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Should the Mets Trade Lastings Milledge for Manny Ramirez?

Mike SteffanosTuesday, November 22, 2005
By Mike Steffanos

I thought I would address this topic once and for all, in response to the irresponsible campaign of ridicule waged against Mets fans who are not in favor of this trade by WFAN's Mike Francesa. This is a real pet peeve of mine.

I had the misfortune of listening to the "great one" pontificate against this twice in the past week. On Sunday night I turned on the "Miked Up" television show to listen to an interview with Omar Minaya, and I listened to the radio program for a time this afternoon because they were supposed to have Billy Wagner on the show. I also read something about this last week on The Eddie Kranepool Society blog.

The basic idea here that Francesa beats to death is that Manny Ramirez is a future Hall of Famer while Lastings Milledge is a totally unproven prospect. This is certainly a valid argument in favor of doing the deal, but what ticks me off is that Francesa makes it sound that this is the entire argument, making those of us who are against this trade sound stupid. Francesa likes to recite the litany of previous highly touted Mets prospects that didn't pan out; David West, Alex Ochoa et al, as if this settles the dispute right there. Mets fans that call in with reservations about this deal are dismissed as if they are idiots.

Speaking as a Mets fan that has serious reservations about this potential deal, let me say right off that my argument has absolutely nothing to do with which of these two will be judged by posterity as the greater player. Manny Ramirez is the hands down winner of this one point. If Lastings Milledge succeeds beyond our wildest dreams in the bigs he will not eclipse what Ramirez has accomplished, especially from an offensive standpoint. Manny will be remembered as one of the great hitters of all time, this is obvious.

Our reservations against Manny are equally obvious to us:

  • Manny doesn't really want to come here.
    There have been plenty of unambiguous statements from Manny's camp that Manny doesn't want to play in New York. Other sources in baseball confirm that Manny feels like playing in his home town would be a distraction. Plus, he wants out of Boston because he's tired of the spotlight. Does anyone out there believe that he'll be able to hide in Flushing?

  • Manny will be 34 next year.
    Manny sits at the threshold of life where many hitters start losing bat speed. No one has ever accused him of being a physical fitness fanatic or a steroid user like Bonds. I'm 47, trust me, I've already learned the calendar stops for no one. Your hope here, if you support bringing Manny here, is that this decline is gradual. You hope that he avoids the nagging injuries of the type that hit Jim Thome, Mike Piazza, and Frank Thomas -- the kind of injuries that will make a guy in his mid-30s look old overnight. What makes this more frightening is...

  • Manny makes a lot of money.
    Almost $20 million per year for the next 3 years -- and we hear that Omar might have to offer Manny a 4th year to get him to agree to come here. If injury and age slow Manny, this huge salary burden won't go away. You'd better believe it will affect the Mets' ability to make other moves down the road.

  • What happens when Manny decides he doesn't want to play here anymore?
    Apparently, it's Manny that is forcing the Red Sox' hand to trade him. He's threatened not to show up for spring training if they don't. If in a year or two he decides he wants out of here, are the Mets going to find a team willing to give up a top prospect and take on a lot of salary? Doubt it.

I'm not even going to dwell on the fact that Manny is a bad outfielder that will be greatly exposed by a big ball park like Shea. I'll concede that he will easily drive in enough runs to compensate for what he gives up -- unless his offense goes into a Sosian-type decline. By the way, guess how old Sammy Sosa is? He just turned 37 this month. His numbers began a steep decline around the age of 35. Does that scare you at all? Scares the hell out of me.

At the very least, what we have discussed so far has made this trade far from a "no-brainer". We haven't even talked about Lastings Milledge. Francesa is right about one thing, no one knows what Milledge will do in the majors. You can project all you want, but until a player comes up to the bigs and proves it, he is as much suspect as prospect. It's easy to dismiss a prospect in this regard. One thing to remember, though, is that every player was once a prospect. David Wright gave us a great year last year because Mets management resisted the temptation to trade him for an established player. For a paltry few hundred thou, Wright gave us better production than $17 million got out of Beltran.

And that's the point about prospects -- if you take the risk and hold onto them, and they prove out as good major league ballplayers, you have "bargain" production that allows you to take the money saved and chase after a Billy Wagner. Prospects don't always pan out, but when they do there is substantial reward.

Does that mean that you should never trade a prospect? No. But to me, at the very least it means that you should consider what you're getting in return. We're not getting Manny at 30, and we're not getting a Manny that wants to come here. We're getting a Manny on the cusp of decline that has to be talked into coming here, and then convinced to stay here. And trust me, if the Mets make this deal and it goes bad for them, the first two in line making fun of them for it will be Francesa and Russo.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the Sox will receive more than Lastings Milledge in this deal. We hear Aaron Heilman's name thrown around, maybe Yusmeiro Petit. We're going to give Boston one of the top prospects in all of baseball and a good young pitcher. We're going to wind up taking most or all of Manny's money, giving the Red Sox financial flexibility while solving a problem for them. We can only hope that it works out for us.

And the thing is, the only reason that he might wind up here at all is that no other team in baseball is willing to give up so much in return for Manny and take on so much salary.

Does this mean that trading for Manny Ramirez is guaranteed to be an absolute disaster for the Mets?

I'm not saying that. Unlike Francesa, I'm not arrogant enough to think my point of view is the only one that counts. I understand what Manny could mean to this lineup if his skills don't decline too quickly. The Mets have apparently thrown everything on the table in an effort to get to the post-season. There is nothing like the excitement that permeates Shea stadium when the team is a legitimate contender.

But I do have reservations about the philosophy that makes Manny such an attractive target for this team. We've seen it before; it's the same philosophy that created the 2000 pennant winner that three short years later produced a horrendous 95-loss team. I'm tired of riding the Mets rollercoaster -- aren't you? Wouldn't you rather see the Mets try to build something a little more enduring?

The "golden age" of the Mets lasted for the 7-year period from 1984-1990. It happened because the Mets developed a solid crop of players from their farm system and then carefully supplemented them with key acquisitions over a period of several years. It didn't happen overnight, but the reward was a Mets team that contended regularly for a long time. Their record in those 7 years was 666-466.

Since 1990, the philosophy was always "win now, pay later." In those 15 seasons their cumulative record was 1147-1214. Those 15 years have produced an incredible five 90+ loss seasons and only two 90+ win seasons. They only finished above .500 six times. Is this what you want as a Mets fan for the next 15 seasons? Count me out.

To avoid the pitfalls of the past, the Mets will have to exercise a little more patience with their own talent, and avoid the temptation to chase after expensive superstars on the down side of their careers. It's not as "sexy" in the short run to develop your own talent as it is to acquire a Manny Ramirez, but the long-term rewards will make it more than worthwhile -- at least from my point of view.

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