November 9, 2005

Mets Should Stay Away From Manny

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It seems as if the trade that would send Manny Ramirez to the Mets – which was pronounced dead due to the report that Ramirez had no interest in playing at Shea next season – is very much alive. The only thing I can say to that is [BEEP].

From the Mets’ perspective, this trade would be a huge mistake, adding it to a seemingly endless list already – (in chronological order since 1990) Vince Coleman, Bobby Bonilla, Carlos Baerga, Mike Bordick, Roberto Alomar, Mo Vaughn, Roger Cedeno, Victor Zambrano, and now, Ramirez.

I was actually browsing through the worst trades in baseball history just the other day, when I found an interesting article that was created with the Mets as its motivation. It claimed that even in a mathematical sense, the Amazin’s are more than two standard deviations below the average net trading win shares above baseline (WSAB) – meaning that the players who have been traded away from 1961-2002 have produced more victories than those who have been acquired. In fact, the Mets have by far the greatest differential in this area of any team over that stretch of time – they barely even fit on the graph.

Just the trade of Nolan Ryan and company to the California Angels for Jim Fregosi in 1971, produced an astonishing – 202 WSAB, even greater than trades that sent away Tom Seaver and Jeff Kent.

The proposed trade for Ramirez will be no different. Manny is a great player and no one is arguing that. Last season, he batted .292 with 45 homeruns and 144 RBIs – statistics that would immediately rejuvenate the Mets’ offense.

However, Ramirez is an aging star. He is going to be 34 years old next May and he can’t possibly keep up this level of production for too much longer. Sound familiar? The Mets’ identity over the past decade has been acquiring talent past its prime, and this would be just another example of it.

Many would argue that Ramirez would still post big numbers for at least next year, and I wouldn’t disagree with that. That’s why I think he would be a great fit for a team like the Angels, who are ready to win now. Even though I would like to think so, the Mets are not ready to win in 2006. With Ramirez, they’d probably win the NL East. But, that just isn’t enough.

When the Mets made it to the World Series in 2000, they did so with veteran players – and the franchise paid for it with four disappointing seasons to follow. Acquiring Ramirez would put the organization back in the same situation – and quite frankly, making it to the World Series just isn’t enough this time.

The people pushing for this trade are delusional enough to think that it puts the Mets over the top – which it certainly does not. Those same supporters are too impatient to wait for the reward that will come if the Mets hang on to its young players – instead of squandering them away for short-term satisfaction.

The deal for Ramirez would include Mike Cameron and two of the following three prospects: outfielder Lastings Milledge and pitchers Yusmeiro Petit and Aaron Heilman. Cameron is a piece that I have no problem giving up, as it is no secret that he would prefer to play centerfield. Even Petit, who projects as a middle of the rotation guy, could be used as trade bait. But, I would under no circumstances give up either Heilman or Milledge for an aging player.

Heilman has absolutely nasty stuff. He was the Mets’ first round pick in the 2001 amateur draft, and it has taken a few years for him to develop. But, he is ready to become either a premier starting pitcher in the rotation, or a shut down setup man in front of (hopefully) Billy Wagner. In the second half of last season, Heilman posted a ridiculous 0.68 ERA in 40 innings pitched out of the bullpen. There is no reason to believe he couldn’t translate into the No. 2 starter behind Pedro in 2006. Even though he has terrific value in the bullpen, he has the stamina to be a starter and should be given the chance surrounded by Martinez, Benson, Glavine, and Trachsel.

As for Milledge, this guy is the definition of a stud. He is a five-tool player with seemingly endless potential, who will one day be a fantastic No. 3 hitter in the major leagues. Unlike former Met prospect Alex Escobar, who was the supposed second coming, Milledge has produced at the minor league level. His arrival at Shea should be expected later next season. With Jose Reyes, David Wright, and Carlos Beltran already in the fold, Milledge could be another key component of the Mets’ young core – he’s only 20 years old.

The Mets have the opportunity to put together a team that will be competitive for the next decade if they play their cards right – which means not trading blue chip prospects for players past their prime.

However, I am by no means advocating that the Mets just sit around and wait for their young players to develop. Instead, they need to continue adding the right pieces – many of which will be available this offseason. It seems as if Omar Minaya’s primary targets in free agency are Wagner, Bengie Molina, and Rafael Furcal. All three would be excellent additions to a club focused on pitching and defense. However, Furcal, a shortstop, will need to be grossly overpaid if he is to sign on to play second base at Shea.

If the Mets are willing to acquire Manny and throw some $40 million at the Braves’ shortstop, I do not understand why they wouldn’t pursue the best free agent on the market – first baseman Paul Konerko. Unlike the 33-year old Ramirez, Konerko is only 29 years old and was a monster in the middle of the White Sox order last year. He batted .283 with 40 homeruns and 100 RBIs, while playing solid defense at first. He would be a nice complement to Wright and Beltran in the middle of the order, and he wouldn’t cost the team any of their prospects to get him.

As for second base, I do not understand why no one is talking about Nomar Garciaparra. This guy would be an incredible bargain, who, when healthy, can still produce like his old self. In September last year, Garciaparra batted .311 with five homers and 19 RBIs. Tony Graffanino would be a nice insurance policy should Nomar go down with another serious injury.

While all of this may sound like a good plan on paper, there is one problem – ever since he arrived in New York, Minaya has had the dream of seeing Ramirez in left field. He has some sort of man-crush on Manny, and he just can’t shake it. For the sake of the franchise, let’s hope he does.

Bryan Pepper is a Sun Assistant Sports Editor. Raising the Apple will appear every other Wednesday this semester.

Archived article by Bryan Pepper