The U Files # 36: The Burnitz Maneuver

He came to the Mets with an oddly spelled name (that's Jeromy with an O) and the loud blare of hype, and leaves with the Mets on the other side of the hype. In the second trade pulled by the Mets interim General Manager Jim Duquette, Burnitz takes his home run stroke to Hollywood, leaving the Mets a prospect with a ceiling. The Mets Monday announced the trade of Burnitz to the Los Angeles Dodgers for minor league INF Victor Diaz, minor league RHP Josedo Diaz and minor league RHP Kole Strayhorn.

Imported two years ago, Jeromy Burnitz was supposed to provide left-handed thunder in the lineup and help carry the Mets to a playoff berth. In the second year of his second Mets career, he did his part but the team around him did not.

The Mets come to the All Star break with the second worst offense in the National League, having scored 389 runs In 93 games – a pace to score just 678 runs on the season. The Dodgers are a competing team buoyed entirely by one of the better pitching staffs in baseball; they have scored 61 runs fewer than the Mets – a pace to score 571 runs. If the Dodgers do not find some thunder in the second half, they would complete one of the worst offensive performances in the last ten years.

Paul Lo Duca comes into the All Star break the only Dodger with over 300 AB and an OPS over .800. Shawn Green seems to have lost all the life in his bat, producing a middling .745 OPS (there are hints that this is the result of a steady decline that has been hidden by increasing numbers of IBB). Fred McGriff has just 237 AB and a .748 OPS. Third baseman Adrian Beltre sports an embarrassing .642 OPS; even that is better than the marks of Alex Cora (.600) and Cesar Izturis (.592). The condition of the Dodger bench is such that all three have received significant playing time.

The Dodgers' front office has naturally been one of the most strident consumers of available offensive talent in baseball. GM Dan Evans showed interest in masher Brian Giles, but evidently found the Pirates' price too high. As a result, he turned to his fallback option, the rejuvenated Mets slugger who's hit 18 homers and 18 doubles, a pace for 31 of each and a .925 OPS. Burnitz immediately becomes the primary offensive weapon for the 2003 Dodgers. So desperate for offense was Evans that he overlooked Burnitz' lefthandedness. The lefty-heavy Dodger lineup is completely bereft of a credible right-handed threat; the middle of the order plays right into the hand of opposing managers and their lefty relief corps.

The Mets, paying $ 4 million of the roughly $6 million left on Burnitz' contract receive a load that neither blows the doors off nor is an embarrassment to the Mets. The respectable package is built around prospect Victor Diaz, a prospect of enough import that fans on the Dodgers online message board are sad to lose him. A level below low-ceiling second base prospect Joe Thurston, Diaz may have been the Dodgers second baseman of the future.

Diaz has been tried at all four infield positions and failed to impress the Dodgers defensively. However, he has shown improvement with the glove. Regardless, he projects to have more than enough bat to offset any defensive liabilities. A two time batting champion in the lower minor leagues, Diaz hits for average and provides well above average power for a middle infielder. This year he has hit .291/.353/.462 for class AA Jacksonville, with 10 home runs and 20 doubles – a pace for 35 doubles in 550 AB. His walk rate is not outstanding, but acceptable at 27 bb in 316 AB. He projects to hit about 15 home runs a year with good doubles power. By this point in the season, he may have cracked the Dodgers top 10 prospects. He should be up full time by Opening Day 2005. Diaz projects to an above average player, a nice piece to fit into a young core of a potential contending team in a few years.

Kole Strayhorn is a hard throwing relief pitching prospect. Reported to have a fastball in the mid 90's, Strayhorn has posted an ERA of 2.93 with 44 strikeouts and just two home runs allowed in 46 innings for class A Vero Beach. Strayhorn has a closer's mentality; his fiery attitude worked against him as a starter before he was converted to a reliever. By 2006 he could be a good set up man for Royce Ring. Josedo Diaz is a project. A recently converted catcher with 97 MPH heat, he has suffered control problems in his short pitching career. He does have a ceiling, however.

Amazin Clubhouse Top Stories