I did not see this one coming. Not by a long shot.
It’s currently being reported that the New York Mets have dealt OF prospect and legendary rapper Lastings Milledge to the Washington Nationals in exchange for catcher Brian Schneider and outfielder Ryan Church.
It doesn’t come as much of a surprise that Milledge has been dealt. His name had been bandied about in many trade rumors, often involving the Oakland A’s (either for Joe Blanton or as part of a package for Danny Haren). Now I have no inside knowledge of the Mets brass’ collective thought process, but to me this signals that Billy Beane had either soured on Milledge or was never as interested as reporters thought. If the Mets had a shot to upgrade their starting pitching via Oakland by trading Milledge, one would have to assume that Omar Minaya would have saved this bullet for the right time. Instead, Milledge is going to Washington where he should see a lot of playing time. Most scouts seem to still view him as an above-average outfielder in the future, if not future All-Star.
So why did the Mets do it?
First off, there’s something else here. In the last week or so, the Mets acquired three catchers – they resigned Ramon Castro to a two-year deal, traded for Johnny Estrada, and have now also acquired Schneider. Unless they’re planning on employing the first ever catching (righty-switch-lefty) trio, they most likely will be looking to deal one of the three.
But the bigger piece here is Ryan Church. I’ve mentioned in a previous post that I actually like Church. Despite playing in a massive pitcher’s park, he still managed to attain a .813 OPS in 2007. In fact, he slugged over .500 away from RFK. I don’t expect his numbers to get that much better since Shea is just as much a pitcher’s park. But what he does offer the Mets lineup is the lefty hitter they’ve been lacking since letting Shawn Green hit the market. Church should slot in as the #2, 7 or 8 hitter in the Mets lineup (I’m not much of a fan of the idea of Luis Castillo in the second spot). While he had a .349 OBP in 2007, he performed better in that department in ’05 and ’06, so I expect him to bounce back into the .360 OBP level, which should be good enough to hit near the top of the order. Plus, he has much more pop than Castillo (who doesn’t?). Church should improve the Mets offense in the short term. Defensively, he’s nothing special, but he isn’t bad either. While he played mostly in left in Washington, he’ll most likely be a RFer for the Mets.
Overall, I think it’s pretty ballsy of Omar Minaya to trade Milledge to a team within his own division. Mets fans will get to see L-Millz 18 times in the 2008 regular season wearing that Nationals uniform and they’ll judge for themselves if he ever was going to be a star. I’m pretty confident that this (assuming that trading Milledge for good pitching was simply not an available option) improves the Mets chances in 2008. But we’ll all have to wait and see to know if this trade is a big mistake.
P.S: I expect the fans of Flushing to immediately want to burn Minaya for this deal. The press and blogs have talked SO MANY times about dealing Milledge for pitching that I think lots of people will look at this trade and think that Minaya took Church/Schneider over someone like Haren or Johan Santana. Me? I’m pretty sure that had such a possibility existed, Omar would have never looked in Washington’s direction.
UPDATE: Well, not really an “update”, but a clarification – I was just re-reading this and I think it comes off sounding a bit too positive from the Mets’ perspective. So instead of writing this over again, I’m just going to add that I’m not exactly thrilled with this trade. It’s not as bad as it seems on the surface, but it’s definitely not good. Just wanted to point this out.