Mets welcome right fielder's pop to lineup

Updated: June 18, 2004, 3:06 PM ET
Associated Press

HOUSTON -- Hoping to help their sagging offense, the New York Mets acquired right fielder Richard Hidalgo from the Houston Astros on Thursday for right-handers David Weathers and Jeremy Griffiths.

Richard Hidalgo
Right Field
Houston Astros
58 4 30 21 1 .256

Hidalgo has put up big numbers in the past, but he was in the midst of a disappointing season with the Astros. He recently lost his starting job to Jason Lane, and soon after went to general manager Gerry Hunsicker and asked to be traded.

"We're pleased to have him," Mets manager Art Howe said. "I know what he can do. He's a run-producer, an outstanding right fielder. He hasn't played on a regular basis. He'll get that opportunity here. It's a fresh start for him. I know he's a good middle-of-the-order hitter."

Weathers adds an experienced middle reliever to Houston's bullpen, which is in desperate need of help there. The Mets also get $4 million from the Astros as part of the deal to offset the difference in salaries.

The 28-year-old Hidalgo is batting .256 with four homers and 30 RBIs, a huge drop-off from last year's .309 average with 28 home runs and 88 RBIs. He was voted the Astros' MVP in 2003.

Hidalgo had been in Houston's organization since he was signed out of Venezuela at age 16 in 1991.

"I love it here. This is like my second home," he said. "This is my first time being traded. It's a business. I don't have any control about it."

This could be the first of several moves for the slumping Astros, who entered Thursday night fifth in the NL Central. Houston had lost 20 of 32, dropping to 33-31.

Hidalgo's struggles at the plate were symptomatic of the team's overall problems on offense -- the Astros had been held to fewer than five runs for 15 straight games.

"We're not going to watch what we've been watching all year," Hunsicker said. "We're going to try to create a spark."

New York will probably put Hidalgo in the middle of the lineup, hoping he can provide some needed protection for Mike Piazza and Cliff Floyd. Hidalgo is expected to join the Mets in time for Friday night's game against Detroit.

Hidalgo is still owed $6.62 million of his $12 million salary this season, and the Mets inherit a $15 million option for 2005. But they're almost sure to decline that and pay a $2 million buyout.

"Fifteen million is a difficult salary," Mets general manager Jim Duquette said. "You could exercise the buyout and then renegotiate from there if he plays well enough and he likes it here. We'll keep an open mind."

Weathers is owed $1.99 million of his $3.6 million salary this year. Hunsicker acknowledged that financial considerations played a role in Houston's decision to seek a trade.

"The bottom line is that we will save $3 million on (Hidalgo's) contract," Hunsicker said. "Another reason was for Richard's benefit. He's a proud, competitive person. It was going to be tough for him sitting on the bench."

The Mets, who entered Thursday ranked 15th out of 16 NL teams in hitting (.248) and runs (265), fired batting coach Denny Walling on Tuesday. But New York (30-34) was only 5{ games behind first-place Florida in the NL East.

"Our feeling is this gives us a better chance," Duquette said. "That's not to say we were one player away, but it's an upgrade."

Shane Spencer and Karim Garcia, who had shared playing time in right field, will now come off the bench for the Mets.

Weathers is 5-3 with a 4.28 ERA in 32 appearances.

"You give everything you've got, you hate to see it not bear fruit. It's been a great 2 years, a quick 2 years," he said. "I've never been on a team as close as this one."

When the Mets' clubhouse opened to reporters, the name plate above Weathers' locker had already been replaced by that of left-hander Pedro Feliciano, recalled from Triple-A Norfolk before Thursday's game against Cleveland.

Weathers is expected to join the Astros on Saturday.

"I'll go down there and hope I can do a good job for those guys, and we'll see what happens," he said. "They have an excellent team. It will be exciting to be in the playoff hunt."

Griffiths was 5-2 with a 3.47 ERA at Triple-A Norfolk. He reached the majors last season, going 1-4 with a 7.02 ERA in nine games with the Mets, including six starts. He will report to Houston's Triple-A affiliate in New Orleans.

To make room for Weathers on the roster, Houston designated right-hander Ricky Stone for assignment. The Astros have 10 days to trade, release or send him outright to the minors.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press