“Escobar, Ochoa, Milledge, (Fernando) Martinez. They were all deemed ‘untouchable’ at one point or another, then they were untradeable.” – Random fan at Mets season ticket holder event Q&A with Sandy Alderson and crew.
I know that Alex Escobar, Alex Ochoa, Lastings Milledge and Fernando Martinez were not part of Sandy Alderson’s time with the New York Mets. Yet, a common thread emerged with each of those players. They were either let go with little to no fanfare (F-Mart), or traded for crap or players on the downturn of their career (basically, everyone else in that list). At one point or another, they were considered so untouchable that they were held onto for way too long, then desperate for any kind of warm body to take his place.
I really paid no mind to Ochoa or Escobar. Ochoa, especially, was involved in some crap-for-crap trades involving the Mets and other teams, but was hardly considered an impactful player.
Two of the biggest disappointments in recent memory would have to be Milledge and F-Mart.
I have nothing by warm fuzzies with F-Mart. I remember seeing him at Spring Training in 2008, and singing ABBA’s “Fernando” as he took his at-bat. When he made his debut in 2009, I hadn’t been planning on attending the game, then at the last minute decided I needed to be there. He didn’t really do anything of note that night, or any time with the Mets really.
But to give up on him at age 24 was something of which I was not a fan. Young players, especially prospects, get hurt a lot. They’re still conditioning. Shit, look at Reese Havens, who was once more highly touted by prospect experts than Ike Davis (now a Mets fan favorite, and a legitimate “untouchable”…well at least in MY opinion, and you know, my blog, my rules). And to let him go to next to nothing. Okay, LITERALLY nothing.
I think one of the biggest travesties and mismanagement of a Mets’ prospect’s career has to be Lastings Milledge. This guy was so highly valued by other organizations, he was the centerpiece in many armchair GM trades, including Manny Ramirez or Barry Zito. The difference being, the Manny deal was close to going down several times over. The Zito deal, I feel, was speculation by bored beat writers (Billy Beane said he’d never even talked to Omar Minaya).
Usually, there were extenuating circumstances as to why these trades didn’t go down. Third party validation (including Peter Angelos of the Baltimore Orioles nixing his part of the deal, therefore, making the rest invalid) or the debate over the “half-year rental,” which is essentially what Zito would have been at the time.
Milledge was a flashy player, a throwback almost to the 1980s, with his armbands, bling and dreads, he exuded a certain attitude that was missing from the 2006 Mets (and Mets team, I feel, is now seen as incredibly overrated), an aura that could have given them an “edge.” Which is funny…then-GM Omar Minaya said on later teams that the Mets were missing an “edge.” Or was it Steve Phillips on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball? I dunno. I seem to combine the two together (talk about your PTMD with those two GMs).
I digress. I liked Milledge. I was so excited when he was activated after Xavier Nady was sent to the hospital for appendicitis. He hit a double in his debut, a game the Mets ended up losing, but that I was in attendance at, just to see ‘Stings play. By this time, the advent of social media in the form of blogs had contributed to his hype. I was excited to see him play.
A few days later, he hits a game tying home run against the San Francisco Giants’ Armando Benitez. To add to this feat, he decided to take his position in right field by giving WWE-inspired high-fives with the fans down the field level.
I thought it was cool. The butt-hurt Mets didn’t seem to think so.
I loved the 2006 team. It was one of the most fun years, unexpectedly, I’ve had as a Mets fan. A player like Milledge was a welcome distraction from the David “say and do everything” Wright and the goody two-shoes on the team. On a team in desperate need of a bad ass or a player with some swag, Milledge’s attitude fit the bill.
Was he rushed though? Of course he was. He wouldn’t be a valid Mets prospect if he wasn’t rushed. Ruined, in a sense, by the lack of depth on the Mets major league team that year, and the expectation level that he was supposed to provide.
The Curious Case of Lastings Milledge, in my opinion anyway, was one of a Catch-22 variety. With all the hype surrounding him, he was only doomed to fail. Yet, when he didn’t play up to expectation, the team and the fan base were quick to throw him under the bus, about how they could have gotten Manny or Zito for him during his hype. And who knows…maybe it would have been worth it.
Whether we liked it or not, the Mets were a win-now team then. And if that was the case, they should have cut their losses with Milledge and traded him. Yet, we know he would have been a star someplace else, because another team might have taken the time to develop him properly. Might have taken the time to let him be who he was. Yet, like many Mets GMs, the prospect hype was overvalued to the point that when they had to cut ties with him, it was for scraps off the heap.
In one way, it was a good trade for me. Brian Schneider was received in the deal, which launched a thousand hashtags (#ButterPecan, #TwoScoops). I was never crazy about Ryan Church, but felt bad for him once the Mets exasperated a head injury by flying him cross-country. I think it was over at Faith and Fear in Flushing, when someone said “Feed a cold, starve a fever, fly a concussion cross country.” (I’d like to give credit to whomever wrote that, believe it was in a column). It was the same old story, ruin a prospect, and ruin the gains received in any deal involving said prospect.
Lastings Milledge futzed around in the Major Leagues after being traded in the , and last we heard was playing in Japan, for the Tokyo Yakult Swallows. He is now 27 years old. Sometimes, 2006 seems like a lifetime away, yet, he was just barely 21 years old. Think back to when we were 21. Did we make some questionable choices? If you didn’t, I’d call you out as a liar.
Lastings Milledge’s time with the Mets doesn’t necessarily conjure up any painful memories. Rather, it makes me a little sad. It brings my hopes and fears, as a Mets fan, to the forefront. It makes everyone skeptical of prospects, no matter how highly touted they are. I mean, shit, if you look at it, Billy Beane (not the GM of the Oakland A’s, a team that was reported in the mix for Milledge when the Mets were looking for a good pitcher to shore up their rotation, like Barry Zito in his walk year) was once that highly regarded prospect who didn’t amount to much as a player. It’s the stories like Lastings Milledge that makes every fan wonder if Travis d’Arnaud would be the next big thing, or if he’ll be the next Steve Chilcott. You’ll just never know.
What I do know is that this front office is making it a point to develop their prospects properly, and not rush them. This seems to be a common thread with the Mets in their history, where the prospects are not fully trusted, and thought to be a means to an end of winning now. A vicious cycle, if you ask me.
So yes, I have some post-traumatic Mets disorder associated with Lastings Milledge and Fernando Martinez. F-Mart to a lesser extent, though I had some warm fuzzies associated with a good memory of CitiField in its inaugural year.
But Lastings Milledge will always represent to me the dynasty that never was, the overvaluing of a player but only ruining by rushing him. A Catch-22 indeed.