NEW YORK -- A trade that seemingly addressed the Mets' primary need -- setup relief -- may be a forerunner of another deal.
A person with another Major League club who said that he has a sense of the Mets' thinking said on Wednesday that the deal the Mets made with the Dodgers, importing two right-handed relievers for Jae Seo, "seems to set the stage" for another move. And he suggested that the pending move could involve Devil Rays closer Danys Baez, a focal point in the Mets' offseason bullpen remodeling.
At the same time, a member of the Mets hierarchy acknowledged that the club still has its eye on Baez and that were the club to deal for him, Aaron Heilman could be moved to the rotation.
"The beauty of where we are now," said the Mets insider, "is that we don't have to do anything now except find a left-handed reliever."
The need for a left-handed setup man would increase dramatically were Heilman moved to the rotation. For now he is the Mets' primary late-inning weapon against left-handed hitting, other than closer Billy Wagner, because of his changeup. The trade consummated with the Dodgers on Wednesday that brings Duaner Sanchez and Steve Schmoll to New York did nothing to change that. Both pitchers, as well as Chad Bradford -- the free agent reliever the Mets signed last week -- are significantly more effective against right-handed hitters than left-handed hitters.
But having watched Baez serve as closer for the Devil Rays and handle all hitters with essentially comparable success, the Mets believe they could go forward with Sanchez pitching the seventh inning, Baez the eighth and Wagner the ninth.
The need for Heilman in the bullpen would be diminished or eliminated, and he could pitch as a starter, as he prefers. The Mets suspect they would need him in the rotation with Seo gone and because they feel they will have to deal another starter -- Steve Trachsel, Victor Zambrano or Kris Benson -- to obtain Baez.
Any Mets deal with the Devil Rays probably will have to involve a third club because, with Seo gone, the Mets have no starter whose salary would fit the Devil Rays' budget. The Mets suspect -- hope -- that another club will develop a need for a starter and be willing to send prospects to the Devil Rays so that the Mets can have Baez.
The Mets, Dodgers and Devil Rays had been moving toward a deal that would have sent Seo, Kaz Matsui and money from the Mets to the Devil Rays, Baez to the Mets, prospects from the Dodgers to the Devil Rays and unknown quantities to the Dodgers. But the Dodgers pulled out of that deal because they prefered to retain the prospects the Devil Rays sought.
That three-club possibility developed only after the Mets and Dodgers had essentially agreed on the exchange they executed on Wednesday -- Seo and left-handed Minor League pitcher Tim Hamulack for Sanchez and Schmoll. The Devil Rays wanted to be involved, and Baez and Matsui became involved when Tampa Bay did.
An executive with another club said that the Devil Rays are quite willing to take Matsui (with money) from the Mets, but they might feel more comfortable if they knew for sure the Red Sox were going to take shortstop Julio Lugo from them.
With Matsui gone, the Mets would have rookies Anderson Hernandez and Jeff Keppinger compete for the second base assignment and have veteran Bret Boone, signed to a Minor League contract on Wednesday, as a contingency fallback if neither rookie could handle the job. Boone signed, the Mets insider said, with the awareness that his role may be as an understudy.
For now, though, the Mets are looking for a left-handed reliever and for Sanchez and Heilman to share the seventh and eighth innings. Sanchez, 26, appeared in 79 games and produced a 4-7 record, eight saves, a 3.73 ERA and 71 strikeouts in 82 innings with the Dodgers last season, his second full season in the Major Leagues. He also allowed 36 walks and tied for the second-most appearances in the National League. He assumed the closer's role in August and converted all of his save opportunities.
Each of the
three right-handed relievers the Mets acquired in the last week was significantly more effective against right-handed hitters
than left-handed hitters in 2005. The disparity wasn't so great with Tampa Bay's Danys Baez, the reliever the Mets have been
Still, he seemingly is a step down from Baez, who saved 41 games for the Rays and whom the Mets have been seeking to acquire since last summer. The Mets' interest in Baez had increased of late because the Braves had expressed interest, too.
Sanchez's agent, Joe Rosairo, said that his client was "shocked" at the trade because "he thought he was part of a program with the Dodgers. But he's happy."
Sanchez, Rosairo added, often had expressed a desire to pitch for the Mets because he is Dominican, has family in New York and "because Latin players love playing in New York."
Schmoll, 25, had a 2-2 record with a 5.01 ERA and four saves in 48 appearances and 47 2/3 innings.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.