Marlins deal Lo Duca to Mets

Marlins deal Lo Duca to Mets

DALLAS -- Reality for Paul Lo Duca began to sink in about two weeks ago, when Josh Beckett's name was first floated around in trade talks.

When the Marlins officially traded Beckett, Mike Lowell, Guillermo Mota and Carlos Delgado on Thanksgiving night, Lo Duca figured no veteran with a multi-million contract was safe.

Lo Duca's instincts proved accurate.

With the Winter Meetings set to formally begin Monday in Dallas, the Marlins cut ties again with a popular, productive player who no longer fit into their budget.

Lo Duca, a three-time All-Star catcher, was dealt to the Mets for Minor League pitcher Gaby Hernandez, a Miami native, and another prospect.

Hernandez, 19, is one of the Mets top pitching prospects. In 2005, the 6-foot-3, 215-pounder was 6-1 with a 2.43 ERA for low Class-A Hagerstown in the South Atlantic League. Hernandez struck out 99 in 92 2/3 innings. He finished up with Class-A Port St. Lucie, going 2-5 with a 5.74 ERA, striking out 32 while walking 10.

The Marlins part ways with Lo Duca two days after they traded three-time All-Star second baseman Luis Castillo to the Twins.

"I figured when they traded Josh Beckett, that this might happen," Lo Duca said in a conversation Sunday afternoon, a few hours before the deal was completed.

The Marlins are shipping off their biggest stars as part of an organizationally termed "market correction." With no promise of a new stadium on the horizon in downtown Miami, the Marlins are trimming payroll while exploring relocation options.

Lo Duca becomes the latest big-name player to be dealt, and he doesn't figure to be the last. Before the Winter Meetings wrap up in Dallas, center fielder Juan Pierre and possibly reliever Ron Villone are likely candidates to be traded.

Marlins add Miami native
Hard-throwing right-hander Gaby Hernandez was one of the precious few arms New York had in its system. New York chose the Miami native in the third round of the 2004 First-Year Player Draft out of Belen Jesuit High School and he has, for the most part, looked impressive.

Hernandez split this season between Class A Hagerstown of the South Atlantic League (6-1, 2.43 ERA in 18 starts) and Class A St. Lucie of the Florida State League (2-5, 5.74 ERA in 10 starts). He tossed a no-hitter to clinch the first-half title for Hagerstown but the more experienced opposition in the Florida State League didn't have as much trouble with his lively, low-to-mid 90s fastball as did the free swingers in the Sally League, hitting 100 points higher against him (.298-.197). But he allowed only one earned run over eight innings in his last two starts, giving the indication that he was beginning to make the necessary adjustments. His strikeout-to-walk ratio (132-40) was indicative of his desire to attack hitters on the mound.

Hernandez doesn't waste many pitches but will need to improve on his curveball if he is to move up this season. He could join fellow former Mets' prospect Yusmeiro Petit, whom the Marlins acquired in the Carlos Delgado deal, as part of the Florida rotation within two years.

- Kevin Czerwinski

The Yankees, Cubs and White Sox have shown interest in Pierre, who is in line to make about $5.5 million in arbitration. Villone is signed for $2 million in 2006.

The Mets have agreed to pay all of the remaining $12.5 million on Lo Duca's contract over the next two seasons. The hard-nosed catcher, one of the most respected players in the league by his peers, is set to make $6.25 million in 2006.

The Marlins acquired Lo Duca from the Dodgers just before the trade deadline in 2004. In 1 1/2 seasons in Florida, Lo Duca made an impact. He delivered a pinch-hit home run on the first pitch he saw as a Marlin.

In 2005, Lo Duca represented the Marlins in the All-Star Game, and he finished the season batting .283 with six home runs and 57 RBIs.

His production tailed off in August and September largely because of a right hamstring injury. Lo Duca probably should have served a disabled list stint, but instead, with the team then in the thick of the Wild Card race, he played in severe pain.

By freeing themselves of Lo Duca's salary, the Marlins have now dealt away close to $85 million in player contracts since Thanksgiving. That's the combined totals of deals for Delgado, Lowell, Beckett, Mota, Castillo and Lo Duca.

The amount of money those players would have made in 2006 is roughly $42 million.

The Marlins payroll is dipping from a franchise-record $65 million this past season to somewhere in the neighborhood of $20-$30 million.

With no stadium deal in sight, Lo Duca feels sorry for what team owner Jeffrey Loria is going through.

"I know it's hurting Mr. Loria," Lo Duca said. "He wants to win so badly. But with no stadium, he is doing what he has to do."

In hindsight, Lo Duca feels injuries cost the Marlins a chance at the postseason in 2005.

"I think if we didn't have those injuries, we'd have been in [the playoffs]," Lo Duca said. "I think if the same team came back again [in 2006], we'd win again."

Now that Lo Duca has been traded, the Marlins have catchers with limited experience. Matt Treanor was Lo Duca's primary backup last season. And Josh Willingham is being groomed to catch.

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.