Mets deal Milledge for Nats' Church, Schneider

NEW YORK -- Looking to shuffle their roster after an
embarrassing collapse this season, the New York Mets found a new
catcher and right fielder Friday.

The price: prized outfield prospect Lastings Milledge.

After holding onto Milledge through years of trade speculation,
the Mets finally dealt him to the Washington Nationals for catcher
Brian Schneider and outfielder Ryan Church.

"I thought we needed to change it up a little," New York
general manager Omar Minaya said. "Names like Schneider and Church
are not known names, but they give us balance."

In Schneider, the Mets add yet another catcher following their
trade for Johnny Estrada last week. Coming off two operations and
deficient on defense, Estrada is probably on his way out without
ever suiting up for New York.

In Milledge, the Nationals pick up a talented young player they
hope can avoid the sort of missteps that marked his Mets career and
be a key component of their rebuilding project.

"We're getting a guy who has a chance to be an impact bat in
our lineup for years to come," Washington manager Manny Acta said.

Considered one of baseball's best defensive catchers, the
31-year-old Schneider was given a lot of credit this season for
holding together a ragtag Nationals rotation. But he struggled at
the plate, batting .235 with six homers and 54 RBIs.

"One of my favorite parts of my game is working with a pitching
staff," Schneider said.

The 29-year-old Church hit .272 with 15 homers and 70 RBIs,
while tying for the team lead with 43 doubles.

"I just love the fact to have a chance to year in and year out
go to the playoffs and try to win a championship," he said. "I've
never been in that situation before."

New York advanced to Game 7 of the 2006 NL Championship Series
before squandering a big NL East lead this September and missing the
playoffs entirely.

For now, the Mets expect Church to be their everyday right
fielder next season.

"We have been working on this trade for a while," Minaya said.
"I think there's still upside with Church."

Milledge has long been linked to trade speculation as the Mets
pursued a top starting pitcher. They're still looking for arms this
offseason, but Minaya said teams told him giving up Milledge
wouldn't prevent New York from completing other possible deals
because the club has enough additional players who are attractive.

"There might have been a higher value up ahead," Minaya said.
"I do believe when it's all said and we're getting two good
players for him, two players at key positions for us."

Minaya is familiar with both players he gets in the deal from
his time as GM of the Montreal Expos, the franchise that moved to
Washington before the 2005 season.

Milledge and Acta know each other from Acta's stint as the Mets'
third-base coach.

"I can assure you Lastings is a good kid," Acta said. "He
came up very young in a tough spot, in New York, and he wasn't
prepared to handle that. You can't believe everything you read and
you hear. I believe the kid is going to be just fine with us."

Milledge hit .272 with seven homers and 29 RBIs in 184 at-bats
with the Mets in 2007. Now, he gets a chance to play every day.

"That's the most important thing to me at this point in my
career," Milledge said. "It's a real big relief for me and my
family and everybody, because I really didn't get enough time to
show what I can do."

Still just 22, Milledge was the Mets' top prospect when he made
his major league debut in May 2006. Right away, he showed why he
was so highly rated on the field -- but also drew the ire of his
team and teammates.

One of the most publicized episodes came in the town that will
be his new home. In September 2006, a sign was posted in Milledge's
locker in the visiting clubhouse at RFK Stadium that read: "Know
your place, Rook. Your teammates."

Milledge earlier had been reprimanded for not running hard on
the bases and had arrived late to the clubhouse for a game. He also
rankled Mets management by making a rap CD that used offensive

"As far as the controversy goes, sometimes you feel like you
get a raw end of the deal," Milledge said. "But whether it was or
wasn't, it made me a better person, it made me a better ballplayer.
It helped me at a young age to play at a big market and have
everybody against you at one time."

The Mets acquired Estrada from Milwaukee for reliever Guillermo Mota. They also re-signed Ramon Castro to be their backup catcher again, though he could see more playing time next year.

New York could try to unload Estrada at the winter meetings next
week. If it doesn't, the club might decline to offer him a 2008
contract by the Dec. 12 deadline. That would make Estrada a free
agent and the Mets wouldn't owe him anything.

Paul Lo Duca was New York's starting catcher the past two
seasons but the Mets showed little interest in re-signing him.
Yorvit Torrealba appeared set to become the team's No. 1 catcher
when he and the Mets reached a preliminary agreement this month on
a $14.4 million, three-year contract that was subject to a
physical. But that deal fell through and Torrealba re-signed with