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Mets deal for veteran catcher Estrada

Mets deal for veteran catcher Estrada

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NEW YORK -- Moving swiftly on Tuesday to address a primary need, the Mets acquired veteran catcher Johnny Estrada from the Brewers to reinforce their catching and rid themselves of a reliever who had performed poorly for them and become a Shea Stadium pariah, Guillermo Mota.

The one-for-one exchange of unwanted players developed and was completed in one business day after Brewers general manager Doug Melvin contacted his Mets counterpart, Omar Minaya, and offered Estrada for any one of six players in return. Minaya, who last December bestowed a two-year, $5 million contract on Mota, chose to send the 34-year-old right-handed reliever to the Brewers.

In Estrada, Minaya imported a switch-hitting catcher with four seasons of fairly regular play and, now, four trades in five years on his resume. The 31-year-old backstop had a bone spur removed from his right elbow and underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair the torn medial meniscus in his left knee shortly after the 2007 season.

The trade came three days after the Mets acknowledged their dealings with free-agent catcher Yorvit Torrealba had been suspended, and one day after Minaya said publicly he had no specific plan to find a successor for Paul Lo Duca. "We'll find a catcher who will be able to get the job done and be attractive to pitchers," Minaya said Monday. The general manager was not available Tuesday and didn't return calls made to his cellular phone.

The Mets didn't make Estrada available to the media.

Estrada was one of the players who became involved with Brewers manager Ned Yost in a dugout scuffle during the Mets' Aug. 2 game in Milwaukee. He and Tony Graffinino interceded when Yost confronted J.J. Hardy after the shortstop had committed an error.

Estrada has a .280 career batting average and is a skilled run producer who twice has driven in more than 70 runs in a season and never has had more that 462 at-bats. He also is an impatient contact hitter with marginal power. He has walked merely 45 times and struck out 121 times in his most recent 1,290 plate appearances.

His throwing doesn't appear to be a strong point. Brewers opponents were successful on 87 percent of their stolen base attempts when Estrada was catching last season. The National League average is about 70 percent, and Damion Milller, who started 50 games for the Brewers, threw out half of 24 would-be base stealers.

The Mets gave no indication of how their catching responsibilities will be split between Estrada and Ramon Castro. Estrada's switch-hitting makes a platoon possible, but it is quite likely Estrada will do the majority of the catching. Minaya's lone comment about the Mets' newest player was in statement released by the club: "Johnny adds depth to our catching situation. He's a former All-Star who switch-hits and has hit over .300 three times in his career."

One of Estrada's .300 seasons was in 2003 when he had 36 big league at-bats with the Braves. He batted .314 in 462 at-bats the following season, an average which reflected 47 hits in 139 at-bats -- a .338 average -- with runners in scoring position. He has batted .274 in 318 at-bats in those situations in three subsequent seasons.

Estrada batted .278 with 40 runs scored, 25 doubles, 10 home runs and 54 RBIs in 442 at-bats last season. He hit average in 134 at-bats against left-handed pitching was .313.

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Melvin, speaking by phone from Milwaukee, said he and Minaya never had discussed Estrada before Tuesday and that he hadn't spoken Minaya at the General Managers Meetings earlier this month.

Melvin indicated it was possible the Brewers would have non-tendered Estrada next month rather than go to salary arbitration with him. The Mets, who haven't had an arbitration case go to a hearing since 1992, inherited a player whose base salary for 2007 was $3.4 million. Melvin predicted Estrada's 2008 salary would "begin with a four," making him too expensive for the Brewers.

Milwaukee is looking for a replacement for Estrada, who started 111 games as the Brewers catcher last season and appeared in nine others. Melvin indicated Lo Duca is not among the catchers he is pursuing, and now with Estrada in place, the Mets have no need for Lo Duca, their regular catcher for the last two seasons.

Lo Duca earned $6.25 million last season and was seeking a raise and a contract covering more years than the Mets were willing to afford him. Now, even if Estrada were to be awarded $5 million in arbitration, the Mets would be saving money -- and divesting themselves of Mota saves them $3.2 million.

"We know what we're getting in Mota," Melvin said.

He called the exchange "one of those deals that serves both clubs."

One of Mota's '07 teammates, contacted Tuesday night, suggested the trade will benefit Mota and the Mets. "He wasn't comfortable pitching at home. The booing got to him," the player said. "It wasn't going to work out."

Mota produced a 2-2 record and 5.76 ERA in 52 games innings with the Mets. He allowed 63 hits -- eight of them home runs -- and 18 walks in 59 1/3 innings. He converted none of three save opportunities. His season began late because he served a 50-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball's ban of performance-enhancing drugs. The Mets signed Mota to the two-year deal despite the suspension and the righty's role in their loss to the Cardinals in the 2006 National League Championship Series.

Mota will be remembered for shaking off Lo Duca's call for a 1-2 changeup and throwing a fastball that Scott Spiezio hit for a game-tying triple in the Mets' Game 2 loss of that NLCS.

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

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