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In Schneider, the Mets add yet another catcher, following their trade for Johnny Estrada last week. In Milledge, the Nationals pick up a talented young player they hope can avoid the sorts of missteps that marked his Mets career and be a key component of their rebuilding project.
Schneider was given a lot of credit last season for holding together a ragtag Nationals starting rotation, but he struggled at the plate, batting .235 with six homers and 54 RBIs. <!-- INLINE HEADSHOT (BEGIN) -->
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Church hit .272 with 15 homers and 70 RBIs, while tying for the team lead with 43 doubles.
Mets general manager Omar Minaya is familiar with both players he gets in the deal from his time as GM of the Montreal Expos, the franchise that moved to Washington before the 2005 season.
And Milledge and Nationals manager Manny Acta know each other from Acta's stint as the Mets' third-base coach.
Milledge hit .272 with seven homers and 29 RBIs in 184 at-bats with the Mets in 2007.
Still just 22, he was the Mets' top prospect when he made his major league debut in May 2006. Right away, he showed why he was so highly rated on the field -- but also drew the ire of his team and teammates.
One of the most publicized episodes came in the town that will be his new home. In September 2006, a sign was posted in Milledge's locker in the visiting clubhouse at RFK Stadium that read: "Know your place, Rook. Your teammates."
Milledge earlier had been reprimanded for not running hard on the bases and had arrived late to the clubhouse for a game. He also rankled Mets management by making a rap CD that used offensive language. Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
Lastings Milledge is still one of the better young outfield prospects in the game. By dealing him for an awful player in Brian Schneider, the Mets sold low on a former first-round pick with a lot of upside and committed two years and too much money to a catcher who can't hit. The Mets get ... nothing, or close to it. Schneider will earn $10.3 million over the next two years to sit behind the plate when the rules call for it, and to make 300-odd outs at the plate while hitting .230/.320/.330 or thereabouts.
He is the definition of replacement level -- his offensive production was roughly as valuable as what Guillermo Quiroz did in eleven plate appearances for Texas last year -- and paying him $10 million is bad enough. Giving up something of value to acquire that contract is horrible. It would be better to pay Johnny Estrada $3-4 million to be bad for one year than Schneider over $10 million to be worse for two years.
There's a small silver lining for the Mets in the acquisition of Ryan Church, a capable platoon bat in left or right field if you have a right-handed caddy for him. Unlike Schneider, he has value on a big league roster, but even swapping Milledge straight-up for Church wouldn't make sense because of Church's struggles against lefties, his long history of minor injuries, his age and his expense as a super-two player this winter. Milledge could easily be the second-best hitter in the Nationals' lineup in 2008, and moved back to his natural position of center field, he gives them two plus defenders on the field as well.
Milledge has quick wrists with line-drive power, and good plate coverage. His pitch recognition is weak right now, and he's vulnerable to anyone who can change speeds. This wasn't as much of a problem for him in the minors, so there's reason to expect an improvement. He played mostly right field in the majors for the Mets and never adjusted to the different looks a fielder gets from that position, but in center field, he has plus range and an above-average arm. He's probably not a star, but he projects as an above-average bat who plays a good defensive center field, and Washington has his rights for the next five years. Milledge's value was down due to some concerns over his attitude, but those were really overblown, and Washington just picked up a good prospect for about 20 cents on the dollar.
The only way this deal doesn't turn out to be a disaster for the Mets -- second in this decade only to the Victor Zambrano-Scott Kazmir deal -- is if Milledge doesn't pan out as a hitter, and the smart money is that he will. This is a heist for Washington, and a serious mismanagement of assets for the Mets.