There seems to be almost no doubt in the minds of Mets followers that Omar Minaya will make some sort of move before the July 31st deadline. Minaya has shown a flair for pulling off the spectactular move; so far he’s made free agent acquisitions (Carlos Beltran, Pedro Martinez, Billy Wagner) and postseason trades (Carlos Delgado, Paul Lo Duca). However, in his two seasons as the general manager of the Mets, he has yet to make the move at the trade deadline; there simply was no reason to do so last year.
This year is a little different. The Mets are in first place; barring a miracle from the likes of the Braves, Phillies, or Marlins, they will not be challenged for the NL East this season. In fact, there likely isn’t a team in the entire National League better, though in a short five-game or seven-game series, you never know who may come on top. But things would be different once they made the World Series. The American League has four teams among the elite in the major leagues this season; the Tigers, White Sox, Red Sox, and Yankees.
It’s questionable as to whether the Mets have the pitching to get through a series with any of those teams. Pedro Martinez’s health is a question mark; until he starts a game and shows he’s healthy, he can’t be trusted. Tom Glavine started the season brilliantly, but has been slowed of late. Steve Trachsel is Steve Trachsel; a solid guy who will eat 175-200 innings, and not somebody you’d want starting a World Series game if it can be avoided. Orlando Hernandez is old, and amazingly inconsistent. John Maine, Mike Pelfrey, and Brian Bannister (when he returns from injury) are young and unproven at the major league level. I don’t think Mets fans are ready for a second go-around with Alay Soler, and Omar Minaya might get shot if he suggests a third go-around with Jose Lima.
So it would appear as though this Mets team could use a front-line starter. Unfortunately, there isn’t much out there. Dontrelle Willis’ name keeps coming up, but as long as he remains relatively cheap to the Florida Marlins, he will remain in Miami. This team would have to have some sort of talent base if/when they are moved. I think a lot of Mets fans would like to see them acquire Willis, if only because he is a Mets killer, but I’m not sure the Mets have the prospects to acquire him, since he would likely require more than Lastings Milledge. Despite the rumors, I see Willis staying put in Miami, and nothing short of the first born children of Omar Minaya and Jeff Wilpon, in addition to Lastings Milledge, would get it done.
The only other frontline starter on the market is Barry Zito. He would give the Mets another quality lefty starter, and assuming they resign him before he hits free agency, would give the Mets a quality left-handed starter to replace Tom Glavine, who I’m assuming will likely head back to Atlanta to win his 300th game in the offseason. The problem with Zito is, again, his availability. The A’s are in the middle of a pennant race. They’re leading the AL West, up a game on the Rangers, two and a half on the Angels, and five on the Mariners. One would think they would like to keep Zito if they plan to win the AL West, plus Billy Beane has never made a trade deadline deal to dump a player, often preferring to acquire the draft picks that would come with the free agent signing.
The Mets do have a major trading chip on the table; Lastings Milledge. While conventional wisdom says he takes left field from Cliff Floyd in 2007, conventional wisdom also said the Mets would be in the playoff hunt, not running away from the field. With the Mets in position to secure their first World Series berth since 2000, they can’t hesitate to make a move if it’s the difference between winning the World Series and winning for the National League pennant. While I like Lastings, and would hate to part with him, if a team has a chance to have a special season, and complete the ultimate goal if it means parting with a key prospect, they have to make that move. Lastings is unproven at the major league level, and if he can be used to procure a player who is, they have to make the move.
Unfortunately, as mentioned above, the position they most need help, pitcher, appears to have few options. The only two pitching options on the market where the Mets should even consider trading Milledge are Zito and Willis, and they both look iffy to actually get moved. Anybody else, and they’re making a Scott Kazmir trade. Livan Hernandez has been lousy, and Jim Bowden, after ripping off the Reds, is probably full of himself to the degree where he won’t trade Livan without getting an A+ prospect in return. Greg Maddux would be interesting to reunite with Glavine, but he’s old, and how much would the Cubs want in return for an aging pitcher? Jason Schmidt is supposedly available, but why would the Giants want to move their ace when they’re in two playoff races at the moment?
After that, the market really takes a hit, with a slew of Gil Meches, Kyle Lohses, Rodrigo Lopezes, and the like available. If Minaya traded Milledge to acquire any of those players, he’d likely be stabbed in the heart with a trident. At this point, it’s doubtful any of those guys except for Meche would definitely be an improvement over what the Mets currently throw out there; I mean, is Kyle Lohse really better than John Maine? They’d be spending money, and trading a prospect, to get marginally better in the rotation, and it’s probably not worth it.
So with options limited on pitching, do the Mets go in another direction? One player that has been linked to the Mets of late is Bobby Abreu. A lot of Mets fans are down on acquiring Abreu. I’m not necessarily one of them. Bobby Abreu would be an instant upgrade in right field; Xavier Nady is likely a stretch as an everyday right fielder. He has good power, but can’t hit righties very well and doesn’t get on base much. With Abreu on the team, the Mets’ bench gets that much stronger, and gets some added pop to boot, and can play the four corners.
A lot of Mets fans have complained about Abreu’s attitude, and his lack of hustle. My opinion is, much like Carlos Beltran, Abreu wears his attitude differently than some. He may not play the smoothest right field, but he’s no better or no worse than Nady, only a much better hitter. While he doesn’t have Nady’s power, Abreu is currently fifth in the majors in on-base percentage, at .438, over 100 points higher than Nady. He’s very good at not making outs. On this team, where he could help keep innings alive, he’d be very valuable. Stick Abreu in the 2 or 3 hole, and this lineup would definitely improve.
But should the Mets trade Milledge for him? My answer is…only if they absolutely cannot get Zito or Willis. If they’ve pursued every possible avenue with the A’s and the Marlins, and still can’t get that big upgrade for the rotation, then Abreu is the way to go. There’s no other impact players on the market that could definitely make the Mets a better team now; maybe Alfonso Soriano, but that’s it. In a season like this, the Mets may not be in this position again, where they could possibly win the World Series. Being aggressive is the only choice they have.
The Soriano option is out there as well. He’s another guy that isn’t exactly beloved among Mets fans, but the Mets could give him something he’d want very badly; the chance to return to second base. While Valentin has been impressive, Soriano would be an upgrade at second, and the Mets could use Valentin in the bench role that was envisioned of him before the season. I’m just not sure the Mets are really interested in Soriano, mostly because his defense is atrocious. However, I wouldn’t have a problem with it.
There are other players the Mets are interested in. Julio Lugo’s name continues to be mentioned, but that would be a mistake. Unlike Soriano, he would not improve the Mets’ second base situation. There’s some bullpen help the Mets are reportedly interested in, and while there is the worry that some arms are getting overworked, their bullpen is among the best in the majors, and a move to stregnthen it could wind up being too costly.
So that’s where I stand, with the Mets a little more than a week away from the deadline. I think they almost have to acquire a pitcher, preferably a front-line starter. The availability of such a player right now is in question, but there’s still another week or so to go. If they can’t get a top pitcher, they have to find another way to improve this team somehow, because as they are currently constructed, I’m not confident they can win the World Series. Doing nothing is not an option. What do you guys think?