By Mike Steffanos
With the perspective that one whole day provides, we look back at the Kris Benson - Jorge Julio trade.
Bergen Record: Why did they do it?
Steve Popper asks the question on the mind of many Mets fans: just exactly why was this deal made? Popper reports, as others have, that Omar Minaya denies it had anything to do with Anna Benson. He cites Omar that Aaron Heilman will be one of several competing for the fifth starter slot with the newly acquired John Maine, Cuban Alay Soler, Japanese import Yusaku Iriki and Mets' top surviving pitching prospect Brian Bannister; so a starting pitching spot for Heilman is certainly not guaranteed.
When asked about clearing Benson's salary, Minaya was quoted:
As far as clearing salary, the fact is there is a difference. It gives me some flexibility in going forward.
So it would seem that salary dump would be the primary motivation. In addition, Minaya likes what Jorge Julio brings to the Mets, despite his declining numbers in Baltimore:
Some of the things we do like about him, when you talk to scouts, he has a power arm. It's fair to say his command has been an issue.
We have to look into the fact -- his numbers in Baltimore -- that's a small park and he is coming to bigger park. He's not going to be a closer here.
He has close to 80-some saves in the past three, four years. There is some resume. There's youth there. Possibly a change of scenery can help.
Daily News: More on the deal
Anthony McCarron weighs in on yesterday's trade, also opining that salary dump was the key reason:
The Orioles will absorb the remaining money on the three-year, $22.5 million contract that Benson signed before the 2005 season, a highly placed Mets official said, and unloading that burden was one of the main reasons for the deal. The Mets feel they have financial flexibility to make other moves later, and that might lead to them acquiring a big-name starter in the future - Oakland's Barry Zito has been dangled in the past.
...Julio will make roughly $2 million in 2006, so the Mets will save about $5 million in the deal, money that could be earmarked for another move. Minaya said there was nothing imminent and opined, "There's not much out there" on the current free-agent market. He also added, "We'll evaluate in spring training. I think it's fair to say we'll go to spring with (the current staff), but I always believe in working and calling teams up. We have a long way to go from here to spring training."
This would seem to indicate a lack of interest in trying to get Jeff Weaver in on a one-year contract. Frankly, what I read into this deal is simply that Omar Minaya had absolutely no faith that Kris Benson was anything more than he appeared to be in 2005 -- a mediocre pitcher with flashes of brilliance and no stamina over the course of a long season. He's betting that he can get something equivalent out of what he has left for a lot less money, and the salary saved can be used to make another move during the year.
I'm sure the usual suspects in the national media will kill Omar for this, and this certainly is the type of high risk - high reward type of move that leaves a GM exposed to second guessing. I don't love it. As of the few voices in the Mets blogging community that advocated for holding on to Benson, I am somewhat disappointed. The parallels between Jorge Julio and the late, unlamented Armando Benitez are eerie and disturbing.
But Julio has what you can't teach -- a ton of natural ability. John Maine is a kid who was still considered one of the better pitching prospects in baseball just a year ago. Omar saves himself about $5 million a year with this deal. If all he has wrought works out according to plan we will be talking about him as a genius down the road. If not, we might be watching him delivering fake press conferences on ESPN in a couple of years. Say what you want about the "New Mets" under Omar, they are certainly not boring.
Back to the article, after capsulizing Julio's less-than-inspiring career up to now, McCarron offers the following scouting report on the Mets new setup man:
He's got a great arm, outstanding. He's one of those guys, when he's on, he's unhittable. I've had him up to 98 (mph) on the radar gun and he's got a very good slider. But his problem has been control. I thought about two years ago, he was going to be outstanding and he kind of leveled off because of the control. He really struggled last year.
Paging Dr. Rick: Another "10 minute fix" candidate...
Newsday: Jon Heyman on the trade
Crusading journalist Jon Heyman, who has taken credit for breaking the "story" that Anna Benson was negotiating with Playboy to do a spread, provides the following 6 reasons why Benson was traded:
1) General manager Omar Minaya loves Julio's power arm (with Billy Wagner and Julio, who's hit 99 mph, the Mets have the hardest-throwing bullpen back end); 2) Minaya wanted to give Aaron Heilman a shot at the No. 5 starting spot he's been craving; 3) Mets people see other starting alternatives in Yusaku Iriki and maybe even No. 1 draft choice Mike Pelfrey by midseason; 4) While the Orioles rebuffed attempts at former No. 1 pick Adam Loewen, the Mets liked righthander John Maine, another hard thrower (though some note last year's regression); 4) The Mets got younger; 5) Anna Benson will have to don her Santa's helper get-up in Baltimore now; 6) They'll save $13 million because Kris Benson has $15.5 million left through '07 and Julio will make about $2.55 million via arbitration, providing flexibility should something tempting arise later (including Zito).
Heyman also thinks it unlikely that a pre-season Zito trade will happen, or that the Mets have any real interest in Jeff Weaver.
Faith and Fear in Flushing: One on Anna
Frankly, I've stayed away from talking about Anna Benson very much because I just don't care much about the alleged "controversy" she has caused. Jason from FAFIF has penned an interesting piece on why he will miss Anna that actually aims above the reader's waist. Check it out.
MetsDaily.com: Interview with Kevin Czerwinski and Ted Robinson
If you missed this from earlier, John Strubel offers audio interviews with MLB Mets beat reporter Kevin Czerwinski and former Mets play-by-play man Ted Robinson. Czerwinski, although speaking before the trade was officially announced, had an interesting perspective on why Alay Soler's success in winter ball might have contributed to Minaya's confidence he could afford to make it.