The New York Daily News’ Adam Rubin characterizes the Mets’ trade of Mike Cameron as something akin to a salary dump, reminding us that the outfielder’s value had plummeted in recent months.

In a deal that saves the Mets $5 million, freeing up money for the potential big-ticket acquisition of Manny Ramirez, the Mets obtained outfielder/first baseman Xavier Nady from the Padres for the displaced center fielder.

The righty-hitting Nady could be used as a complement to lefty-hitting Mike Jacobs at first base and play right field. He also could be incorporated in a trade should the Mets deal for a premier slugger like Ramirez or Carlos Delgado or Tampa Bay closer Danys Baez, though a source briefed on the trade believed the Mets would retain Nady.

The Red Sox are believed to covet prospect Lastings Milledge, so the Cameron trade should not affect the Mets’ ability to land Ramirez if Boston brass decides to trade him and the slugger would accept relocating to Flushing.

Cameron will make $6 million in 2006 and has a $7 million team option for ’07 with a $500,000 buyout. Nady, represented by Scott Boras, made more than $1.1 million last season despite only two-plus years of service time because of a bonus for being on the major-league roster. No money is expected to be exchanged in the deal.

Nady hit .261 with 13 homers and 43 RBI in 326 at-bats while playing behind Ryan Klesko.

The Mets had two factors working against them in shopping Cameron: the industry-wide knowledge that the organization was looking to trade him, and his diminished value because of concern over the collision. One AL executive praised the Mets, projecting the 27-year-old Nady as having 25-homer, 80-RBI potential if he plays regularly.

ESPN’s Buster Olney, presumably coping OK after having his name made fun of by that streetwise ruffian Will Leitch, is amongst those who can’t figure out what this trade was meant to accomplish.

I don’t get the Mike Cameron for Xavier Nady trade. And some of Minaya’s peers around baseball don’t get it, either. It’s a terrible deal.

I wish I could tell you what Minaya was thinking, precisely, but he has begun to develop a Dan Duquette-like habit of failing to return phone calls. Without Minaya filling in the blanks for himself, I’ve been sitting here trying to understand how it is that in a market starved for good center fielders — and Cameron is a great center fielder — he settled for a player who has demonstrated all the signs of being a journeyman.

The problem is that no matter what the reason was for making this deal right now, the Mets could have and should have done better, because Cameron simply has more value in the current market than Nady.

“I heard they were talking about that, but I couldn’t believe it was true,” an executive with another team said. “Now I wish I had called and offered to make a deal for him and then moved him to another team, because you could’ve gotten a lot more for him.”

The executive pointed out that Cameron had “a perfect storm” of value:

¢ He is a solid veteran player with a unique ability (center field defense), and a time when there is a dearth of quality center fielders in the big leagues. Teams like the Padres, Yankees, Rangers, Cubs and Dodgers went into the winter knowing they probably would have to land a center fielder.

¢ The free-agent market stinks, and teams are looking to deal for help, rather than overpay a free agent.

¢ Cameron has cost certainty, with just one year remaining on his current deal, at $6.5 million. And unless he gets hurt, you can rest assured that he will have value in trade next June or July.

I’m not too bothered about the Duquette comparison. I mean, if Omar has already developed the Duquette-ish characteristic of acquiring Pedro Martinez, perhaps he’ll go all the way and bring in Manny Ramirez as well. Surely there are more substantial reasons to malign the Mets GM than for his failure to become best friends with Buster Olney.

Newsday’s David Lennon and Jon Heyman point out that the Mets have a contingency plan in place if they fail to secure their first or second choices at catcher or relief.

Omar Minaya also has reached out to the agents for Brad Ausmus and Bob Wickman, fallback candidates at catcher and closer, respectively. In addition, saving millions with the Cameron deal will help Minaya court Bengie Molina, who is expected to get approximately $7 million-8 million annually for three or four years.