Mets cross catcher off wish list, get Lo Duca

The wheeling-and-dealing New York Mets crossed another need off their 2006 wish list, acquiring All-Star catcher Paul Lo Duca from the Florida Marlins in exchange for two minor league pitchers, the New York Daily News reported on its Web site and The Associated Press confirmed.

It is the second deal between the Mets and Marlins this offseason, with Florida sending slugging first baseman Carlos Delgado to New York last month. The Mets also signed free-agent closer Billy Wagner, giving Mets general manager Omar Minaya a player at every position he said was a priority.

Lo Duca, 33, was an All-Star in each of the past three seasons. He will be taking the place of Mike Piazza, a sure Hall of Fame player and, like Lo Duca, a former Dodger. Lo Duca hit .283 with six homers and 57 RBI for the Marlins in 2005.

The Mets will send 19-year-old right-hander Gabriel Hernandez and another minor league pitcher to be named, the Daily News reported.

Hernandez was 6-1 with a 2.43 ERA for Class-A Hagerstown of the South Atlantic League, then went 2-5 with a 5.74 ERA for Class-A St. Lucie of the Florida State League. He had a combined 131 strikeouts in 135 innings.

The departure of Lo Duca would represent the further dismantling of a competitive Marlins franchise, which sent Luis Castillo, a three-time All-Star and the
Marlins' career leader in six major categories, to the Twins last week. The Marlins are citing rising costs after repeated bids for a new
ballpark failed.

Delgado, ace Josh Beckett and third baseman Mike Lowell are also gone, and center fielder Juan Pierre is on the block.

Minnesota gave up right-handers Travis Bowyer and Scott Tyler in the Castillo deal. The Marlins plan to use the hard-throwing Bowyer in the bullpen next season, while Tyler will begin the year in their minor-league system, general manager Larry Beinfest said.

With no new stadium on the horizon in South Florida, team
president David Samson announced last week that the Marlins would
dramatically reduce their payroll, which was $60 million at the
start of the 2005 season. He also said the team will consider
moving after the 2007 season, with Las Vegas and Portland, Ore.,
among the candidates.

With three trades, Florida has cut about $32
million from next year's payroll, excluding any Lo Duca deal. On Thanksgiving Day, Florida
received seven prospects by trading Delgado to the Mets and sending Lowell and Beckett to Boston.

The Marlins' so-called fire sale is their second in eight years.
Former owner Wayne Huizenga ordered a payroll purge after the team
won the 1997 World Series, and prospects acquired in subsequent
deals helped Florida win the title again in 2003 under current
owner Jeffrey Loria.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.