Cockcroft: Milledge and Young trade places, and new stadiums
Lastings Milledge was traded on Friday. Considering how many big names he was rumored to be dealt for the past year, can we really be surprised he's now an ex-Met?
No? Well, how about surprising you with the haul the Mets got from the Nationals in exchange for the 2003 first-rounder, and Baseball America's 2006 No. 9 prospect in baseball: catcher Brian Schneider and outfielder Ryan Church.
I'll let you catch your breath for a moment first (especially if you're a Mets fan).
Wasn't Milledge supposed to fetch the Mets that front-line starting pitcher, a Johan Santana, Dan Haren or Erik Bedard, or perhaps a lesser option like Joe Blanton? Instead, the Mets got themselves a regular at a position they had seemingly already filled (catcher) and an outfielder best served in a platoon or fourth-man role.
Fortunately for Milledge, he stands a much better chance at an everyday role in Washington than he did in New York. With a .246 batting average and .703 OPS for his career against right-handers, compared to .281/.818 against southpaws, Milledge might have been in danger again of losing a good chunk of at-bats against righties with the Mets. With the Nationals, he'll stand a better chance at an everyday role, so long as one of him, Austin Kearns or Wily Mo Pena can handle the center field chores. (I'm thinking Kearns.)
If you're worried about the ballpark factor, incidentally, remember that pitching-friendly RFK Stadium's days are numbered. Getting out of Shea Stadium should help Milledge, and one can't imagine that the brand-new Nationals Park won't be any more adverse to hitters than Shea was. No, the worries with Milledge are his rambunctiousness, and that at age 22 (23 next April 5), his long-term ceiling could be as high as perennial All-Star, or as low as above-average outfielder. This is a classic risk/reward prospect, the kind fantasy owners are best to stash on the sleeper pile in mixed formats or track carefully for NL-only purposes. The spring, where Milledge will hash out his 2008 role, will be critical to watch, because he could range from "great" to "average regular." I'm thinking he's more a late-round mixed pick, perhaps a third or fourth NL-only outfielder, for next season.
For the Mets, with Schneider's acquisition, Johnny Estrada, acquired from the Brewers a mere 10 days ago, probably is on his way out of New York. He'll either be traded or non-tendered next month, despite having 43 points of batting average and 37 points of OPS on Schneider. Schneider, though, brings better defense and a much stronger arm -- he nailed 24 of 77 opposing baserunners (31.2 percent) in 2007. Fantasy owners certainly want Estrada first, but only should he land elsewhere as a regular. Schneider, meanwhile, is a player far more useful to the Mets than fantasy; at best, he's a No. 2 NL-only catcher.
Church, as things stand today, might stand a shot at fairly regular at-bats -- close to the 470 he received in 2007 -- in right field for the Mets. Like Milledge, though, the danger is that he's a platoon candidate, batting .287 with an .866 OPS against right-handers in 2007, .275/.833 for his career. Fortunately that's a better side to be strong on, but at age 29, Church probably won't improve much on what he was this past season. Assuming comparable playing time to what he saw in Washington, he'll be, like Milledge, a No. 3 or No. 4 outfielder in NL-only formats. Good enough, but hardly exciting.
What'll be interesting to see, though: Whether Church's addition frees the Mets up to trade Carlos Gomez for some pitching help. If that happens, it'd be a sure sign they see Church as a regular, so as always this early in the offseason, stay tuned ...
Speaking of surprising, that'd be an ideal term to describe the kind of comeback enjoyed by Troy Percival this past season. After missing half the 2005 season and all of 2006 with a forearm injury that everyone assumed would force him into retirement, he popped back up as a member of the Cardinals' bullpen, registering a 1.80 ERA and 0.85 WHIP in 34 appearances, ranking as one of the game's most effective relievers during that span.
Now, he's cashed in on his comeback, signing a two-year, $8-million contract with the Rays (that's right, folks, they've exorcized the "Devil" from the team name). At that salary, Percival will likely be given a long look in the closer role during spring training, though with Al Reyes and Dan Wheeler on board, that might prove quite the competition. Remember, Tampa Bay's rotation is no longer the instant discard it was in the past, so the closer actually matters now. At 38 years old and with his recent injury history, Percival isn't a guy I'm ready to trust, but if he nabs the role with a strong spring, he'll warrant third-tier closer (or second-tier AL-only) consideration in drafts. It's all in how he looks in March.
In a move that seemed inevitable for the past month, Kenny Rogers re-signed with the Tigers on a one-year contract on Friday. He'll claim one of the team's rotation spots, with Justin Verlander, Jeremy Bonderman, Nate Robertson and Andrew Miller presumably assuming the others. Hopefully, Rogers' signing won't mean that Miller is stuck in a spring-training battle for the No. 5 spot.
Rogers made only 11 starts in 2007, limited by surgery to remove a blood clot from his shoulder and by elbow problems, though what he offered when healthy is about the best you can expect. Rogers' 4.43 ERA and 1.43 WHIP are more the rates of a spot-start candidate, and more one in AL-only leagues when facing weak lineups. That seems about right for him in his age-43 season, especially accounting for the injury risk.
Tristan H. Cockcroft covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.
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