Mets trade Ventura to Yankees for Justice

Friday, December 7th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ The New York Yankees made a rare deal with the crosstown Mets on Friday, trading outfielder David Justice for third baseman Robin Ventura.

The trade is the first in more than eight years between the teams and the first involving major leaguers since 1992. The teams have exchanged players only six times since the Mets began play in 1962.

``It's kind of weird to be traded from the Yankees to the Mets with the rivalry and all of that,'' Justice said. ``I'm at that point of my career where you can always be traded at any minute. I'm happy to go to the Mets. There are far worse teams be traded to.''

The deal satisfies needs for both teams. With the retirement of Scott Brosius, the Yankees were in need of a stopgap at third base until heralded prospect Drew Henson is ready to take over.

``It was obvious that we had a void to fill at third base in 2002,'' Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. ``It is our belief that Robin _ with his left-handed bat and on-base average _ was our best option.''

The Yankees also signed reliever Steve Karsay to a four-year contract worth about $22.25 million on Friday. The deal includes a club option for a fifth year.

The Mets struggled offensively last season and scored the fewest runs in baseball. They were also second-to-last in the NL in home runs. Mets right fielders hit .240 with just 15 homers and 61 RBIs last season.

``He's been a very successful offensive player and his postseason experience speaks for itself,'' Mets general manager Steve Phillips said. ``He has a knack for being on teams that get to the postseason. He's a big part of that is his contributions on those clubs.''

Justice, whose teams have reached the past 10 postseasons, will provide the Mets with the left-handed power hitter they've been seeking to protect Mike Piazza. Justice has 294 career homers, including a career-high 41 in 2000 for Cleveland and the Yankees.

Justice, 35, struggled last season, going on the disabled list twice for an injured right groin, and batted just .241 with 18 homers and 51 RBIs.

``I've got a lot left,'' he said. ``Last year was based solely on injuries, no doubt about it. I still have my bat speed and still have my defensive skills. I don't feel like I've gone down at all. Injuries played a part.''

Ventura, 34, batted .237 with 21 homers and 61 RBIs for the Mets last season. He is a solid fielder and a clutch hitter, especially with the bases loaded. His 15 career grand slams are the most of any active player and ninth all-time.

His career on-base percentage of .364 is 41 points higher than Brosius' as the Yankees are making a concerted effort to improve their ability to reach base.

They are also close to a deal with first baseman Jason Giambi, who has led the AL in on-base the past two seasons.

There was no money exchanged in the deal. The Yankees will pay Ventura's $8.25 million salary in 2002 and the Mets will pay Justice $7 million. Both players are eligible for free agency after next season.

The Yankees and Mets hadn't made a trade since Sept. 17, 1993, when the Yankees traded Frank Tanana for minor league pitcher Kenny Greer. In 1992, the Mets traded pitcher Tim Burke to the Yankees for reliever Lee Guetterman.