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Saturday, December 15, 2007

Yankees' Pettitte says he used HGH- Blatantly Disgusting

'If what I did was an error in judgment on my part, I apologize.'
By Bryan Hoch / MLB.com

NEW YORK -- Two days after being named in the Mitchell Report on performance-enhancing drug use in baseball, Andy Pettitte admitted to using human growth hormone twice during the 2002 season.
"If what I did was an error in judgment on my part, I apologize," Pettitte said Saturday in a statement released by his agent."I accept responsibility for those two days."

Pettitte was among 89 players -- and 22 current or former Yankees -- to be named in Sen. George Mitchell's long-awaited report on the use of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball.

Through agent Randy Hendricks, Pettitte confirmed the anecdote contained in the Mitchell Report, which stated that the left-hander experimented with HGH on two occasions while rehabilitating elbow tendinitis from April 21 to June 14, 2002, when he was on the disabled list and working out in Tampa, Fla.

"I had heard that human growth hormone could promote faster healing for my elbow," Pettitte said. "I felt an obligation to get back to my team as soon as possible. For this reason, and only this reason, for two days I tried human growth hormone."

According to the report, Pettitte called Brian McNamee -- by then, a former Yankees assistant trainer who still worked closely with Pettitte and Roger Clemens -- and asked McNamee to travel to Tampa.

McNamee told the Mitchell investigators that he injected Pettitte with HGH two to four times, obtained from former Mets clubhouse attendant Kirk Radomski. Pettitte paid for McNamee's trip and expenses, but McNamee said there was no separate payment for the HGH.

Pettitte returned from the disabled list on June 14 of that season and made 19 starts through the remainder of the regular season, going 12-4 with a 3.29 ERA.

"Though it was not against baseball rules, I was not comfortable with what I was doing, so I stopped," Pettitte said. "This is it -- two days out of my life; two days out of my entire career, when I was injured and on the disabled list."

Major League Baseball did not ban HGH until the 2005 season. Pettitte said that repeated references in the media to his using steroids have not only been incorrect, but that they were "hurtful to me and my family."
"Everything else written or said about me knowingly using illegal drugs is nonsense, wrong and hurtful," Pettitte said. "I have the utmost respect for baseball and have always tried to live my life in a way that would be honorable. I wasn't looking for an edge; I was looking to heal.

"If I have let down people that care about me, I am sorry, but I hope that you will listen to me carefully and understand that two days of perhaps bad judgment should not ruin a lifetime of hard work and dedication.

"I have tried to do things the right way my entire life, and, again, ask that you put those two days in the proper context. People that know me will know that what I say is true."

Pettitte, 35, finalized a one-year, $16 million contract with the Yankees last week. He was 15-9 with a 4.05 ERA for the Yankees in 2007, his first season back in New York after pitching three years for the Houston Astros.

In a statement released by the club, spokesman Howard Rubenstein said the Yankees were made aware of Pettitte's forthcoming admission late on Saturday.

"We support his coming forward," the team said.

D-backs add Haren, deal Valverde

Arizona lands A's ace, trades All-Star closer for Burke, Qualls
By Steve Gilbert / MLB.com

PHOENIX -- Christmas came early for the D-backs this year, as they wound up getting the starting pitcher that was at the top of their list on Friday.
Arizona acquired Dan Haren from the A's in exchange for six prospects in a move that they hope will help them defend their National League West title next season. The D-backs also received pitcher Connor Robertson in the deal.

"I think he's on the short list of very good pitchers out there," D-backs general manager Josh Byrnes said of Haren. "His age [combined] with three years of control factor all that in to us, and he was our No. 1 priority."

In another move, the D-backs dealt closer Jose Valverde to the Astros for pitcher Chad Qualls, infielder/outfielder Chris Burke and pitcher Juan Gutierrez.

Haren, 27, has won at least 14 games in each of the past three seasons for Oakland. Last year, he was 15-9 with a 3.07 ERA, he was 14-13 in 2006 and 14-12 in 2005.

Not only has Haren been effective on the mound, he's cost-effective off it. The right-hander is under contract for $4 million in 2008, $5.5 million in 2009 and there is a club option for 2010 for $6.75 million.

With the market for starting pitchers extremely tight, Haren's name was mentioned often in rumors that swirled around the Winter Meetings last week in Nashville, Tenn.

"Definitely relief," Haren said when asked how he felt after hearing he'd been dealt. "I'm all over the Internet and newspapers, even though I shouldn't be, and I saw my name out there so much. They [the D-backs] were definitely one of the teams that if I did get traded I was hoping I would go to. Like I said, the organization is headed in the right direction."

While there were many suitors for Haren, the D-backs matched up well with the A's because of the amount of well-regarded prospects they had in their system. Parting with pitchers Brett Anderson, Greg Smith and Dana Eveland, along with outfielders Carlos Gonzalez and Aaron Cunningham and first baseman Chris Carter, though, was not an easy decision to make.

Arizona officials wrestled over the past week with just how much they were willing to give up for Haren.

"We presented a rare circumstance for them where they [the A's] could get so many good players," Byrnes said. "They understood our desire not to really strip apart our 2008 team, so our interests were fairly aligned. It just took a while to make the trade work because of the magnitude of it, very good prospects going one way and one of the best pitchers in the game coming our way."

Robertson appeared in three games for the A's last year, but had a good year at Triple-A Sacramento, where he was 4-1 with a 4.35 ERA in 31 relief appearances.

The D-backs like Robertson's breaking ball and like his Minor League track record.

Arizona now heads into Spring Training with a rotation of Brandon Webb, Haren, Randy Johnson, Doug Davis and likely Micah Owings in the fifth spot. Webb, Davis and Haren all have a history of throwing 200-plus innings a season, while Johnson when healthy has done likewise.

By trading so many prospects for Haren, the D-backs are clearly banking that he's the guy to help them advance even farther than they did last year when they were swept by the Rockies in the National League Championship Series.

"I don't like to walk guys," Haren said in describing his style on the mound. "I usually try to make the guys swing the bat to get on base. I would probably describe myself as aggressive, and then when a situation comes where I need an out, I will always go to my split-finger. My split-finger is obviously my best pitch. I throw that and a curveball for strikes.

"I pride myself a lot in durability, and the last three years I've gone over 200 innings and it's something I plan on doing for the next couple of years, too. I do a lot of working out in the offseason and I really take a lot of pride in what I do."

It's been a hectic week for Haren. He and his wife, Jessica, welcomed son, Rhett, into the world on Tuesday.

"I've probably slept four hours since she went into labor," he said.

As he heard the rumors about possibly being traded to Arizona, Haren asked around and got good reports on the D-backs organization. Former teammate Barry Zito told Haren he thought he would enjoy it there.

"I'm extremely excited," he said. "Just having spent a couple of Spring Trainings in Phoenix, me and my wife really loved the town. There's just so much to do. The team is obviously on the rise, a lot of young guys, looks like a fun team to be on, looks like a loose clubhouse, which is something I really liked in Oakland."

Gonzalez was regarded as the club's best position player prospect, but he became expendable when Arizona signed Eric Byrnes to a three-year, $30 million deal last August. The D-backs appear to be set in the outfield for the next several years with Byrnes, Chris Young and Justin Upton. The club also could have felt free to deal Gonzalez because of the presence of outfielder Gerardo Parra, who played at Class A Visalia and South Bend last year.

Smith and Anderson were both highly regarded pitching prospects in the organization. Smith, a sixth-round pick in the 2005 First-Year Player Draft, had some injury issues last season, but pitched well in the Arizona Fall League and could have had a chance to pitch for the D-backs at some time during 2008.

Anderson was selected out of high school in the second round of the 2006 First-Year Player Draft and was arguably the organization's best pitching prospect other than Max Scherzer. Anderson, who will turn 20 in February, started last year with South Bend before being promoted to Visalia.

Cunningham, 21, was acquired last summer from the White Sox, and in 31 games for Double-A Mobile, he hit .288 with five homers and 20 RBIs while compiling an .898 OPS.

Eveland, 24, was acquired by the D-backs from the Brewers prior to last season. Scouts rave about the left-hander's stuff and he's always put up good numbers in the Minor Leagues, but he has yet to translate that success to the big league level.

Carter, who will be 21 next week, was picked up during the Winter Meetings from the White Sox in exchange for outfielder Carlos Quentin. Carter hit .291 with 25 homers and 93 RBIs for Class A Kannopolis.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Reason for Lo Duca to pick Nats: 'Getting to play the Mets 18 times'

Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- Catcher Paul Lo Duca agreed to a $5 million, one-year deal with the Washington Nationals because he felt wanted -- and because there will be plenty of chances to face his old club, the New York Mets

"I'm excited to be part of a team that's young and has a chance to win this division," Lo Duca said Tuesday after passing a physical to make the deal official. "The NL East is wide open."

Asked what his reasons were for choosing the Nationals, Lo Duca said they "wanted me more," and that he wanted to stay in the National League. Then he paused before adding with a smile: "getting to play the Mets 18 times."

Another former member of the Mets was introduced by the Nationals at the team's sales and marketing center: outfielder Lastings Milledge, who came over in the trade that sent catcher Brian Schneider and outfielder Ryan Church to New York.
Lo Duca, a free agent who played for New York the past two seasons, gives the Nationals a veteran to replace Schneider behind the plate.

A four-time All-Star from 2003-06, Lo Duca hit .272 with nine homers and a .311 on-base percentage last season that was the lowest of any Mets regular -- and lower than Schneider's .326. Lo Duca and Schneider each drove in 54 runs.

Lo Duca, who will turn 36 during the first month of the season, and Nationals manager Manny Acta were in New York together in 2006, when Acta was the Mets third-base coach.

In 10 major league seasons with the Dodgers, Marlins and Mets, Lo Duca has batted .288 with 80 homers and 466 RBIs.

"He has never been with a losing team. Ever," Washington general manager Jim Bowden said. "He wins. That's what he does."

The 22-year-old Milledge hit .272 with seven homers and 29 RBIs in 59 games with the Mets in 2007.

"I'm here to win, and anything else is really a failure to me," Milledge said.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Guillen, Gibbons get 15-day suspensions; Ankiel, others not punished

Guillen is the only player I know who can blatantly cheat the system, receive a 15-game suspension and then be granted a new $12 million per season contract.

ESPN.com news services

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Jose Guillen and Jay Gibbons were suspended Thursday for the first 15 days of next season for violating baseball's drug policy. The penalties are an indication how the sport might treat players named in the Mitchell report, which could be released next week.

The pair were linked in media reports to the purchase of human growth hormone. Gary Matthews Jr., Rick Ankiel, Troy Glaus and Scott Schoeneweis also were linked to performance-enhancing drugs, but baseball decided there was "insufficient evidence'' to determine they committed a doping violation. They were accused of receiving the substances before 2005.

Guillen told ESPNdeportes.com's Enrique Rojas that his lawyers will appeal the sanction, but he will not comment further on the case. Guillen instructed the players' association to file a grievance, which would be decided by an arbitrator.

ESPN.com first reported that MLB and the players association were negotiating a 10- to 15-day suspension for Guillen on Wednesday.

Former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell was hired by baseball commissioner Bud Selig in March 2006 to investigate drugs in baseball. Several media outlets, including ESPN, have been told it could be issued as soon as next Thursday.

Gibbons, who will not challenge his penalty, accepted responsibility and apologized.

"I am deeply sorry for the mistakes that I have made. I have no excuses and bare sole responsibility for my decisions," the Baltimore outfielder said. "Years ago, I relied on the advice of a doctor, filled a prescription, charged the HGH, which is a medication, to my credit card and had only intended to help speed my recovery from my injuries and surgeries."

Orioles President of Baseball Operations Andy MacPhail said he is glad Gibbons owned up to his actions.

"We completely support the Commissioner's program and his decision with regard to Jay Gibbons' suspension," MacPhail said. "Jay has acknowledged his mistake, and we appreciate his willingness to accept the consequences."

The 15-day penalties match what a second offense would have drawn under 2003-04 rules. Current rules call for a 50-game suspension for a first offense, a 100-game penalty for a second and a lifetime ban for a third.

"Other open investigations should be completed shortly," MLB said in a statement.

The six players whose cases were resolved Thursday met with baseball officials after media reports of their names surfaced in a national drug investigation by the district attorney in Albany, N.Y.

Royals general manager Dayton Moore said the club will support Guillen, who earlier Thursday finalized a $36 million, three-year contract with Kansas City.

"We signed Jose knowing that was a possibility," Moore said Thursday. "While my initial reaction is one of disappointment, I am thoroughly convinced that Jose will put this behind him."

The San Francisco Chronicle reported last month that Guillen bought nearly $20,000 worth of steroids and human growth hormone from 2003 through 2005.

Citing business records, the Chronicle reported Guillen bought more than $19,000 worth of drugs from the Palm Beach Rejuvenation Center between May 2002 and June 2005. He played for five teams during that span: the Diamondbacks, Reds, Athletics, Angels and Nationals.

According to the Chronicle report, some prescriptions for Guillen were written by the same Florida dentist whose license was suspended in 2003 for fraud and incompetence. The dentist also reportedly prescribed HGH to Cleveland Indians pitcher Paul Byrd.

The Chronicle said Byrd made 13 purchases of HGH between August 2002 and January 2005.
Guillen reportedly had some of the shipments sent to the Oakland Coliseum during the 2003 season, after he was traded to the A's. The anti-aging clinic was raided in February as part of an investigation by the Albany County, N.Y., district attorney.

Gibbons got six shipments of Genotropin (a brand name for synthetic human growth hormone), two shipments of testosterone and two shipments of human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) between October 2003 and July 2005, SI.com said on Sept. 9, citing a source in Florida with knowledge of a Signature Pharmacy client list.

The pharmacy is under investigation for illegally distributing prescription medications.

The substances were obtained through South Beach Rejuvenation Center/Modern Therapy, a Miami Beach clinic, and sent through Signature, SI.com said.

Ankiel met with baseball lawyers Sept. 11 following a report by the New York Daily News that he received eight shipments of prescription HGH in 2004, before it was banned by baseball.

"We're obviously pleased," said Scott Boras, the agent for Ankiel and Schoeneweis. "As we had said before with each of these players, they had not violated any baseball rule or any state or federal law."

Glaus received shipments at a Corona, Calif., address that traces to the player, SI.com said, citing a source in Florida with knowledge of a Signature Pharmacy client list. SI.com said its information dealt only with receipt of steroids and not use.

Schoeneweis, the veteran New York Mets reliever and a survivor of testicular cancer, received six steroid shipments from Signature Pharmacy while playing for the Chicago White Sox in 2003 and 2004, ESPN reported.

Matthews was sent HGH in 2004 from a pharmacy being investigated for illegal distribution of performance-enhancing drugs, The Times Union of Albany, N.Y., reported last winter.

Matthews denied using HGH, which was not banned by baseball for players with major league contracts until 2005. His agent, Scott Leventhal, declined comment.

Bonds pleads not guilty on all counts- The Saga Continues

Home run king released; next court date set for February
By Barry M. Bloom / MLB.com

SAN FRANCISCO -- Barry Lamar Bonds, Major League Baseball's all-time home run leader, pleaded not guilty in federal court on Friday to four counts of perjury and one count of obstruction of justice for allegedly lying about his use of performance-enhancing drugs in testimony given to a grand jury four years ago.

Bonds was released on a $500,000 personal recognizance bond, meaning he won't have to put up that bond unless he violates the conditions of his release, which include committing no crimes, having no contact with court officials and not taking flight from the United States. He was not placed on any travel restrictions.

Bonds, who did not speak to reporters, issued a statement on his Web site on Friday.

"I want to thank my family, friends and fans for their unwavering support. It means everything to me. Despite the charges that have been filed against me, I still have confidence in the judicial system and especially in the judgment of the citizens who will decide this case. And I know that when all of this is over, I will be vindicated because I am innocent."

No date for a trial -- U.S. v. Bonds -- was set. A status hearing instead was scheduled for Feb. 7.

Afterward, in front of the Phillip Burton Federal Building, where the trials of Patty Hearst and those responsible for the Jonestown Massacre were once heard, Bonds' new lead attorney told reporters that his celebrity client was ready for a fight.

"Almost everything we have to say about this case we'll say in court papers, which we will file over the coming months," said Allen Ruby, a high-powered San Francisco Bay Area criminal defense lawyer who joined Bonds' defense team this week. "For today, Barry Bonds is innocent. He has trust and faith in the justice system. He will defend these charges. And we're confident of a good outcome."

The first steps in the long and sometimes tedious litigation process were taken in front of a crowded courtroom No. 10 on the 19th floor of the famous building.

The proceedings took about 20 minutes in two parts. Ruby entered the plea on Bonds' behalf before U.S. Magistrate Judge Maria-Elena James, and that was followed immediately by U.S. District Judge Susan Illston setting the date for the status hearing.

Bonds was accompanied by five other attorneys, including Cristina Arguedas and Michael Rains. Arguedas, another local criminal defense attorney, is also new to the case this week, while Rains has been on it almost since the federal government began its investigation.

Bonds, wearing a dark blue suit, white shirt and tie with diagonal stripes, waived his right to a speedy trial and answered a number of perfunctory questions, including his name and age. He appeared somber, but not nervous.

James notified Bonds of his Miranda rights. The only point of contention during the 15-minute arraignment portion of the hearing was travel restrictions sought by assistant U.S. attorney Matt Parrella, who presented the government's brief arguments. The government sought free travel for Bonds within the continental U.S., but surrender of his passport and restrictions on his ability to leave the country.

Ruby argued that those restrictions would inhibit Bonds' ability to continue his profession as a Major League player, something he has said he intends to do in 2008. Under the government's proposal, if Bonds signs with an American League team, he would have had to apply for an exemption each time he was scheduled to play in Toronto.

The judge denied Parrella's motion.
After a short break in the proceedings, Illston asked the attorneys for their opinions on when to start the trial. The government, citing unnamed conflicts of interest between members of Bonds' legal team and some of its prospective witnesses, said that the matter had to be resolved in the coming weeks and sought the status hearing instead.

The government is now required to turn over all its evidence to Bonds and his attorneys in what is called the "discovery" portion of the case. The matter cited would restrict turning over some of that evidence until it is resolved, Parrella said. Ruby didn't object, saying that the government is turning over a good portion of its case almost immediately.

"I'm not exactly sure what the government is referring to," Ruby said afterward. "I don't want to guess at that so we'll just see how it unfolds."

Ruby also told the judge that the defendant is considering filing a motion to dismiss the case, stating that on its face not enough evidence was presented in the indictment for it to move forward.

"As we told the judge in court, there may be defects on the face of the indictment, meaning that if you just read it you can see the defects," Ruby said. "If we conclude that that's the case, there will be a motion to dismiss and a briefing schedule and a hearing date. But we're not quite there yet."

Bonds was excused from the Feb. 7 hearing unless a motion to dismiss is scheduled to be heard on that date.

Both before and afterward, as he entered and left the building, Bonds waved to a crowd of onlookers, signing an autograph in the lobby as he left the elevator after the hearing. He was accompanied by his wife, Liz, who was the only family member in attendance. He didn't stop to speak with reporters.

Bonds, the former Giants slugger with 762 career homers, first appeared before a grand jury investigating the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative on allegations of money laundering and illegally dispensing performance-enhancing drugs on Dec. 4, 2003. He testified under oath and with immunity on numerous occasions that he had never used anabolic steroids, testosterone and human growth hormone or had been administered any of those drugs with a needle during the period from 2000-2002.

The indictment cited the actual grand jury testimony elicited from Bonds, alleging that Bonds committed perjury on 19 occasions.

The investigation into the case against Bonds spanned four years, involved three grand juries and led to the jailing of Greg Anderson, Bonds' former personal trainer, for refusing to testify against Bonds. Anderson, one of five people ultimately charged in the case, previously had served three months in prison and three months under house arrest in a plea bargain arrangement. Victor Conte, BALCO's president and founder, was the only other principal to go to prison.

Anderson was released from a federal prison in Dublin, Calif., on Nov. 15, shortly after the indictment against Bonds was unsealed. It's almost certain that if the case ultimately goes to trial, the government will subpoena Anderson to be a witness.

"I fully expect the government to start ratcheting up the pressure on Greg," Anderson's attorney, Mark Geragos, told The Associated Press. "He will never cooperate with the government. He doesn't trust them."

Friday's hearing occurred four months to the day in San Francisco -- Aug. 7 -- on which Bonds hit his 756th home run to pass Hank Aaron and set Major League Baseball's all-time home run record. Currently a free agent, Bonds played his final game for the Giants on Sept. 26 at AT&T Park. He was told at the end of September that the club would not consider bringing him back for a 16th season as a Giant.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Tigers set to acquire Cabrera, Willis

Maybin, Miller and four other prospects would go to Florida
By Joe Frisaro / MLB.com

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Marlins and Tigers are on the verge of completing a blockbuster deal that will send Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis to Detroit for a package of six players.
A source familiar with the negotiations has told MLB.com that the Tigers are parting with outfielder Cameron Maybin and lefty starter Andrew Miller and four prospects for the final two players from the Marlins' 2003 World Series championship squad.

The deal was all but finalized as of late afternoon at the Winter Meetings.

The Tigers swooped into the sweepstakes for Cabrera and Willis on Tuesday and put together a package of players that the Marlins felt too tempting to pass up.

Cabrera and Willis were both rookies on the Marlins '03 title team. Both are eligible for arbitration through the 2009 seasons. Cost has become a concern for Florida, making the two All-Stars expendable.

Cabrera is a four-time All-Star who comes off a season where he batted .320 with 34 home runs and 119 RBIs. The 24-year-old made $7.4 million this past season and he is in line to earn more than $10 million in 2008.

Willis is coming off a 10-15 season with a 5.17 ERA. While the D-Train, who made $6.45 million in 2007, is coming off his worst season, he compiled 205 1/3 innings, marking his third straight 200-plus season.

Maybin and Miller were both first-round Draft picks of the Tigers, Maybin in 2005 and Miller in 2006. Both have tasted the Major Leagues.

Maybin, 20, made his debut in August and appeared in 24 games, hitting .143 with one home run in 49 at-bats. However, he made a rapid rise through the Tigers system, batting .304 with 10 homers in 83 games for Class A Lakeland before making a brief stop at Double-A Erie.

Miller, 22, made 13 starts for Detroit last season, going 5-6 with a 5.69 ERA. In 78 Minor League innings in 2007, he allowed 71 hits and struck out 61 batters. He was drafted out of the University of North Carolina.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Mets get C Schneider, OF Church from Nationals for OF Milledge- Goodbye Lastings

November 30, 2007

NEW YORK (AP) -- Looking to shuffle their roster after an embarrassing collapse this season, the New York Mets found a new catcher and right fielder Friday.

The price: prized outfield prospect Lastings Milledge.

After holding onto Milledge through years of trade speculation, the Mets finally dealt him to the Washington Nationals for catcher Brian Schneider and outfielder Ryan Church.

"I thought we needed to change it up a little," New York general manager Omar Minaya said. "Names like Schneider and Church are not known names, but they give us balance."

In Schneider, the Mets add yet another catcher following their trade for Johnny Estrada last week. Coming off two operations and deficient on defense, Estrada is probably on his way out without ever suiting up for New York.

In Milledge, the Nationals pick up a talented young player they hope can avoid the sort of missteps that marked his Mets career and be a key component of their rebuilding project.

"We're getting a guy who has a chance to be an impact bat in our lineup for years to come," Washington manager Manny Acta said.

Considered one of baseball's best defensive catchers, the 31-year-old Schneider was given a lot of credit this season for holding together a ragtag Nationals rotation. But he struggled at the plate, batting .235 with six homers and 54 RBIs.

"One of my favorite parts of my game is working with a pitching staff," Schneider said.

The 29-year-old Church hit .272 with 15 homers and 70 RBIs, while tying for the team lead with 43 doubles.

"I just love the fact to have a chance to year in and year out go to the playoffs and try to win a championship," he said. "I've never been in that situation before."

New York advanced to Game 7 of the 2006 NL championship series before squandered a big NL East lead this September and missing the playoffs entirely.

For now, the Mets expect Church to be their everyday right fielder next season.

"We have been working on this trade for a while," Minaya said. "I think there's still upside with Church."

Milledge has long been linked to trade speculation as the Mets pursued a top starting pitcher. They're still looking for arms this offseason, but Minaya said teams told him giving up Milledge wouldn't prevent New York from completing other possible deals because the club has enough additional players who are attractive.

"There might have been a higher value up ahead," Minaya said. "I do believe when it's all said and we're getting two good players for him, two players at key positions for us."

Minaya is familiar with both players he gets in the deal from his time as GM of the Montreal Expos, the franchise that moved to Washington before the 2005 season.

Milledge and Acta know each other from Acta's stint as the Mets' third-base coach.

"I can assure you Lastings is a good kid," Acta said. "He came up very young in a tough spot, in New York, and he wasn't prepared to handle that. You can't believe everything you read and you hear. I believe the kid is going to be just fine with us."

Milledge hit .272 with seven homers and 29 RBIs in 184 at-bats with the Mets in 2007. Now, he gets a chance to play every day.

"That's the most important thing to me at this point in my career," Milledge said. "It's a real big relief for me and my family and everybody, because I really didn't get enough time to show what I can do."

Still just 22, Milledge was the Mets' top prospect when he made his major league debut in May 2006. Right away, he showed why he was so highly rated on the field -- but also drew the ire of his team and teammates.

One of the most publicized episodes came in the town that will be his new home. In September 2006, a sign was posted in Milledge's locker in the visiting clubhouse at RFK Stadium that read: "Know your place, Rook. Your teammates."

Milledge earlier had been reprimanded for not running hard on the bases and had arrived late to the clubhouse for a game. He also rankled Mets management by making a rap CD that used offensive language.

"As far as the controversy goes, sometimes you feel like you get a raw end of the deal," Milledge said. "But whether it was or wasn't, it made me a better person, it made me a better ballplayer. It helped me at a young age to play at a big market and have everybody against you at one time."

The Mets acquired Estrada from Milwaukee for reliever Guillermo Mota. They also re-signed Ramon Castro to be their backup catcher again, though he could see more playing time next year.

New York could try to unload Estrada at the winter meetings next week. If it doesn't, the club might decline to offer him a 2008 contract by the Dec. 12 deadline. That would make Estrada a free agent and the Mets wouldn't owe him anything.

Paul Lo Duca was New York's starting catcher the past two seasons but the Mets showed little interest in re-signing him. Yorvit Torrealba appeared set to become the team's No. 1 catcher when he and the Mets reached a preliminary agreement this month on a $14.4 million, three-year contract that was subject to a physical. But that deal fell through and Torrealba re-signed with Colorado.

AP Sports Writers Joseph White and Howard Fendrich in Washington contributed to this report.

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