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Evaluating Omar, Conclusions

Mike SteffanosFriday, April 11, 2008
By Mike Steffanos

part 1 | part 2 | part 3 | conclusions (this article)

In the three previous installments of this article we took a look at the moves Mets GM Omar Minaya has made since taking over the reins after the 2004 season. He made an immediate splash by signing both Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran that first winter. Although it is acknowledged that money played a huge part in those signings, it was still an impressive sell job by Minaya. The two big name signings brought some immediate juice to a Mets franchise that had been floundering.

Minaya complemented those moves with some really smart minor-league free agent pickups, with Roberto Hernandez, Ramon Castro, Marlon Anderson, Juan Padilla and Chris Woodward all making significant contributions to the 2005 New York Mets. The success of the small moves augured as well for the future as the big ones.

The following winter the Minaya regime made their major moves via the trade rather than the checkbook, but there were still several players who contributed to the 2006 club. Chad Bradford, Endy Chavez, and Julio Franco were signed to major league contracts, while Darren Oliver, Pedro Feliciano and Jose Valentin were initially signed to minor league contracts.

The off-season trades brought Minaya his first full-fledged second guessing, as popular Mets Mike Cameron, Mike Jacobs, Jae Seo -- and the less popular Kris Benson -- were traded away along with a couple of the Mets' top pitching prospects. Both the Seo and Benson deals were the most widely criticized, but Minaya has come out looking good on both.

In-season pickups of Roberto Hernandez, Oliver Perez, Dave Williams, Guillermo Mota and Shawn Green all made contributions the Mets playoff run. 2007 seemed to be a year of great promise.

In the off-season following their ouster in Game 7 of the NLCS, Minaya seemed to lose his touch with the free agents. Moises Alou and Damion Easley were solid while playing but missed significant time with injuries. Orlando Hernandez and Guillermo Mota were controversial 2-year re-signings, El Duque because of age and Mota because of a positive steroid test. Scott Schoeneweis, bothered by a leg injury, was bad for most of the season. David Newhan spent more time in the minors than with the Mets. Only Jorge Sosa and the in-season pickup of Marlon Anderson were great successes.

The trades look even worse in retrospect. Traded players Heath Bell, Royce Ring, Henry Owens, Matt Lindstrom and Brian Bannister all made significant contributions to their new clubs, while the players the Mets got back either suffered injury or were simply ineffective.

As the season went along with an oddly complacent club spending most of the season playing .500 ball and then collapsing in September, Minaya and his front office took their fair share of criticism for their mistakes. The Mets could have used some hard-throwing relief help of the sort that was traded away, and Mets fans could only imagine how Brian Bannister could have solidified a year-long weakness at the bottom of the rotation. In an atmosphere of "what have you done for me lately?" the answer was not a good one for Minaya.

After Tom Glavine's miserable outing on the last day of the season sealed the Mets fate, Willie Randolph took the lion's share of the fans' wrath, but Minaya was not immune. Acclaimed as a genius a year earlier, Minaya was now being called things that were decidedly not complimentary. In fact, it was only the level of anger directed at Randolph that spared Minaya from more people calling for him to be fired.

Beyond the bad trades made in the previous off-season, a lot of the criticism of Minaya centered on what was perceived as the organization's over-reliance on older, established players. Players such as Julio Franco, Orlando Hernandez, Moises Alou, Jose Valentin, and Luis Castillo were signed to contracts and perceived as being favored for playing time over younger, possibly more deserving players.

While much of the criticism was probably unfair, some it was justified. Minaya's gambles on older, fragile players have backfired quite often over the past two years. The justification for gambling with theses players short-term was in using them as place-holders for prospects who needed a little more time, but most of those prospects are now gone. Certainly the team has some talent lower down in the system, but this club teeters on the edge between win-now and rebuilding.

Signing the creaky-kneed Luis Castillo, whose value depends on diminishing speed, to a 4-year contract seems almost certain to be a cause for regret for the future. This is exactly the sort of move Minaya makes that drives fans crazy. I could see offering Castillo a 2-year contract, but I find it hard to believe there was another team willing to give Castillo 4 years.

Even 3+ years into his regime, Minaya is a puzzling paradox between the man who loves young talent yet always seems to elect the more predictable choice with veteran ballplayers. He has endlessly stated his goal to make the Mets younger and more athletic, yet they grow older every year. I could understand the frustration of the fan base with this. There needs to be a commitment to making "younger and more athletic" a reality following this season.

Complicating this will be decisions to be made about Pedro Martinez and Carlos Delgado. Martinez will be a free agent and Delgado has a $4 million buyout on a $16 million salary. If Martinez comes back and pitches effectively this season and Delgado continues to hit, there will be tough choices to be made. If Moises Alou comes back and manages to put up 350-400 productive AB, there will certainly be some thought of rolling the dice one more time.

Unlike some, I still give Minaya a lot of credit for what he has accomplished, and am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. There needs to be some tightening up, however, on the talent evaluation failures of last year that led to undervaluing what the Mets traded away and overvaluing what they received in return (although, in fairness, the jury is still out on some of the talent).

On the other hand, hindsight is always 20-20, and he might get a little too much criticism for three deals that didn't pan out. After all, he's had some successes, too. Nobody ever gets it perfect.

For my own part, I want to see this team get younger and follow the successful model of other clubs who have productive farm systems. It's no accident that the Mets payroll is actually higher this year than the Red Sox, who have been able to win and build a great farm system.

Over the past couple of seasons, culminating in the Santana deal, the trend has been for young talent going out of the organization. That needs to be reversed. Moreover, the Mets as an organization must be willing to display more faith in young players. While proven veterans will always have a role on competitive teams, there needs to be a balance of youth and experience.

Mets fans are tired of the endless story line of key veteran players going on the DL. It's certainly not helping the team now, and the Mets will be hard-put to compete against the strong young teams like the Diamondbacks and Rockies going forward with an overpaid roster of players whose best days were spend elsewhere.

To some extent, Minaya has been hampered by ownership's unwillingness to circumvent the arbitrary draft slotting guidelines of the commissioner's office while clubs such as the Tigers ignore them and wind up with superior talent. By all accounts the Mets are no longer willing to go along, and that can only help. Combined with their efforts in signing Latin American talent, this should bolster the system.

I have purposely not discussed the draft and development under Minaya. It's just too soon to evaluate players who were all drafted in the last 3 years. Still, there have been some successes already. Mike Pelfrey was a 2005 choice, as are up and coming pitching talents Jon Niese and Bobby Parnell. 2006 pick Joe Smith has contributed, and Kevin Mulvey was a key piece in the Santana trade. The Mets are high on some of the pitchers they drafted high last season, too.

Top prospect Fernando Martinez and pitcher Deolis Guerra, another key piece of the Santana trade, are examples of the Mets successful Latin signings.

The Mets under Minaya have placed a lot of effort into having a more productive farm system. They have a philosophy of pushing their best players at a fast pace to challenge them. Only time will tell how that works out.

With the success of revenue sharing and with MLB as a whole extremely profitable, you simply can't fill out a roster with free agents and hope to compete. Even the Yankees have abandoned that philosophy.

Minaya is at a crossroads here, with little talent that is close to major league ready, some aging veterans and a fan base that desperately craves a winner. How he balances all of these things over the next few seasons -- provided he doesn't get himself fired first -- will tell as whether he takes his place of shame with all the failed GMs since Frank Cashen stepped down or fulfils the promise of his early success. I still like his chances, but nothing is certain.

part 1 | part 2 | part 3 | conclusions (this article)

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 (9)

Mike, overall, I agree with you. I think the net result is a good job. Minaya made the Mets contenders again, after five years of nothing. Even more importantly, he made NYC into a two-team town again.

Only one thing I'd question: Choosing Pelfrey in the draft was a success? The Mets chose ahead of the Yankees in that draft. The Mets took Pelfrey, the Yankees took Phil Hughes. I can't call it a successful draft when the Mets could have easily chosen Hughes.

Barry, that's just hindsight. Me personally, I never liked Mike Pelfrey even during draft season of 2005 BUT, if it weren't for Scott Boras, Pelfrey would have gone 2nd or 3rd in the draft. Basically every team except for the Nationals and even to a very small extent the DBacks thought about picking Pelfrey at thier slot.

Benny, I know that Pelfrey was rated ahead of Hughes. Is it too early to say the scouts were wrong? I think not. It just kills me to see how such a valuable commodity like Hughes winds up with the Yankees when it didn't have to be. No matter how you slice it--I wouldn't call it a successful draft.

Barry -- Pelfrey was a success to the point where he's pitching in the big leagues. Hughes was a 2004 pick, not a 2005. Humber was taken before Hughes, but that was Duquette's draft.

That's not to say that there weren't guys picked after Pelfrey in 2005 that may turn out to be better. That's the nature of the draft. If Pelfrey can become a productive big league starter, which I think he really still has a chance to be, that makes him a successful pick. Take a look at these historical picks and see how many never came close:



You did an unbelievable job putting this together. Great work! I agree with just about everything you said but there are two points that I would make:

1. I disagree with including the "hindsight is 20-20" comment regarding the results of trade activity. Results are what Minaya should be judged on. He's had mixed results with the trades that he's made. There's no denying that. The results of his trades are what they are.
2. The Heath Bell trade- There were several media reports that Bell clashed with Rick Peterson. I believe that played a big part is his being traded. I think Peterson has more influence on the pitching roster than we know. Remember the famous quote "I can fix Victor Zambrano in ten minutes." that led to Scott Kazmir being traded?

Overall, I loved the series posts. This is, by far, the most in-depth and comprehensive evaluation of Minaya that I've read.

Hindsight is 20-20 in the case of those deals which most people like at the time but then don't pan out.

As for Peterson, I agree that he and Bell didn't work together, but that happens. Roberto Hernandez worked great with Rick in 2005 but failed miserably with Leo Mazzone the year before. That is a common thing with coaches and athletes. For the most part I would say that Peterson works well with a good variety of pitchers.

As for the rumor that Rick Peterson promised he could fix Zambrano in 10 minutes, that's been debunked. Peterson was talking about 1 particular delivery flaw of Zambrano that could be fixed, and then when there was a lot of flack on the deal someone hung him out to dry to cover their own ass. I remember Adam Rubin mentioning this one his blog a while back.

Of course, people like WFAN's Joe Beningo who hate Peterson keep repeating this as fact. For what it's worth, I think Peterson is a very solid pitching coach who works hard with his pitchers. He's had both his successes and failures.


Thanks for the info on where Pelfrey and Hughes were picked. I had seen many posts about them being in the same draft. I always assumed it was true because I never saw anyone contradict it. Of course, I never bothered to research it, myself.

I also think Peterson is a very good pitching coach. Even if he had made comments about fixing Zambrano, all it is, really, is saying something positive about a player about to be acquired in a trade. The blame still has to go to the genius who made the trade (Duquette), not the pitching coach.

Great writing: Two or three points that I really have not seen in the post, probably because i speed read.

a. Young talent: Omar has not lost it. In fact his knowledge (as assistant GM) have been showcased already in his read on Figueroa and Angel Pagan. Pagan of course was a victim of depth with gomez and Milledge in the organization. Effectively he replaced Milledge with Angel Pagan. but that is not my point. The acquisition of Alou, Castillo, Sho, Mota (as a FA) and Matt Wise have as much to do with the fact Willie will not use the younger players. Bell is great in SD, Lindstrom and Owens we all salivated over, but Willie never used them. In large pt the reason we have Maine and Ollie (and Figgy) today is BECAUSE El Duque and Traxx broke down at some point.

b. In 2008 He has young players again. Gotay would not have seen PT, we know that. Anderson Hernandez hit .313 at AAA after a slow start, and possibly could provide excellent cover and insurance at 2B and SS. But as a bench player he would never hit late, nor would Willie start him even if he could help Castillo......so?

c. Already this yr we have Carlos Muniz. He is on my radar as he stands to help the most of anyone I have seen so far. Possibly ala Joe Smith he could be a HUGE BP asset taking away some of Heilman's innings.

d. Humber: I am big on Phil Humber. But he projected as a polished college pitcher. Phil hughes was a great HS prospect. I really though hate that comparison. In fact Phil was a last cut in Minn camp and could crack that rotation by Mid year. Based on talent I think the one that got away in the draft was Yovanni Gallardo.

e. Ditto Pelfrey: We could use effectively the Scott Kazmir comparison instead of Hughes. Kaz was the best LHP HS pitcher in that draft, and was a phenom at every level thru AA. But Duquette traded him away under the contention he was 'yrs away from the majors'. But all the Rays did was start him the following week against Pedro no less. Obviously that trade was the end of Jim Duquette, but the point I am making is you rarely can rush ANY pitcher college or HS anymore. They need to complete the minors. Pelfrey could be OK from here on, summing up his first two yrs as '4A' experience.

Ed - I specifically stayed away from evaluating drafts because it's too early, but I agree he is still solid with young talent. As for the rest of your points we are almost eerily in agreement. :)

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