How the mighty have fallen! According to mlbtraderumors.com, former Mets prospect Lastings Milledge will not be playing in the United States in 2012. Instead, he will be a member of the Tokyo Yakult Swallows, earning $570,000 next year, plus performance bonuses. Milledge also has a club option for the 2013 season.
Prior to the 2006 season, Milledge was the Mets' top minor league prospect as a 21-year old and was one of the top prospects in the country. However, his flashiness (Milledge high-fived fans at Shea Stadium after an extra-inning game-tying home run) irked his teammates and rubbed opponents the wrong way. In addition, Milledge was not exactly skilled at pitch selection (in 391 plate appearances as a Met, Milledge drew 25 walks while striking out 81 times).
As a result, the once highly-touted prospect was traded to Washington following the 2007 season for Ryan Church and Brian Schneider. In 2008, Milledge appeared to be on the way to fulfilling the lofty expectations placed on him as a rookie in 2006. In 138 games for the Nationals, he hit 14 home runs and stole 24 bases. But that was the last time Milledge would be an everyday player in the major leagues, as injuries and poor performance derailed a once-promising career.
Since his kinda-sorta breakout season in 2008, Milledge has played for the Pirates and White Sox, but hasn't come close to replicating his one good season. Milledge split the 2009 season with the Nationals and Pirates, combining to hit .279 with four home runs, 21 RBI and seven stolen bases in 244 at-bats. In 2010, Milledge played the entire season in Pittsburgh, picking up 379 at-bats. However, his production was not that far off from what he accomplished in 2009, despite the extra 135 at-bats (.277, 4 HR, 34 RBI, 5 SB).
Milledge signed as a free agent with the White Sox prior to the 2011 season but only played two games in Chicago before being sent down to AAA-Charlotte, where he returned to his 2008 form (.295, 12 HR, 27 SB). Despite appearing to be back as the player the Mets expected him to be when they first called him up in 2006, Milledge was not re-signed by the White Sox following the 2011 season and was granted free agency.
Now in Japan for up to two years, Milledge will try to prove that he wasn't just a flash in the pan. At age 26, he still hasn't entered his baseball prime and could potentially do well enough for the Swallows to draw the attention of a major league scout or two, but it's amazing how far his star has fallen.
After growing tired of him, the Mets turned Lastings Milledge into Ryan Church and Brian Schneider. They then turned Church into Jeff Francoeur. Francoeur was traded to Texas last year for Joaquin Arias, who is now in the Kansas City Royals organization. The Mets now have nothing to show for Milledge. Then again, Milledge had nothing to show for the Mets when he was here.
Some players have gone to Japan and returned to the United States to embark on a long, successful career (see Melvin Mora). Perhaps this will be the case with Milledge, a player I once had such high hopes for. Good luck, Lastings! I've got a high-five waiting for you when you come back.