|Lastings Milledge has seemingly been a Mets’ trade chip since the day he first put on a big league uniform in May 2006. New York cashed him in Nov. 30, netting catcher Brian Schneider and outfielder Ryan Church from the Nationals.|
|The Big Leaguers|
|Milledge, who will be 23 in 2008, has served as an occasional starter for the Mets in his two big league seasons, filling in for injured players and even getting an extended trial in July and August 2007. He hit .272/.341/.446 with seven home runs in 184 at-bats last year, doing most of his damage against lefthanders. The 12th overall pick of the 2003 draft from a Florida high school, Milledge signed for a $2.075 million bonus (payable over five years as a two-sport athlete). Considered one of the minors’ top prospects in 2004-2005, he rose quickly through the farm system, batting .306/.380/.480 in 307 games, getting his first callup when Xavier Nady went down after having an appendectomy in May 2006. He showed flashes of brilliance with the bat and with his throwing arm, but also showed minimal aptitude for playing defense or baserunning. Milledge started to hit in 2007, but struggled, like most young players do, with quality breaking balls from righthanders and changeups from lefties. He didn’t help his case last season by cutting a rap track with misogynistic lyrics or by getting suspended for three games in the heat of the pennant race for violently arguing with umpire Jim Joyce after he’d been ejected.
Church, 29, played in a career-high 144 games for the Nationals in 2007, hitting .272/.349/.464 with 15 home runs and 70 RBIs in 470 at-bats. The lefthanded batter hit better (.278/.342/.506 with 10 home runs) away from spacious RFK Stadium, and his OPS was more than 200 points lower against southpaws. The split is about 100 points less for his career. Church plays all three outfield spots, but fits best in right field, where his strong arm and average range play best. Washington acquired Church, along with Maicer Izturis, from the Indians for lefty Scott Stewart in January 2004. The Indians selected Church in the 14th round of the 2000 draft from Nevada, where he originally was a pitcher. He’s hit .271/.348/.462 with 35 home runs in 997 big league at-bats, and he’ll be eligible for arbitration for the first time after the 2008 season.
Schneider, 31, has served as the Expos/Nationals primary catcher since 2003, the year Michael Barrett was limited by injury to 70 games. The organization (then the Expos, and for the 10 years thereafter) selected him in the fifth round of the 1995 draft from a Pennsylvania high school. Though he offers the rare lefthanded bat at the catcher position, Schneider has not made offense his forte. He’s a career .252/.323/.377 hitter more renowned for his leadership and receiving skills. It doesn’t hurt that he has an average arm, having thrown out 30 percent of basestealers over the past two seasons. Schneider, who hit .235/.326/.336 last year for Washington, has two years left on the four-year, $16 million extension he signed in January 2006.
|Milledge has just 350 big league at-bats, but is no longer considered a prospect.|
|After watching the Mets play without intensity last September as they choked away the NL East title, general manager Omar Minaya felt compelled to acquire players who play with more passion. He found two in Church and Schneider—even if they don’t offer the youth or upside of Milledge. (Interestingly, Minaya was GM with the Expos when they acquired Church from the Indians in 2004.) Church assumes the right-field job that, presumably, was Milledge’s to lose. Schneider give the Mets a third option at catcher, joining Ramon Castro and Johnny Estrada, who is arbitration eligible. By making the trade, Minaya also signals the organization’s long-term preference for outfielders Carlos Gomez and Fernando Martinez, who both could be ready in 2009.
The Nationals, meanwhile, add another young outfielder with upside, at a very reasonable cost, to their lineup. Milledge joins Austin Kearns and Wily Mo Pena in an all-righthanded-hitting outfield in which Milledge probably will play center. Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who also is a righthanded batter, rounds out a potential Washington middle of the order as they move into Nationals Ballpark in 2008.