The New York Times is reporting that there are signs in the Mets clubhouse that Lastings Milledge has worn out his welcome. Literally. Signs.

A handwritten sign hung above Milledge’s locker after Friday’s game. It read: “Know Your Place Rook!” It was signed: “Your Teammates.” Manager Willie Randolph brushed it off as typical rookie hazing, but Milledge, who was clearly distraught, has alienated a few veteran players with his cocky attitude and what is perceived as a lack of professionalism.

Times writer Ben Shpigel goes on to speculate that Milledge could be used as trade bait in the offseason to lure an ace starter to New York to replace Pedro Martinez, who revealed today that he will have shoulder surgery that will keep him out at least until the 2007 All-Star break.

As for Milledge, some people have jumped up to defend him. Julio Franco is giving him advice on how to deal with the media. But he doesn’t seem to be listening:

On Friday, after the sign had been posted on his locker, Orlando Hernández played the role of Milledge’s protector. Julio Franco took over that role Saturday, telling reporters: “Leave Lastings Milledge alone. Why are you going to him for something that is better left alone?”

Milledge stood by his locker undressing, his back to Franco, and said: “I’m not going to comment on anything. Could you guys leave me alone, please?”

“Just talk to them, see where they’re coming from,” Franco told Milledge. “You need to build a good relationship with the media. You’re a young ballplayer. Just compromise yourself.”

Franco spoke privately with Milledge. After a few minutes, he waved reporters toward Milledge, saying that he would talk soon. When approached, Milledge said he would talk later and went into the training room. He did not return to his locker before the news media’s clubhouse access had ended.

Randolph deflected questions that the sign was evidence of a more serious issue.

“You’re reading too much into this,” Randolph said. “He’s a great kid. He works his butt off. Trying to make him out to be a bad kid or a problem child is unfair.”

If Milledge’s poor second half hasn’t totally eroded his trade value, expect to see him playing somewhere other than New York next season. One thing that could determine if his stock goes up or down is whether or not the Mets put him on their postseason roster. If he gets on that roster and has a few big October moments, he could go from goat to savior in a hurry.

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