Big Trade Lands Putz In N.Y.

The Deal
Not more than a day after the ink dried on closer Francisco Rodriguez’s three-year deal with the Mets, New York took further steps to bolster its much-maligned bullpen by trading for Mariners righthander J.J. Putz, Seattle’s closer in each of the past three seasons. The trade is notable not only because Putz, who will be 32 next season, is expected to assume a set-up role with his new club, but also because of the sheer size of the deal, which involved a third team, the Indians and 12 players total. Our Trade Central register tracks deals going back through the 2001 season and no other trade can match this one for scope. The previous high had been nine players. It’s also new Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik’s first trade at the helm.

UPDATE: Conor has unearthed the last 12-player trade, which involved the Padres and Astros and took place on Dec. 28, 1994.

The Mets also acquired righthanded reliever Sean Green and center fielder Jeremy Reed from the Mariners, but because they received the most significant veteran in the deal, New York also parted way with the most players—seven.  Seattle received that same number of players for its trouble, acquiring right fielder Franklin Gutierrez from the Indians and righthander Aaron Heilman, outfielder Endy Chavez, Double-A first baseman Mike Carp and Triple-A lefty Jason Vargas from the Mets. New York also kicked in two A-ball prospects: low Class A righthander Maikel Cleto, 19, and high Class A center fielder Ezequiel Carrera, 21.

For furnishing the Mariners with Gutierrez, the Indians received lefthanded-hitting second baseman Luis Valbuena from Seattle and side-arming righthanded reliever Joe Smith from the Mets.

The Young Players
Valbuena, 23, is coming off a season where he hit .303/.382/.431 split between Double-A West Tenn and Triple-A Tacoma, earning a September callup to the big league club and narrowly missing being included in the Mariners top 10 prospect list. It was a successful season for Valbuena, as the numbers represent career highs in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging. He’s been in the Venezuelan League this winter, where he’s hit .280/.333/.510 over 100 at-bats. The 5-foot-10, 200-pound Valbuena uses a patient approach from the left side of the plate and never gives away at-bats. Though his power is strictly gap-to-gap, he has good hand-eye coordination and contact skills that should enable him to hit for average. While his speed is just average, Valbuena has good range at second base, a strong throwing arm and good footwork that allows him to turn a smooth double play.

Carp, 22, showed vast improvement in his conditioning and attitude in his repeat of Double-A in 2008. He led the Eastern League with 79 walks and ranked fifth in on-base percentage as part of a .299/.403/.471 campaign with Binghamton in which he hit 17 home runs and drove in 72 runs. A below-average first baseman and athlete, Carp saw time in left field during the season and he’s continued to see time there in the Venezuelan League this winter. Reviews are mixed on how much power the lefty-batting Carp will manage at the big league level because his bat is a tick slow and he can be beaten with quality fastballs on the inner half of the plate. On the plus side, he does have a strong batting eye and the all-fields approach needed to hit for average. He was New York’s sole addition to its 40-man roster in November.

Relying on excellent control of a live, 91-98 mph fastball (he hit 100 at least once), Cleto racked up 136 innings as a 19-year-old for low Class A Savannah. In fact, the sturdily-built 6-foot-3, 218-pound righthander sported the top fastball in the South Atlantic League, according to managers in our Best Tools survey, though one wouldn’t necessarily know it judging by the results. The young Dominican went 5-11, 4.25 with 81 strikeouts and 34 walks, while leading the league only with 25 wild pitches. Cleto needs to refine a slurvy breaking ball and changeup, but his power arm alone makes him a viable relief prospect, and a good long-term acquisition by Seattle.

Carrera, 21, has drawn comparisons to Endy Chavez for his range and versatility in the outfield as well as his slight frame and above-average speed. He batted .263/.344/.393 in 430 at-bats for high Class A St. Lucie, showing modest plate discipline and below-average power. The lefthanded-hitting Carrera is geared for slapping singles, with occasional gap power, and he was one of the swiftest players in the Mets organization before the trade. If things break right for him, he might make it as an extra outfielder.

He’s not technically prospect eligible, but Vargas has made just 20 big league starts and was a forgotten man in 2008 as he recovered from March surgery to repair the labrum in his left hip. He got back in the mound in the Arizona Fall League and threw well enough to post a 2.10 ERA in relief. Vargas turns 25 in February, and at his best he’s a three-pitch lefty with a high-80s fastball and a plus slider—as evidenced by the anemic .212/.299/.347 that big league lefties have managed off him. However, his overall results are nothing to write home about: 6-8, 5.81 with 88-63 K-BB and 17 home runs allowed in 127 innings.

Not-So Quick Take
Putz was lights out in 2006 and 2007, after learning a splitter from Eddie Guardado, and he emerged as one of baseball’s top relief aces. Though his 2008 season was abbreviated by injuries—he missed time with a rib injury that led to a sore elbow—Putz retained his 94-95 mph velocity and still was effective when healthy, just not as dominant as he had been the previous two years. From 2006 through 2008, he posted a 2.34 ERA and 91 saves, while striking out 11, walking 2. 5 and serving up 0.6 home runs per nine innings. Putz avoided arbitration before the 2007 season with a three-year deal that will pay him $5 million in 2009 with an $8.6 million club option for 2010.

With continued health, Putz figures to be a key piece of the Mets’ bullpen as they head to brand-new Citi Field, while Green and Reed figure to fill supporting roles. Green, 29, doesn’t blow hitters away with his stuff, but he’s a sinker/slider reliever who can soak up innings and generate ground balls with his 6-foot-6 frame and low three-quarters arm slot. Mariners might remember him as one of the few trade acquisitions by former general manager Bill Bavasi that actually turned out well for the organization. Green came to Seattle from the Rockies in exchange for righthander Aaron Taylor in 2004. Green went 4-5, 4.67 in 79 innings last season, striking out 62, walking 36 and generating 2.82 groundouts for every airout.

The 28-year-old Reed never lived up to expectations after coming over as the centerpiece of the trade that sent Freddy Garcia to the White Sox in June 2004. He’s a solid defensive center fielder and lefty bat who hit .269/.314/.360 in 97 games for the Mariners last season. Reed likely will settle in as a reserve with the Mets.

The Mets’ first-round pick in 2001, Heilman, 30, flamed out as a starter early in his career, posting a 5.93 ERA in 134 innings. But just don’t let him hear that. Despite serving as the club’s top set-up man from 2005 through 2007, Heilman still views himself as a starter—and he’s not shy about saying so within earshot of the press. His run of success came to an end 2008, however, as he battled tendinitis in his left knee and endured not only the Shea boo birds, but also a 3-8, 5.21 campaign that featured 46 walks and 10 home runs allowed in 76 innings. Heilman still managed a healthy 80 strikeouts, so a rebound is possible if his knee holds up.  

Tommie Agee, eat your heart out. Endy Chavez’s catch against the left-field fence in Game Seven of the 2006 NLCS ranks among the best defensive plays in Mets’ history. If they had won that game, Chavez would be given his proper due. And defensive prowess is the 30-year-old Chavez’s chief asset, as he’s a plus-plus outfielder at all three positions. Though he runs well, bats lefty, makes contact and is a great bunter, he’s not quite as adept when he swings the bat. He batted just .267/.308/.330 last season, which is in line with his career norms.

A third-round pick in 2006, Smith pitched just 42 innings in the minors before making the majors for good the next season. His consistent 88-90 mph heat and low-80s slider from a side-arm delivery has made him impossibly tough on big league righthanded batters. In fact, they’ve hit just .223/.317/.326 against him in 357 plate appearances. The trouble begins for Smith, who will be 25 next year, when the opposing manager calls on a lefthanded pinch-hitter. Lefties get a much better look and have managed a robust .309/.427/.454 against Smith in 119 PAs.

Like Chavez, Gutierrez is an ace defensive outfielder with a very strong arm. The righthanded batter hit.248/.307/.383 with eight home runs 41 RBIs for Cleveland this season. A career .281/.329/.472 hitter versus southpaws, Gutierrez is a viable starter against lefthanded pitchers and a solid defensive-oriented option otherwise. He’ll be 26 next season and he showed a better feel for the strike zone in the minor leagues, so the potential for growth remains, especially considering his solid raw power.

" Trade Central 2008