Cedeno Trade Saga Continues

The Mets came into this off-season in desperate need of a second baseman, a center fielder, a closer, and perhaps a solid starting pitcher. But in the midst of baseball's winter meetings held this past weekend in New Orleans, Mets GM Jim Duquette's biggest problem was trying to unload unpopular right fielder Roger Cedeno.

Cedeno, who debuted with the Dodgers in 1995, has seen a stark decline in his production in recent seasons. He hit .313 and stole 66 bases during the Mets' run to the National League Championship Series in 1999, but was traded shortly thereafter to the Astros in the deal for Derek Bell and Mike Hampton. Bell's torrid hitting kept the Mets alive during the early months of the 2000 season while Hampton was crowned the Most Valuable Player in the N.L.C.S. The Mets lost to the Yankees, four games to one, in the World Series.

Cedeno, meanwhile, appeared in only 74 games for Houston and watched his batting average drop to .282. He swiped a mere 25 bases a year after finishing second in the league in steals.

The Tigers traded for Cedeno before the 2001 season and he immediately jumped back from his disappointing numbers in Houston. He stole 55 bases with Detroit and had a career-high 48 RBIs. After the season had ended the Mets decided to sign him to a monstrous contract but were surprised to see he had gained a significant amount of weight sometime before spring training. The extra flab showed on the diamond, slowing him down to 25 steals in 29 attempts during 2002.

The situation grew worse last year when he was forced to move to center after the Cliff Floyd signing. He managed to hit a career-high seven homers, but the boobirds emerged from the bleachers and taunted him throughout the homestands. His confidence was clearly shaken by deplorable defense, awkward base running mistakes and constant swing-and-misses. He struck out 86 times, mostly on pitches far out of the strike zone.

During his recent tenure with the Mets he has continued to embarrass himself. In 2002, he got into a shouting match with teammate Roberto Alomar that ended with Mo Vaughn separating the two in the dugout. In one home game last season, Cedeno was on third base with two outs when Jason Phillips drove a double deep to right field. Not only did Cedeno wait patiently on third while the crowd urged him to run, he tried to tag up before heading home - an unnecessary move with two outs, especially when no one had caught the ball in the first place.

Duquette has been trying around the clock to unload the free-swinging Cedeno, but has had mixed results. Original rumors had the disliked outfielder headed to the Padres in exchange for overpaid outfielder Terrence Long (.245, 14 homers and 61 RBIs last season) and underachieving pitcher Kevin Jarvis (4-8 with a 5.87 ERA). The salaries of Cedeno and Long are nearly identical, and the main obstacle in the deal - the Mets having to accept Jarvis and pay him $2.75 million in 2004 - had been overcome. But it seems San Diego was mainly interested in trading Long so they could pursue center fielder Mike Cameron, who agreed to a three-year contract with the Mets earlier this week.

Currently the hottest rumor circulating involves shipping Cedeno to Seattle for third baseman Jeff Cirillo. According to The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the supposedly done deal has hit some financial snags. Both sides have been arguing over how much of Cirillo's $15.25 million, two-year salary will be paid by New York. Logically, Cirillo is not a good fit for the Mets since he plays third base, a position occupied by last year's rookie sensation Ty Wigginton. Kazuo Matsui and Jose Reyes are mainstays at short and second, and Mike Piazza is finally ready for his progressive move to first. Cirillo has never played in the outfield in his major-league career. It would be ridiculous to pay so much money to a utility man, or to trade Wigginton just to accommodate him. Besides, Cirillo hit only .205 for the M's in 2003, with four errors in the field. Still, the Mets have discussed sending Wigginton to Boston for closer candidate Scott Williamson in order to facilitate Cedeno's departure.

There has also been talk about Cedeno heading to the White Sox for closer Billy Koch (5-5 with 11 saves), but it seems unlikely that Chicago would take on all of Cedeno's salary. Last year, they took on Alomar from New York in return for prospects and learned their lesson when he continued his ineptness. Alomar was not offered salary arbitration this off-season.

Wherever he's headed, Mets fans can rest assured in the fact that Cedeno will never come back again unless his team visits Shea Stadium. Right now, even that thought is a little too much to bear.

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