Mets acquire Conine in trade with Reds
New York sends two Minor Leaguers to Cincinnati
NEW YORK -- Scrambling to add depth after the injury to Damion Easley denied a potent right-handed reserve bat, the Mets did Monday what the Marlins did en route to the World Series in 2003; they traded for Jeff Conine. At a modest price -- two Minor League position players -- the Mets imported the veteran right-handed-hitting first baseman/outfielder from the Reds.
With Easley likely to miss most -- if not all -- of the remainder of the season because of the severe left ankle sprain he suffered Saturday, Conine could serve as a reserve third baseman, too. But Ruben Gotay now is the primary understudy to David Wright at third.
The Mets expect -- read hope -- Carlos Delgado to return this week. He has missed four games because of a hyperextended left knee. Conine could serve as the Mets' first baseman, except New York is to face three right-handed starters against the Padres on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
General manager Omar Minaya said he had spoken with the Reds about Conine before the July 31 trading deadline. But the Mets' need wasn't so great then.
"I've always wanted him on my team," Minaya said, calling him "a highly respected player."
Conine, 41, played in the 1997 and 2003 World Series with the Marlins. They acquired him from the Orioles on Aug. 31, 2003, in a move similar to what the Mets have struck to secure their bench. The Mets agreed to deal two players from their most competitive Class A team, the St. Lucie Mets -- 22-year-outfielder Sean Henry and 20-year-old switch-hitting shortstop Jose Castro. Each had played regularly with St. Lucie.
"I get to go back into another pennant race," Conine said before leaving Cincinnati. "As a baseball player and athlete, that's what you strive to do, [to] win. I'm definitely going to a winning situation."
He noted he had gained 15 games in the standings.
"It's not the first time [I've been traded in midseason]," he said. "It's the fourth, actually. The third time in August and the third time I'm going to a pennant race. The first time was a World Series victory. It'd be nice to repeat that."
Conine was moved from the Orioles to the Phillies last August when the Phillies had designs on the Wild Card. In his two tours with the Marlins, he played with six current Mets -- Delgado, Paul Lo Duca, Moises Alou, Luis Castillo, Ramon Castro and Guillermo Mota.
He appeared in 80 games with the Reds this season, his 18th in the big leagues. He batted .265 with a .409 slugging percentage in 215 at-bats. He had 32 RBIs and six home runs among his 18 extra-base hits. He had walked 20 times and struck out 28 times.
Conine batted .264 in 87 at-bats against right-handed pitching and .266 in 128 against left-handed pitching. But all but three of his extra-base hits, including all his home runs, came against left-handed pitchers.
He had played first base almost exclusively -- all but five of his 436 2/3 innings in the field. He played four innings in one appearance at third and one in one appearance at first. He started 50 games at first.
He was quite productive as a pinch-hitter -- a .409 average with four RBIs and no home runs in 22 at-bats.
Easley had six fewer RBIs in 22 fewer at-bats than Conine, but he had hit 10 home runs. The Mets were delighted with his power and versatility. He had started games at first and second base and in left and right field. He also had played third base. He hadn't been nearly as effective as a pinch-hitter as Conine -- a .211 average with two RBIs and one home run in 19 at-bats.
Minaya said Easley could return no sooner than a month and that his recovery could take longer. An MRI administered Monday confirmed the severity of the sprain. Minaya said the injury was a high ankle sprain which typically requires longer recovery than the more common, lower sprain.
The depth the Mets need will be enhanced by Conine and by the return -- perhaps later this week, Mimaya said -- of Endy Chavez.