- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 15, 2001

NEW YORK (AP) The David Justice era is over for the New York Mets, who traded him just one week after acquiring him.

Justice was dealt to the Oakland Athletics yesterday for reliever Mark Guthrie and minor league pitcher Tyler Yates, a move that could lead to the Mets entering more serious talks with free agent Juan Gonzalez.

The Mets, who acquired Justice from the New York Yankees on Dec. 7 for third baseman Robin Ventura, will pay $1.2 million of Justice's $7 million salary next season.

"This is a step in the process," Mets general manager Steve Phillips said. "It's not what we expect to be the final step, it's just the next step."

Justice, 35, struggled this year, going on the disabled list twice with an injured right groin, and hitting just .241 with 18 homers and 51 RBI.

"I'm at that point of my career where you can always be traded at any minute," Justice said last week.

He has 294 career homers, including a career-high 41 in 2000 for Cleveland and the Yankees, and will replace some of the power Oakland lost when first baseman Jason Giambi signed a seven-year, $120 million contract with the Yankees on Thursday.

"I've got a lot left," Justice said last week. "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."

Phillips maintains the deal doesn't give him enough payroll flexibility to deal with top free agents, such as Gonzalez, but added more moves could change that.

"Everyone's making it about him, and that's not necessarily the plan I have in mind," Phillips said. "I think the appropriate thing is to stay in touch and have some sense of what the market is and what it isn't, and to be able to balance that with the other options available. Unless something changes and we're able to create some more flexibility, we're still pursuing our solution through the trade front."

He estimates the Mets' payroll will be about $90 million to $95 million. New York made the trade one day after agreeing to a four-year, $18 million contract with Roger Cedeno (48 RBI), who joins a power-free outfield mix that includes Tsuyoshi Shinjo (56), Jay Payton (34), Benny Agbayani (27) and Timo Perez (22). The five combined for just 35 homers.

"You can't really look at it that way," Phillips said. "There's more to it: the lineup, who's playing where and what the final picture looks like."

Guthrie, 36, was 6-2 with one save and a 4.47 ERA this year in 521/3 innings. The left-hander, who makes $1.8 million next year, has a 44-48 record with 13 saves and a 4.20 ERA in a major league career that began in 1989 with Minnesota. He also has pitched for Los Angeles, Boston, the Chicago White Sox, Toronto and Tampa Bay.

Yates, 24, was 1-0 with an 0.00 ERA with one save in four games and five innings for Class AAA Sacramento and 4-6 with 17 saves and a 4.31 ERA for Class AA Midland.

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