Benson Dealt To Orioles; Zito Implications?

Many of you have already noticed by now that Newsday is reporting that the Mets traded Kris Benson to the Orioles for Jorge Julio and John Maine.  A tip of the cap to Orioles Hangout; I’m pretty sure they confirmation first.

The question on most people’s minds is this: is the Benson swap the initial movement indicating a trade of Barry Zito to the Mets?  If you recall, my Mets source indicated yesterday that Benson would be traded to Baltimore to acquire a prospect to Billy Beane’s liking.  I’ve got word out to a couple of sources to see if anything has changed.  In the meantime, let’s see what we can deduce.

First off, would the A’s have use for John Maine?  The 24 year-old righty starter was ranked 6th in the Orioles’ organization by Baseball America entering the 2005 season.  According to BA back then, Maine needed to refine his command and had a ceiling as a #3 starter.  They also mentioned that he was "probably a #4 or 5 guy on a first-division club."  Maine pitched kind of like a #4 starter in 128 innings at Triple A Ottawa in ’05.  He posted a 4.56 ERA with improved control while maintaining a solid K rate.

I haven’t projected Maine myself yet, but ZiPS thought he’d throw 153 innings of 4.41 ball in his first extended trial with the Orioles.  I think that’s great value for the price.  For basis of comparison, Maine’s 2005 doesn’t look terribly different from Danny Haren‘s 2004.  Haren was certainly better, but it’s a fair comparison.  Interestingly, Baseball Prospectus lists these comparables for Maine: Joel Pineiro (2002), A.J. Burnett (2001), Juan Marichal (1961), Bob Gibson (1960), and strangely, Jorge Julio (2003).  I know the A’s already have a stable of starters, but Maine probably needs a little more time and a team can never have too much starting pitching depth.

I would speculate that the Mets would hang onto Jorge Julio to serve as Aaron Heilman‘s replacement.  While most analysis today indicates that the Benson trade simply means Heilman starts for the Mets, I am skeptical.  According to MetsBlog earlier this month:

"The problem is that the only person who seems to see Heilman as a starter is Heilman.  Nearly all scouts and experts that I talked with all explained the same thing: Heilman’s repertoire is too hittable during his second time through a lineup."

Should Minaya package up Victor Diaz with someone to acquire a top flight prospect suitable to the A’s, I could really see this Zito deal coming to fruition.   

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