By Mike Steffanos
Two years ago, Omar Minaya seemed to attract equal parts kudos and criticism in an offseason that brought Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran to Shea Stadium. While he received credit in some quarters for landing the two top free agents of the winter when none of the experts gave the Mets a shot at either going into the negotiations, Minaya was also criticized for the perception that he was impatient and impulsive and would overpay for any player he sought.
Then last year he landed Carlos Delgado and Paul Lo Duca from the Marlins' fire sale and signed Billy Wagner to a huge contract. Again there is praise in some quarters, and again some criticism for being an impetuous spendthrift with the perception that he overpaid in money or talent for all.
This offseason there was consensus that the Mets needed to shore up their rotation by landing Barry Zito, no matter what it took. While Minaya and company insisted that they wouldn't overpay beyond the internal value they placed on the young southpaw, the pundits all insisted this was a ploy to hold the price down. But when the Mets did indeed allow Zito to chase the crazy money elsewhere, now you get the perception from the local media that Minaya and the Mets "lost" this offseason, as if only a willingness to be outspend the Giants for Zito qualified as a success. As for me, I defer to frequent commenter "dd" who voiced my feelings quite well in a comment he left yesterday:
... at that price I am also glad the Mets let Barry Zito get away. I know that it's clearly been a seller's market for baseball talent this winter, particularly for pitching. I simply believe that it makes no sense to follow that trend beyond the point of reasonable return to capital.
I guess we're going to see it every few years: the economy has a few years of sustained growth, baseball somehow doesn't shoot itself in the foot with a strike or a scandal, with the result of numerous teams with a lot of money to invest in their immediate future. And every time it happens, it's as if someone just gave a teenager a platinum card; the spending is wild, erratic, and mostly nonproductive. No one seems to remember that money spent today will come out of future revenues.
Why it matters is simple: spending all that money foolishly limits a team's ability to maneuver in the future. It can stick a franchise with a collection of aging nonproductive players with no recourse but to play out the string with them. There is a perfect example in Colorado, now just coming out of the self-inflicted dive created by the contracts handed out to Denny Neagle, Mike Hampton, Larry Walker and Todd Helton. Good players, all; only the two pitchers went south almost at once, Larry Walker averaged 462 at bats over the course of his five year, $50+ million deal (Cliff Floyd averaged 471 PA's in his Mets years), and even Helton's talents showed serious decline as he passed the 30 year mark. Now, finally, the Rockies are showing signs of life; but it's the kids who are leading the way, not any of those guys.
Not for my Mets. When the market goes crazy, sane people stay away. My respect for Omar grows daily.
What I will never understand is how the owners go along with the feeding frenzy. These owners didn't get into the position of being owners by being stupid; yet we see evidence of stupidity nearly everywhere we look this winter. I am happy that the Mets are an exception.
We'll leave the Giants fans to decide whether such a large commitment to a number two starter is ultimately worth it, and wish Zito and the San Francisco faithful well. I don't need to see him fall on his face to justify my team's decision to pass on the southpaw.
Some of you reading these words are despondent that the Mets are likely heading into the season as underdogs in the National League and even the division. You may even subscribe to the theory that that Mets were losers this winter. As for me, I'm not afraid of my team coming up short in 2007 if it makes them better equipped to improve going forward.
Whether he gets credit for it or not, I feel pretty good that my team has a GM who won't sacrifice the future for a little better chance of winning now. I've seen a million quick fixes or signings that seemed to have more to do with p.r. than the long-term success of the team. I'm not inclined to trust Mets GMs after being burned so many times, so it is often with quite a bit of surprise I find myself feeling more and more comfortable with Omar Minaya every day.
Don't get me wrong here. I'm as competitive as anyone, and it will bother me if the Mets take a step back this year due to such a young and unproven starting rotation. Despite all of the practice I've had as I approach four decades of following this team, losing still sucks big-time. But if it gives this club the best chances of being a winner going forward, I'll suck it up and be an adult. And I wouldn't bet against this team finding a way to win with what they have now.
In any case, you only have to look at the other team in town to understand that spending the most money and chasing the big names may get you a lot of offseason back pages, but it doesn't win you championships.
So take your lumps, Omar, as so many who couldn't build a winner in fantasy baseball take shots at you for what you didn't do this winter. Their disapproval will be loudly played out on talk radio shows and in tabloid columns. Don't mistake this racket for a consensus among the faithful. As I've said many times here, the people that don't boo make a lot less noise than the people that do. I'm grateful we have a General Manager who cares more about winning than getting pats on the back.