- An even-handed look at the tenure of Mets GM Omar Minaya:
Anyone who reads me regularly knows that I'm: A) A Mets fan; and B) a non-apologist for the Mets.
They'll also know that when a GM, manager, player or whatever does something positive or negative, I'll let them have praise or fire. Even if I have a disregard for their manner; their press coverage; or their philosophy, they get it from me. Some may confuse personal attacks with passion, but if I feels strongly about something, it's easy for the uninitiated to blur those lines.
The Mets are again under attack. Fans want blood after a five game losing streak has demolished all the good will they accrued with a hot streak in April to vault them into the public consciousness as something other than a punchline/punching bag. Many are calling for an entirely new regime in the baseball operations----although no one seems to be coming up with a realistic name along with the entreaties to fire GM Omar Minaya----they want owner Jeff Wilpon to do something.
Minaya, celebrated as recently as a year ago for putting together a team that was a legitimate title contender, is receiving the bulk of the blame for the team's struggles. It's with that in mind that I'm going to take a look at Minaya's entire tenure as Mets GM to see whether he's been part of the solution; part of the problem; and if someone else would have done a better job or essentially done exactly what Minaya did.
In 2004, the Mets were a joke. Having tried to go the route of the hot new trend of finding undervalued players without truly understanding what they were doing, they had Jason Phillips playing first base; a platoon of Karim Garcia and Shane Spencer in right field; and made the mistake of going for a playoff spot when they were----at best----on the extreme outskirts of the race. Pressured by upper management and the College of Cardinals atmosphere that permeated the club, GM Jim Duquette traded Scott Kazmir for Victor Zambrano; and also traded for Kris Benson at the trading deadline.
The club fell apart as the season wound down and Minaya was hired as the boss of the baseball operations. Having been a keen scouting lieutenant to former GM Steve Phillips in the Mets glory days of the late 1990s and early 2000s; he was able to navigate the political fiefdoms of manager Bobby Valentine and his archenemy Phillips, Minaya was a conciliator well liked for his affability throughout baseball.
When he took over the Mets, he set about re-making the club by dismissing lackluster manager Art Howe, hiring Willie Randolph and doing the easiest thing in rebuilding a big market club----flinging money at the problems.
Of course it wasn't as simple as spending money. Convincing upper management that the severance contracts that were annually doled out on fading veterans Al Leiter and John Franco as both were simultaneously declining in performance and serving as negative clubhouse forces was as imperative as the signings of Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran. The dispatching of Franco and Leiter was in fact just as----if not more----important to the club's rejuvenation in such a rapid fashion.
Now, let's take a look at the moves; the good, the bad and ugly.
The managerial hirings/firings:
Willie Randolph had been interviewed so many times that it appeared he'd never get a shot at the big job. Randolph was a winner as a player and well-liked coach but was hindered by his lack of experience in the top job and seeming nervousness when attempting to express himself to both the media and in interviews. Minaya had flirted openly with bringing Valentine back, but chose Randolph for his newness, history as a winner and familiarity with New York.
Randolph did a good job for someone who'd never before managed in 2005 amid the usual growing pains; he brought discipline and seriousness into a clubhouse that so desperately needed it. He did a solid job getting the veterans on the same page with him as allies in 2006 as the club rolled to the NL East title before losing in the NLCS.
With all of the positives, there were the negatives of a lack of experience that cost the club dearly in the NLCS and as they collapsed in 2007. Randolph was fired in 2008 in a clumsy and wishy-washy way. This exemplified a Minaya weakness----he's far too nice; if they wanted Randolph out, they should've just fired him. Plain and simple.
Jerry Manuel replaced Randolph, instilled calm to the storm of 2008 and they missed the playoffs because of Billy Wagner's elbow injury. Manuel has been under fire, but there's no way to blame him for 2009's injury-ravaged campaign and he's done some odd things in 2010 putting him in the bullseye now. Should he be dismissed the replacement will either be the short-outlet pass (Bob Melvin) or the bomb (Bobby Valentine).
Free agent acquisitions/departures/misses:
The aggressive pursuit and nabbing of Pedro Martinez wasn't just about Pedro; it was a signal that the Mets weren't going to go about their business as they had in previous years of letting the Yankees, Red Sox and others outbid them and create the headlines. Was Pedro worth the 4-years and $53 million they paid him?
But it did send out the message that the Mets were no longer screwing around; and while it's been debated how much Pedro helped convince Carlos Beltran to sign the Mets (they offered Beltran the most money), it had to help at least a little.
Minaya aggressively pursued Carlos Delgado, but Delgado chose to sign with the Marlins and was offended by Minaya assistant Tony Bernazard's overbearing approach.
After that season, the Mets signed Billy Wagner to take over as closer by again offering the most money.
Two very important and under-the-radar free agent signings were catcher Ramon Castro and Jose Valentin. Castro provided power and big hits as a part-timer; Valentin was invaluable after taking over at second base with power, solid defense and leadership. One thing that was never adequately understood was how much Valentin's knee injury in 2007 cost the Mets not just on the field, but off the field as well. The Mets 2007 stumble coincided almost directly with Valentin's injury.
Julio Franco was an odd signing (especially for 2 years); he and Randolph didn't get along; but Franco provided some big hits in 2006.
Chad Bradford served as a middle reliever and he had a great year in 2006.
In 2007, Moises Alou was a good idea for 2007-2008 that plainly and simply didn't work. Alou was great when healthy, but could pull a hamstring sneezing. Not much could be done about that.
Scott Schoeneweis had been a historically successful reliever against both lefties and righties and he didn't work out either.
From 2008-2009, the Mets took advantage of the weak market for Francisco Rodriguez and got an All Star closer at a relative bargain. Choosing to hope that the foundation of the team would be enough with ancillary pieces, they brought in Alex Cora and Tim Redding. These players were not the causes of the Mets fall in 2009.
This past off-season, Minaya smartly shunned the likes of John Lackey (who wasn't coming to the Mets anyway and hasn't been good for the Red Sox); and Jason Marquis. The pitcher they should've signed was Joel Pineiro, but they didn't. He got Jason Bay, who eventually will start to hit for power.
In 2006, the Mets were largely built by astute trades. John Maine was a throw-in with Jorge Julio and showed his guts by pitching well in the 2006 National League playoffs when injuries pressed him into service; Minaya spun Julio off to the Diamondbacks for Orlando Hernandez.
Mike Cameron, who no longer wanted to play right field after his horrific collision with Carlos Beltran (the collision may have cost the Mets a Wild Card run in 2005) was traded to the Padres for Xavier Nady.
Paul Lo Duca was acquired after the Mets waited an adequate amount of time for either Ramon Hernandez or Bengie Molina to accept identical 3-year contract offers. They got Lo Duca for two non-prospects.
Duaner Sanchez was acquired from the Dodgers along with Steve Schmoll for Jae Weong Seo and Tim Hamulack. Sanchez's shoulder injury in an ill-thought-out late night cab ride (said to be looking for Spanish food) set a chain reaction of events that necessitated the trade of Nady to the Pirates for Roberto Hernandez and Oliver Perez.
Had Sanchez not gotten injured, the Mets wouldn't have needed to shift Aaron Heilman to the eighth inning role; had Sanchez not gotten hurt, the Mets would've won the 2006 World Series.
Guillermo Mota was acquired from the Indians in August of 2006 and pitched brilliantly for most of the rest of the season. Keeping him as a free agent even after he failed a PED test and was suspended was a mistake.
The acquisition of Perez looked great as the lefty showed the "good Ollie" in an above-and-beyond the call perfornance in game 7 of the NLCS; then he won 15 games in 2007. He was re-signed to a 3-year, $36 million contract after 2008 and has been a disaster. His talent is undeniable; his head is a train wreck.
After 2006, Minaya traded Heath Bell and Royce Ring to the Padres for Ben Johnson and Jon Adkins. This trade has been ravaged amid the implication is that the Mets "never gave Bell a chance", which is garbage. Bell got a shot and got shelled as a Met. Johnson and Adkins weren't any good and, misinterpretations of Bell's lack of opportunity with the Mets aside, this was a horrible trade.
In August of 2007, the Mets traded for Luis Castillo because they needed a second baseman after the injury to Valentin. They got Castillo for nothing; he was a respected veteran on and off the field. After the season, the Mets re-signed Castillo to a 4-year, $24 million deal. Judged as the flashpoint for the Mets downfall, Castillo has pretty much performed up to his career expectations. He's the designated player to flog, but the Mets stumble hasn't been his fault though he's been a symptom to the overall problem.
After the 2007 season, Johan Santana fell into the Mets laps. Minaya waited out the maze as one team after another dropped out of the bidding. He got Santana for absolutely nothing and held onto Mike Pelfrey when there were voices saying to just give him to the Twins if that's what it took. This was a great trade.
Minaya traded unpopular rookie Lastings Milledge to the Nationals for Brian Schneider and Ryan Church. This was a good idea that didn't work out. He spun the unhappy Church for Jeff Francoeur in 2009 in a trade of a mentally shaky player in Church for the untapped and battered potential of Francoeur. It was a worthwhile risk.
After 2008, the Mets tried to bolster their main weakness in the bullpen by acquiring J.J. Putz to be a set-up man. Putz was still hurt after an injury-riddled 2008 and pitched poorly. It's interesting that Putz's critical comments about the Mets were stated after the season; and how he's been remarkably quiet as he pitches for a team that has been healthy and in many ways worse with similar expectations in 2010 with the White Sox; it's also notable that the inability to generate the "buzz" as a set-up man wasn't such an issue this past winter when he was looking for work.
The players Minaya gave up to get Putz----Endy Chavez, Jason Vargas, Joe Smith and a package of youngsters----have done nothing so far and we won't know about the true result of this deal for awhile.
The much criticized trade of Brian Stokes for Gary Matthews Jr. was a non-entity. Both have been terrible and the Angels are paying most of Matthews's salary.
The minor league system
The Mets system was said to be horrendous because of bad drafts, but they've got more prospects than people have given them credit for. Ike Davis, Jenrry Mejia, Ruben Tejada, Fernando Martinez, Brad Holt, Wilmer Flores and Reese Havens have all gotten positive reviews.
In 2005, the Mets drafted Mike Pelfrey; Bobby Parnell; Jon Niese; and Josh Thole.
In 2006, they drafted Kevin Mulvey (traded for Santana); Joe Smith; Daniel Murphy and Tobi Stoner.
In 2007, Eddie Kunz and Dillon Gee (a late pick who's blossomed into a prospect).
In 2008, they got Davis, Havens and Holt.
To pick on drafts and prospects before they get a chance to develop and play is useless. No matter the system a team uses to find, pick and play prospects, it's a 20/20 hindsight circumstance and is a fruitless endeavor.
The Mets have been built top-heavy with stars and fill-in pieces at other positions. For 2006, they had a powerful lineup, a great bullpen and mediocre starting rotation. It would've worked had Sanchez not gotten injured.
It was the same in 2007 and onward. You can build a team with depth or go for stars and fill-ins. That's the way the Mets went about their business and it failed in practice due to that which was uncontrollable and unforeseeable.
Minaya's main faults are his communication foibles. Because English is his second language and he tries to be so nice, he's not adept at press conferences that are crisis management rather than celebrations. Put him in the middle of a happy day in which the Mets are introducing Johan Santana and he's fine; put him in the middle of a spin doctoring moment where he has to explain away the misanthropic behaviors of Bernazard, and he falls apart.
As things have collapsed for the Mets, there's always someone to blame. Because Minaya has made some drastic mistakes in personnel and doesn't have the verbal dexterity of Brian Cashman and Billy Beane, he looks even worse. People are calling for his head without providing an adequate solution to the problem.
Who do they want?
Are the Mets starting a full-scale rebuild? Or are they going to find someone to look at what's there and patch it together immediately?
If you're going to tell me that Larry Beinfest might be willing to come from the Marlins to take over the Mets, then okay; or if they try to get Bill Stoneman from the Angels, then yes. If they're going to give Dodgers personnel whiz Logan White a chance, maybe. But if they're going to install John Ricco as the new GM, they might as well just keep Minaya.
Firing the GM in the middle of the season (or in MAY!!!) is suicide. The easiest thing to do is keep things in place and if it really begins to spiral make a managerial change. Put into context, Minaya hasn't been the best GM, but he's nowhere near as bad as is portrayed. These are the facts and firing him now is the wrong thing to do.
Gaze into the face of fear.