Nationals Acquire Milledge from Mets

Posted by Dave Nichols | Friday, November 30, 2007 | 0 comments »

The Washington Nationals announced today they have traded veteran catcher Brian Schneider and maligned outfielder Ryan Church to their division rival New York Mets in exchange for talented, but sometimes troubled, outfielder Lastings Milledge.

Milledge, 22, has spent parts of the last two seasons with the Mets, compiling a .257 batting average with eleven home runs and 29 RBIs in 350 at bats. In the minors, Milledge has been an on-base machine, reaching at a .378 clip over parts of four seasons, with a .303 average and slugging .473. He is still mastering the art of stealing bases, but he has plenty of speed to showcase, having stolen 73 bases--while being caught 37 times. He is described as a decent-but-raw fielder, and should settle into centerfield in the new Nationals Stadium, between right fielder Austin Kearns and left fielder Wily Mo Pena.

Most in the Mets organization believed he would turn into a potential 30-30 type of player, in the mold of Eric Davis, another Jim Bowden favorite. As recently as February 2006 he was ranked as the #9 ranked prospect in all of baseball by Baseball America, and while some of that luster may have worn off, there's still plenty of shine there as well, as Milledge was one of the more popular names bandied about in the hot stove talks around baseball this off-season.

Milledge has had some drama in his short big league career. After his first major league homer, on his way back out to the outfield he exchanged high-fives with fans down the right field line, which did not sit well with the opposition and some teammates. He also cut a rap album with songs lyrics objectifying women, which drew the ire of Mets officials.

Schneider takes with him to the Mets a strong defensive presence at catcher, something the Mets deemed a priority in this off-season. He is the second catcher they have acquired, along with Johnny Estrada from the Milwaukee Brewers. Schneider is a career Expo/Nat and a fan favorite in DC. He was generally regarded as the team's captain and backbone along with third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. In 2007, Schneider hit .235 with six home runs and 54 RBIs. He is a career .252/.322/.377 hitter and turned 31 this past Monday.

Church, 29, never lived up to expectations placed on him by the Nationals organization. While he posted career numbers while playing left and center fields last year, hitting .270/.348/.462 with 15 homers and 70 RBIs in 144 games, be was also bounced between left and center and never really found a home. He also tied for the team lead in doubles, along with Zimmerman, with 43. He should compete with rookie Carlos Gomez in right filed for the Mets, while providing insurance for aging and oft-injured left fielder Moises Alou.

BOTTOM(FEEDER) LINE: This is a potentially HUGE deal for the Nats. Milledge has 30-30 talent, and was in need of a fresh opportunity after some of his problems in New York. He will be the full-time center fielder the Nats have been looking for since their move to DC. The trade will be "just ok" for the Mets. There just isn't that much upside in Schneider or Church, in that they are completely known entities. Schneider will hit .250 and control the running game, something of much importance in the NL East with speedsters Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino of the Phillies and Hanley Ramirez of the Marlins. Church will be the left-handed part of a platoon and give you some pop and decent on-base average while playing above-average in the outfield.

This opens up the Nats' full-time catching duties to Jesus Flores and puts them in the market to either upgrade or find a dependable veteran back-up. Currently, the other two catchers invited to camp are veterans Humberto Cota and Chad Moeller. For Jim Bowden to have pulled this off without surrendering closer Chad Cordero or set-up man Jon Rauch has to be considered something of a coup.

The other benefit to this trade is that the Nationals will save a bundle of cash, with Schneider under contract for two more years and over $9 million and Church arbitration eligible for the first time this off-season. Milledge will play for near the league minimum. Also, now that they no longer need a centerfielder, they can spend some of that freed-up cash on starting pitching.