By Mike Steffanos
Omar Minaya was the big story on the second day of the Mets winter caravan, appearing on WFAN twice, both times squarely facing charges that he is biased towards acquiring Hispanic players.
After a true honeymoon last winter with popular free agent signings of Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran, Omar has been more creative this winter, and has left himself much more open to criticism. Trading away both Jae Seo and Kris Benson for hard-throwing middle relievers definitely flew in the face of conventional baseball wisdom. The trade of Benson for Jorge Julio -- whose stock is plummeting faster than ENRON's did in the fall of 2001 -- was an unpopular move.
Omar's style isn't my preferred way of building a club, and I've called him on it when I think he's wrong. But there isn't a move that he has made that I can't see the logic behind, even the ones I didn't love. Moreover, the energy that Minaya has injected into what had essentially become a moribund franchise is beyond dispute. Perhaps that's why I get so annoyed at the cheap shots taken at Minaya by certain members of the media. You have to respect what Omar has accomplished here, whether you agree with everything he's done or not.
New York Times: Omar defends himself
Ben Shpigel reports on Omar's appearances on WFAN. Shpigel quotes Minaya from the Imus program regarding his criteria for acquiring players and his feelings about whether he is a victim of racism:
To me, it's about signing the best players possible... I don't think about the player's race, his color, his religion, his sexual orientation. I don't get into that stuff.
...I'm not one to throw around the racism card. A lot of people tend to use the race card all over the place. I think sometimes, when something is new, people are uncomfortable with it.
Shpigel points out that, after a fairly light-hearted interview with Imus, Minaya seemed a little irritated with Chris Russo. Maybe it has something with Russo's need to go out of his way to find fault with Omar and the Mets. Russo has come out and accused Minaya of playing the Latin card, constantly harping on Carlos Delgado's charges from last year that the Mets were approaching him as a Latino rather than a man. Russo got it wrong when he claimed Delgado aimed that charge at Minaya, it was directed at Minaya's lieutenant Tony Bernazard. Why any Mets fan would allow Chris Russo to get them worked up about anything is beyond me.
New Haven Register: More Kudos for Omar
Peter Zellen reports on what Omar has accomplished with the Mets as he indisputably has placed his personal stamp on the team this winter. Zellen quotes new Met Carlos Delgado on the man responsible for bringing the buzz back to Queens:
I can tell you we have a good team and that creates a buzz. It feels good to walk in here and see the guys that we got: Billy Wagner, Pedro Martinez, Carlos Beltran, guys that are good players.
Omar's busy. He's busy and not afraid to pull the trigger and you have to give him a lot of credit. He's done everything to try to make this ballclub better.
Zellen quotes Omar on all of the talent that he has brought to the Mets:
Part of being in New York is bringing in players that are name guys. It's part of business here. You have to be aggressive. You owe it to the fans to do the best you can to improve the team.
Whether you agree with the moves or not, you have to respect that.
Bergen Record: Aaron Heilman
Steve Popper talks to Aaron Heilman, who is grateful for the opportunity to earn a starting job in the rotation, however, Heilman disputes the notion that he pressured the Mets to start him or trade him:
I wish I had that power to throw my weight around. Omar and [pitching coach] Rick [Peterson] and everybody knew that I had expressed my desire, my preference to start. I'm coming into spring training prepared to do whatever role fits for me. I'd certainly love to start, but I want to be a part of this team and a part of what I think is going to be a very successful ballclub, and help in whatever way is possible.
Newark Star-Ledger: Kaz Matsui
Don Burke profiles Kaz Matsui, who is still looking for some redemption in New York.
Daily News: Roster Shuffle
Adam Rubin reports that Tyke Redman has been designated for assignment to make room for the newly acquired John Maine. Now Redman, who was acquired from the Pirates in a cash deal, must past through waivers to remain with the Mets. If nothing else, this gives a hint that Endy Chavez has the inside track for the left-handed reserve outfielder job.
New York Sports Day: Julio Franco
Joe McDonald has a nice interview with the ageless Julio Franco, who freely gives away his secret for staying young:
It's a gift from God. And I am very thankful to the Lord for giving me it to play baseball for a very long time. It's not that I am superhuman; I work very hard and I take care of myself, but it's a gift.
New York Post: Landing another starter
Joel Sherman offers a look at what's left on Omar Minaya's to-do list as the Mets head into the season:
The Mets GM remains committed to relocating Kaz Matsui, recognizing spring training may be the last, best shot to unload the disappointing infielder. More intriguing, however, is that after removing depth from the bottom of the rotation by dealing Jae Seo and Kris Benson earlier this month, Minaya has prioritized finding a top-of-the-rotation starter to pair with Pedro Martinez.
Sherman mentions Jose Contreras, in addition to Barry Zito, as a potential target. Sherman opines that the Mets would have to give up Lastings Milledge to obtain Contreras, or possibly package lesser prospects with someone like Cliff Floyd. I'm personally somewhat leery of Contreras, his success in Chicago not withstanding.