Friday, November 30, 2007


Prior to today, I thought the Mets had been having a decent offseason. They hadn't made a big splash, but they had said goodbye to their two worst everyday players, Paul Lo Duca and Shawn Green, making room for better, younger players. The starting rotation would be the same as the one that started 2007 except that Tom Glavine would be replaced by Pedro Martinez, quite a swap if Pedro stays healthy. The 2008 Mets weren't going to be a great team, but they were going to be good. And if they could have added a good starting pitcher, who knows?

They made a trade today, giving up one of their talented young players, but they didn't get that starting pitcher. Lastings Milledge was sent to the Washington Nationals in exchange for Ryan Church and Brian Schneider. The best thing I can say about this trade is that it's not the worst the Mets have made in the last three and a half years.

Ryan Church has hit .271/.348/.462 in 997 at bats over four years in his major league career. In 2007 he hit .272/.349/.464 in 144 games, slightly better than Milledge's .272/.341/.446 in 59 games. And Church was playing in a tougher hitting environment at RFK Stadium. So he may very well be a better hitter than Milledge right now. Church is also said to be the better defender of the two, but Milledge hadn't had much of a chance to adjust to playing right field in the majors after playing center for the majority of his minor league career. Most importantly, Church is twenty-nine years old, so he's about as good as he's going to get, whereas Milledge will turn twenty-three in April and is still improving. I am far from certain that Church will be a better hitter than Milledge in 2008, let alone four or five years down the line. If these two players had been traded for each other straight up it would be perplexing from the Mets' perspective.

The addition of Schneider doesn't make it any easier to understand. The thirty-one year old catcher hit .235/.326/.336 in 129 games this year and has a .252/.323/.377 line for his eight year career. He's an even worse hitter than Paul Lo Duca, though he is younger and better defensively. That defense is apparently what spelled the end of Ramon Castro's days as the Mets' primary catcher. It was a fun couple of weeks, but now Schneider will play every day, making outs as prolifically as his predecessor.

To consider this a good trade for the Mets, one has to believe that Milledge isn't going to get any better than he already is, that Castro can't be counted on to be more than a backup and that Schneider's defense will significantly improve the team. I don't believe any of these things and thus I'm quite upset. Lastings Milledge has a chance to be a star, but he never got that chance with the Mets. Yes, injuries cost him some opportunities in 2007, but even when he was healthy Willie Randolph and Omar Minaya always seemed to be looking for ways to give his at bats to a mediocre veteran with a reputation for being a "gamer." That the Mets would give him up in this trade, not notably improving the team in the short term, still lacking the starting pitcher they covet and likely hurting team in the long term, shows how little the team really thought of him.

This is probably the biggest trade the Mets will make this season as they can't really afford to part with any more young outfielders in search of a pitcher. They should sign Livan Hernandez any day now to fill out this 2004 Expos reunion tour. At least we'll get to see Milledge nineteen times a year. Maybe he'll have a nice battle or two with Scott Kazmir in an All-Star Game someday. I just hope Carlos Gomez and Fernando Martinez get good and quickly. I'd really like to get more than Ryan Church and Brian Schneider back when Omar trades them.


Josh said...

I just got permission to write on this blog, but let me post a response to you instead.

Very simple here.

Castro has starter skills, but can't stay healthy, and has never played more than 99 games in a season. There is a reason for this. He can not be counted on as a starter.

Schneider can hit 8th for all I care. Who else in the lineup will? (Perhaps Delgado). His defense is certainly better that LoDuca and Castro.

Church will be better over the next year or two than Milledge. By then, several of the Mets better prospects will have aged and grown and be ready to come up and take his place.

Long-term, Milledge might be the better half of this deal, but for the Mets, as a TEAM, this makes them better for the next year or so, and lets them wait on other prospects, including Gomez and Fernando Martinez (a top 10 prospect).

Don't get your knickers in a twist. It's not a world beater deal, but it's not doomsday either. Wait till the end of the offseason before we punch Omar's ticket.

At least the Torrealba deal fell through.

joe said...

Castro has starter skills, but can't stay healthy, and has never played more than 99 games in a season. There is a reason for this. He can not be counted on as a starter.

Ryan Church is twenty-nine years old and he's played a full season in the majors precisely once. Why exactly can he be counted on?

Schneider can hit 8th for all I care. Who else in the lineup will? (Perhaps Delgado). His defense is certainly better that LoDuca and Castro.

Schneider used to throw out runners at around 50%, but the last couple of years he's been down to about 30%. Castro was admittedly terrible this year, but the three prior years he was consistently around 30%. Regardless, I don't see the defensive gap being big enough to outweigh the offensive one. Certainly not by a large enough degree to warrant giving up Milledge.

Church will be better over the next year or two than Milledge.

Based on what? They were virtually identical this year and if one of them's going to take a step forward, I'd bet on the twenty-three year old.

By then, several of the Mets better prospects will have aged and grown and be ready to come up and take his place.

The Mets have two good outfield prospects who are anywhere near the majors and they're both at least a year away from being able to hit major league pitching. I would put the chances of a highly touted Mets prospect reaching his potential and doing so in a Mets uniform at significantly less than 50%. The last time I waited for one, he got traded to the Nationals for a decent outfielder and a catcher who can't hit. If the Mets are going to add a pitcher this offseason, they're going to do it by trading Gomez. Then next offseason they'll be in the market for another proven veteran outfielder.

Josh said...

The defensive differences will play themselves out, but I distinctly remember watching catchers try to get better, and it never happening. I'm going to assume that Schneider is around 30% and that castro has a small bounce back to 20%. (Both of them call better games than LowDookie ever did).

Is Schneider's stick weak? Sure. Amazingly, Shea is actually a less-bad hitter's park than DC, and frankly, I think that hitting 8th in a much better lineup may take some pressure off.

Here's some stats, make of them what you will:
Milledge's '07 L/R splits
L - .317 .406 .550
R - .250 .309 .395

Millz Home/Away splits
H - .314 .402 .559
A - .220 .261 .305

Is it possible he's been shown to be a platoon player? Or is it that he just needs more at-bats? We don't know yet. (Church actually goes hits righties better. They would have made a great platoon)

Don't misunderstand me. I don't think this was a great, good, or even necessary deal. But it's not an end of the world deal either.

I think perhaps your last paragraph gives away most of your frustration with this deal. We've been waiting and waiting for this guy to be good. And he probably will be. I'm just old enough to remember the signed Gregg Jefferies ball and card I have stored somewhere at my mom's place. And the longer we waited for Milledge, the more it reminded me of Jefferies.

I just don't think there was any way the Mets, as currently constructed, could wait for him. Unfortunately, I also don't think they could have get much more for him. They do have the young left side of the infield, but remind me where else any youth has shown any real promise? Maine? Like you said, Gomez is probably gone, and not ready.

It's too early in the morning, and I probably should have formatted this response better, but let me summarize here:

Mediocre deal, but this is not a deal that will make or break the Mets over the next 4 years.

joe said...

I just don't think there's much reason to believe Church will be significantly better than Milledge in 2008. I don't put too much stock in Milledge's splits over such a small sample of at bats. But maybe if the Mets hadn't spent so much time jerking Milledge around to get Shawn Green's fearsome bat into the lineup, we and they would know better what he can do. Instead, they let the media and their own broadcasters run down Milledge for things like enjoying rap music and having fun while playing baseball. Then, when his value was at its lowest for reasons having very little to do with his on field performance, they traded him to fill at hole at catcher that didn't exist. If this was just a baseball trade in which the Mets and I had a different opinion of guys' abilities, that would be one thing, but I have to think there are other factors involved in the Mets' desire to dump Milledge for such a modest return.

I agree that this isn't a repeat of Kazmir-for-Zambrano, since Church will likely be a useful player for the Mets for a couple of years. But it still makes me worry that the Omar Minaya who burned the Montreal farm system to the ground has taken up residence in the GM's office, sending that guy who stole Maine and Perez from the Orioles and Pirates packing. For a while it seemed like the Mets might have actually learned to be patient with their young players. Now I'm just waiting for Livan Hernandez to don the orange and blue.

Josh said...

I can't argue with any of that. Except that, perhaps in a sense of wishful thinking, I think Church will improve away from RFK, and Milledge will decline.

Then there's the whole fact that Milledge is a head case, if you put any stock in that.