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Not Much of a Legacy for Duquette

Mike SteffanosThursday, March 15, 2007
By Mike Steffanos


It was somewhat of a surprise when the Mets released Alay Soler a couple of days ago. Not that Soler was pitching all that well, but given the numbers game the club was playing with the pitching staff I thought Soler would at least spend the year in New Orleans. The Mets saved a few bucks by releasing him, but there still has to be more to it than just money. In any case, Soler is yet another of the major personnel moves made during the brief Jim Duquette era that didn't quite work out.

When Steve Phillips was handed his walking papers in June of 2003, Duquette was made the acting GM and given the responsibility of ridding the franchise of Roberto Alomar and Jeromy Burnitz with the idea of receiving something of value in return.

Alomar, who still had some value, was traded to the White Sox for Edwin Almonte, Royce Ring, and Andrew Salvo. Both Salvo and Almonte moved on after that season and Ring, who was at one time considered to be a potential major league closer, was traded away this winter to the Padres. Considered the major piece of the deal for the Mets, Ring was a disappointment from day one. His velocity was down quite a bit from his college heyday and his control was always a problem.

Burnitz was dealt to the Dodgers for Victor Diaz, Joselo Diaz, and Kole Strayhorn. For a while it seemed that Diaz' bat would offset his defensive liabilities, but the Mets finally grew frustrated with Victor's attitude and lack of self-motivation and sent him off to the Texas Rangers for a catching prospect. Strayhorn, a hard-throwing reliever prospect, suffered from injuries and is no longer in the Mets system. The other Diaz was included in the Kazmir deal the following year.

After the season Jim Duquette was made the GM in a strange top-heavy hierarchy that also featured personnel input from "super scouts" and various other shady characters. While it's hard to know exactly who to blame for various decisions made, as ringmaster of the circus the buck has to stop with Duquette. The first major decisions of the new regime were the free agent signings of Kazuo Matsui, Mike Cameron, Braden Looper, Karim Garcia, Shane Spencer, Todd Zeile. Former Yankees Garcia and Spencer had their moments but couldn't survive the season, and Zeile retired at the end of 2004. Matsui may have been one of the biggest free agent busts of all time, while Cameron struggled through injury and some inconsistent play before winning the fans over in 2005. Looper's purpose was to be a relatively low-budget closer, and the Mets got what they paid for, especially in 2004 when Looper performed fairly well.

The Mets were operating somewhat on the cheap during Duquette's tenure, so you can't compare this off-season to the following year when Omar Minaya signed Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran. The one glaring mistake was giving so much money to Kaz Matsui. In fairness, the Mets weren't the only club to rate Matsui so highly. The big problem was that the Mets saw fit to spend a lot of that winter hyping Matsui as the second coming of Ichiro, and created a high level of expectation. In hindsight, it would have been better to tone it down and allow Matsui to adjust to America and American baseball with a little less pressure.

Only Matsui, Cameron and Looper survived that first year. Matsui had some moments, but never earned a fraction of the money he was paid. Cameron took an unfair beating on sports talk radio for struggles in 2004 related to playing with an injured wrist. He became a fan favorite in 2005, and most fans were sorry to see him got the following winter in the Nady deal. Braden Looper was about as good as he could have been expected to be, but suffered some spectacular meltdown losses -- particularly in 2005 when he was pitching with a bad shoulder.

Matsui was the last of the Duquette era free agents to leave town, with the Mets basically paying Colorado to take him off their hands last summer when Jose Valentin's fine play at second finally made Kaz irretrievably irrelevant.

No discussion of Jim Duquette's tenure would be complete without mention of the deadline deals that ultimately sealed his fate. Again, there is little doubt that others in the Mets bloated hierarchy pushed for the trades, but in the end Duquette signed off on them. After trading Aussie C/1B prospect Justin Huber to the Royals for Jose Bautista, Duquette packaged Bautista, Ty Wiggington and pitching prospect Matt Peterson to the Pirates for Kris Benson and Jeff Keppinger. Next he shocked the baseball world by trading uberprospect Scott Kazmir to the D-Rays for Victor Zambrano. Ostensibly, these moves were made because the Mets were in a pennant race, but it was obvious to even the die-hard fans that the team was falling out of the race before the deal was done.

In hindsight, the Mets didn't give up all that much for Benson, but he didn't really endear himself to Mets fans, either. As for Zambrano, his travails have been well documented. With the Mets' decision not to re-sign Victor, combined with the release of Soler, it seems that the page has been almost fully turned on Duquettes short time at the helm. The Duke has moved on to another oddly crowded front office in Baltimore. His decision to acquire Kris Benson a second time seems to have backfired again. With Zambrano now pitching for Toronto and Scott Kazmir in Tampa Bay, Duquette's Orioles will see a lot of the pitchers who were instrumental in sealing his fate. Benson will spend at least a year on the sidelines recovering from rotator cuff surgery.

In retrospect, the situation that Jim Duquette found himself in with the Mets was your prototypical no-win deal. Running a ballclub by committee is not a blueprint for success. There also seemed to be a bit of a dark cloud following Duquette around during his tenure in New York. Even Duquette's first round pick Phil Humber, who looks like he could turn out to be a good one, needed Tommy John surgery after only a couple of months into his pro career. Things always seemed to find a way to go as bad as they possibly could. If Zambrano hadn't been damaged goods the deal wouldn't have looked quite so bad. But it was a bad deal nonetheless, and it was, in the end, Duquette who signed off on it. He seems like a decent man, but I'm glad he's in Baltimore and not here.

About Mike: I was the original writer on this web site, actually its only writer for the first 15 months of existence. Although I am grateful for the excellent contributions of my fellow writers here, I have no plans of stepping back into strictly an editorial role. I started this thing in the first place because I love to write and I love the Mets, and blogging here keeps me somewhat sane. If you haven't had enough already, more bio info can be found here.

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Comments (8)

Boy, do I rememeber those deadline deals. They almost cost me my membership in the Mets fan club.

I contended at the time that Duquette couldn't have been the driving force behind any of those three deals, including the giving of Justin Huber to Kansas City. They simply were dreadful baseball moves.

However, since Duquette was the one who would take the rap, he should have been the one to put his foot down and say No, even if it cost him his job. Now, that sounds as though I was suggesting that Duquette make a great sacrifice for a principle, but really it was his only way to achieve a personal win out of that no-win situation; take a stand, and either win the point, or look like a fallen hero fi the team chooses to go ahead anyway. Either of those outcomes would have enhanced Duquette's stature in the baseball industry, certainly more than what he actually did do, carry out orders that he must have known were wrongheaded.

One thing Duquette and Phillips managed to do is buy Omar Minaya a few miles of latitude with the fan base. We know we've got it better than we used to.

Boy, do I rememeber those deadline deals. They almost cost me my membership in the Mets fan club.

I contended at the time that Duquette couldn't have been the driving force behind any of those three deals, including the giving of Justin Huber to Kansas City. They simply were dreadful baseball moves.

However, since Duquette was the one who would take the rap, he should have been the one to put his foot down and say No, even if it cost him his job. Now, that sounds as though I was suggesting that Duquette make a great sacrifice for a principle, but really it was his only way to achieve a personal win out of that no-win situation; take a stand, and either win the point, or look like a fallen hero fi the team chooses to go ahead anyway. Either of those outcomes would have enhanced Duquette's stature in the baseball industry, certainly more than what he actually did do, carry out orders that he must have known were wrongheaded.

One thing Duquette and Phillips managed to do is buy Omar Minaya a few miles of latitude with the fan base. We know we've got it better than we used to.

Sorry 'bout that duplication of effort. It was barely worth saying once.

This was a chilling reminder of everything he did to screw up the organization. I literally thanked God for the existence of Minaya after reading all that. It's a tough choice evaluating who was worse for us-- Phillips or Duquette. Hopefully, our prospects pan out, we notch a ring and we forget that this ever happened.

duquette was a Co-assistant GM with Omar until Omar moved to the PR Expos. And may have been over estimated...shades of Al Harazin?

2. The Kazmir trade was the flag ship blunder, but several others slid under your radar:
a. prior to the kaz matsui signing, Duq underbid for Luis Castillo who went onto to Star in the Marlins WS run. Luis would have upgraded 2nd base, but lest we forget the lost yr of Jose Reyes at 2nd base. Who knows jose could have broken out earlier.
b. The underbid for Vlad. He was all but a Met, but Duq insisted Vlad was an injury waiting to happen.
c. Duq salivated on Magglio Ordonez to the point the CWS all but filed a complaint for an illegal approach to a player still under contract...
There were more that I can still recall, but I'll leave it there. My hostility to this period was the double speak...You alluded to the purse strings being tightened, yet he gives up Ty, Kazmir, huber, Peterson for ??? Given the public rebuild status, he should have waited one yr...or 2 months or better yet do what TB did and call up Kazmir, even if for one start.

dd - It's okay. I've been having problems with the hosting lately. The damn site times out too often. Supposedly the server is being upgraded this weekend, and hopefully that will fix things.
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Matt - I still vote for Phillips.
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Ed - I don't think the organization was willing to spend money at that time, and it's hard to blame them considering Mo Vaughn and some of the other stiffs Phillips signed. You probably have a point about Duquette being somewhat overrated as a baseball exec.

just one final retort:

The Met budget was still vastly over the Tweins and A's as well as other contending teams.

I agree, but the Mets didn't have any real productive farm system in place under Phillips.

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