The U Files: Trades At the Deadline

In a quiet trading season, Mets general manager Steve Phillips was the busiest trader at the deadline. The biggest deal made on July 31 brought RHP John Thomson to the Mets from Colorado for Jay Payton, Mark Corey and prospect Robert Stratton. A smaller deal got RHP Steve Reed to the Mets for Bobby M Jones and minor leaguers Jason Bay and Josh Reynolds.

One thing that can be said about Phillips now is, he has a zen for picking up pitchers out of Colorado. In the offaseason he signed Pedro Astacio, now he trades for Thomson, 28. Like Astacio, Thomson has enjoyed what passes for success at Coors Field. His career ERA is just over 5. He posted an ERA+ of 110 in 1997 (ERA 10 percent above league average at home ballpark), 106 in 1998 and 129 in 2001. He can't be anything but a significant upgrade from Jeff D'Amico, who has posted an ERA of 7.69 since June 1. D'Amico moves into the bullpen with Satoru Komiyama optioned to class AAA Norfolk. On the downside, Thomson has an injury history and missed all of 2000.

Unlike Astacio or Darryl Kile, Thomson has no spectacular breaking pitch to be rescued from the suffocation of Colorado's rarefied air. His signature pitch is a mid 90's sinking fastball that he can spot. Out of Coors Field, he has the potential to become a solid #3 starter, posting an ERA in the 3.8-4.1 range. Being at least two years from free agent eligibility, he can provide the Mets a cheap answer in the rotation for that time.

Thomson is arbitration eligible and sure to remain a Met beyond this year. This locks up three rotation spots for 2003, with Al Leiter resigned and Astacio sure to remain in an option season. Top prospect Aaron Heilman is expected to take a spot and the remaining spot is to be filled via the free agent market.

Payton has always been a mediocre player who has never lived up to his supposed potential. Rookie Mark Corey is expected to turn out an average reliever. Mark Little, a reserve outfielder struggling to keep his batting average over .200, was acquired with Thomson to take Payton's spot on the roster. Prospect Robert Stratton is being traded from the Mets for the second time, but after the Leiter trade he was sent back to the Mets. Going to Colorado should be just the tonic for what ails him. In that air he will not have to worry about the curveballs that so baffle him.

The Mets dealt away a hitter whose mediocre performance has actually made him one of the better hitters in a struggling outfield. It does slightly weaken the hitting from the outfield, but it's the difference between sucking like a Hoover on Andro and sucking like a Hoover on steroids. The upgrade in the pitching staff from D'Amico to a pitcher capable of recording outs is much more significant.

Steve Reed is a mediocre reliever having a tremendous year. The sidearming righty has a history of being hammered by lefty batters but has managed to hold them down this year in posting an ERA of 1.98. It would not be surprising for him to post an ERA closer to his career average the rest of the way.

In exchange, we gave up two prospects which could become useful players. Jason Bay can become an excellent fourth outfielder in the Benny Agbayani of 2000 mold. With Bay gone, the Mets will now pay more for what he could have provided cheaply. Josh Reynolds is a useful pitcher who may have been lost to the rule V draft anyway. The Mets also got back pitcher Jason Middlebrook, a prospect with decent stuff who hasn't pitched particularly well as a starter in the minors. The Mets may convert him to a reliever.

The move will likely have little impact. The Mets may not make the playoffs and certainly won't go far in the playoffs anyway.

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