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.