milledge's talent, the Mets could deal him at the break for a pitching upgrade or help in an injury area if he is really destroying the clubhouse. While there is always the possibility Milledge doesn't play well and still cause problems, his age and his physical tools would still warrant decent prospects in return at the deadline.

3.) Now here is where the real problem is. Minaya has decided that Milledge must be moved, and that he cannot get a frontline starter in return. This is why you should never force a deal. In exchange for Milledge, a five-tool top outfield prospect who can do it all, the Mets got an already over-the-hill catcher with a terrible contract and a mediocre left fielder.

Schneider, who does work well with young pitching staffs, is signed for $4.9 million a year through 2009. The 31-year-old has never league-average OPS+ in a full season, has virtually no power and is a terrible contact hitter. He walks a surprisingly high number of times, probably due to a fairly good batting eye. That being said, the Mets already have two catchers (Johnny Estrada and Ramon Castro) on the roster. Both of those guys will give production not too much different from what Schneider will probably do this year. And to make matter worse, they just signed both of them! Right now, the Mets have three catchers on their roster who will make a combined $12.9 million, none of whom is named Mauer or Martin.

Church, meanwhile, is not a bad player. He had an OPS+ of 114 and 15 homers in 470 at-bats in a stadium that just kills hitters. That being said, Church is 29 heading into this season, and probably works out (best case scenario) to the tune of .290/.370./.480 over the next two or three years. He is not an elite defensive outfielder. He does not have the same physical tools Milledge has, and, aside from his contract, has very little value to the A's or the Twins.

All in all, prodigiously dumb move for the Mets, especially as it needlessly strengthens a divisional rival, and the Nationals are not nearly as bad as everyone thinks they are. Now, with Milledge in center, Manny Acta won't need to chose among Nook Logan, Alex Escobar and Ryan Langerhans in center, and giving the Nats an outfield of Milledge, Wily Mo Pena and Austin Kearns — not too shabby. While the Nats now need a catcher, it's not a terribly big hole in the lineup. So long as Milledge hits at least what Church did last year, the Nats won't see a huge drop off in production overall. Great job Omar. Great job.

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