Milledge as popular as ever in Florida

Milledge as popular as ever in Florida

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Lastings Milledge may be best remembered some 100 miles away in this state as a high school phenom, but his name has been regularly uttered at Disney World during this week's Winter Meetings.

Numerous reports have indicated the Mets have been shopping the 21-year-old prospect in search of pitching help, making it difficult to walk the lobby of the Dolphin Hotel without hearing Milledge's name in some fashion.

On Tuesday, a baseball source said that the Mets offered Milledge to the Chicago White Sox in exchange for left-hander Mark Buerhle, but were rebuffed. Another source indicated that the Oakland Athletics or Cleveland Indians could be possible destinations for Milledge.

Mets general manager Omar Minaya said that there continues to be demand for a number of the team's younger prospects, which includes Milledge but could also expand to envelop pitchers Mike Pelfrey, Philip Humber and others.

"There's a big market for young guys. A huge market for young guys," Minaya said.

As of now, however, Milledge appears to be the Mets' ideal chip to deal, should they have an opportunity to upgrade the rotation or bullpen. While not ruling out any sort of deal, Minaya reiterated Tuesday that he would not be keen to deal a highly regarded player in exchange for a one-year rental.

"To give up a young guy for control of a young guy, for one year, I'm not as tempted," Minaya said. "Usually the temptation comes at July 31st, and you need the guy to get you over the top. You still have the free-agent market to address those needs."

Milledge's rookie campaign with the Mets came sooner than expected, with the top prospect promoted from Triple-A Norfolk in May after left fielder Cliff Floyd was lost to injury.

Showing flashes of his immense talent but also raising eyebrows with assorted questionable actions, Milledge batted .241 with four home runs and 22 RBIs in 56 games over three tours of duty with the Mets.

Some speculated that Milledge, who did not return a phone call seeking comment on Tuesday, may have been consumed with attempting to live up to his billing. After being recalled for the second time in July, Milledge claimed at Shea Stadium that he incorrectly felt he "had to carry the team" as a first-time call-up.

"It's not about what people say about you, it's about playing winning baseball," Mets manager Willie Randolph said. "He's young, he's growing. I'm looking forward to seeing him next spring, and seeing how he's actually matured a little bit since last year, as far as his physical game.

"Expectations and what people think, that means nothing to me. And it shouldn't mean anything to him, either."

Randolph said that he continues to be excited about Milledge's star potential. Randolph has not spoken with Milledge since the end of the season, but said that he believed the rookie handled himself well, even without the benefit of consistent playing time.

"He's a young player. We tend to forget that with him," Randolph said. "He got into the situation last year where he was kind of over-scrutinized, over-analyzed, for a young player. That's New York, I guess. Milledge still has a lot of skills and a lot of talent."

Those items still draw daily interest from clubs wondering if Milledge is available, and if so, for what players. One executive identified the Cleveland Indians as a club interested in Milledge; another pointed to the Oakland Athletics as a possible destination.

For their part, the Mets appear in no particular rush to deal Milledge, their No. 1 selection in the 2003 First-Year Player Draft. Trade speculation has followed the outfielder throughout his entire professional career, and this winter has been no different.

With a full selection of Major League-ready outfielders, plus prospects Carlos Gomez and Fernando Martinez biding their time in the Minors, the Mets' picture appears plenty crowded in December. Randolph acknowledged that fact, although things could always change by Spring Training's dawn.

The Mets project that their outfield will consist of Moises Alou, Carlos Beltran and Shawn Green, perhaps ticketing Milledge for Triple-A New Orleans. But Randolph suggested that Milledge could wind up winning a job over Green or force a platoon under the right circumstances.

"Shawn Green is going to have to come to Spring Training and compete for a job," Randolph said. "It's good to have him as one of those real stable guys in our lineup, but so much can happen in Spring Training."

Green, a veteran, is owed $9.5 million for 2007; roughly $5.8 million of which will be paid by the Arizona Diamondbacks. Randolph said that he was in no particular rush to speak with Milledge, but that he would relay some of his hopes for the youngster before the Mets settle into their Port St. Lucie complex.

"I'm sure I'll talk to him before Spring Training," Randolph said. "I do that with all my players if I have something specific I want to say to them about what I expect. I'll do that, but he's not someone I'm thinking I have to call. I'm sure I'll run into him."

Bryan Hoch is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.