By Mike Steffanos
The honeymoon has been over for a while for Mets GM Omar Minaya. His first year on the job was received with a giant pat on the back from fans, the local media and most of the national media. However, Minaya has received a lot of criticism for moves that he has made and didn't make over the past couple of years. Although I am, as a general rule, a Minaya supporter, I've been as disappointed as many of you by some of the deals he has made.
In this recent piece from Ken Rosenthal -- who, in fairness, almost invariably puts a negative spin on what he writes about the Mets -- Rosenthal makes a valid point about how badly the Mets could use a Brian Bannister right now. Of course, Ken conveniently forgets that Omar made a couple of pretty good deals in picking up John Maine and Orlando Hernandez. Still, it got me to thinking on how I feel about Minaya's moves and whether the net result has been positive or negative for the Mets.
A couple of caveats here. One, we accept that no GM is perfect. Early in his career John Schuerholz traded David Cone to the Mets in return for backup catcher Ed Hearn. Later on he traded for Mike Hampton and Danny Kolb and traded Adam Wainwright, Jason Marquis and Ray King for one year of J. D. Drew. Despite this, no one disputes that Schuerholz was a terrific GM, and rightfully so.
Two, we will not evaluate the 2005 - 2007 drafts that have taken place during Omar's time at the top. It's too early to know what these guys will turn out to be, and Minaya was also constrained by the team's policy of slavishly adhering to MLB's arbitrary slotting system.
For our purposes in this piece, we will divide the years to include the preceding off-season through the end of the baseball season, basically October - October.
Major League: Pedro Martinez, Carlos Beltran, Kris Benson, Mike DeJean, Dae-sung Koo, Miguel Cairo, Danny Graves (June 11)
Minor League: Chris Woodward, Ramon Castro, Juan Padilla, Marlon Anderson, Roberto Hernandez
Traded RP Mike Stanton to the Yankees for RP Felix Heredia
Traded C Vance Wilson to the Tigers for INF Anderson Hernandez. Traded Minor League 1B Ian Bladergroen to the Red Sox for 1B Doug Mientkiewicz.
Traded C Jason Phillips to the Dodgers for SP Kaz Ishii.
Three years later, this still looks like a solid body of work. Pedro and Beltran gave the Mets some juice and legitimacy. Re-signing Benson was something that Omar had to do, and the eventual return when dealing him to the O's was certainly worth it. DeJean washed out fairly quickly, but he had looked good in 2004 and looked like he would be the eighth inning man in 2005. Mr. Koo provided one of the highlights of the season against Randy Johnson. Cairo was signed to be a backup and then was exposed with too much playing time. I can't blame them for taking a gamble on Graves, the bullpen that year was not good.
The real eye-opener here is the minor league free agent signings. Woodward had a solid year, as did Castro. Padilla was great at the end of the season. Marlon Anderson was a terrific player on that team who should have never been allowed to leave. Roberto Hernandez handled the setup job that DeJean failed so miserably at in more than admirable fashion. If there is one area where Minaya's regime has excelled, it is in bringing solid talent in on minor league contracts.
None of the trades were major deals. Phillips for Ishii and Stanton for Heredia were washes, nothing much gained and nothing much lost. Bladergroen was coming off a terrific year that put him on the map as a prospect and looked like a player the Mets might regret trading someday. Mientkiewicz was awful, of course, spending most of the season as an automatic out and displaying Gold Glove defensive skills only on throws in the dirt. I was shocked at how mediocre he was in the field in every other area. As for Bladergroen, he never lived up to the promise of his fine 2004 season. He never made it out of Class A with the Red Sox, and last season was playing in the independent Atlantic League.
Of all the trades, the Vance Wilson for Anderson Hernandez deal is the only one where one team got the better of the deal. Hernandez hasn't been able to hit enough to stay in the majors, even as a utility player. Wilson is a solid defensive backup who can hit a little. He was the Tiger's backup C in 2005 and 2006. His numbers were sub-par the first year, but he had a solid '06 campaign. He hasn't played in the majors since after reconstructive elbow surgery cost him the entire 2007 season, so even that one didn't hurt very bad. Castro's a better backup catcher, anyway, when not experiencing his own health issues.
This was a good year for Omar, particularly in finding gems among those brought in on minor league deals. Woodward gave them reliable defense backing up as SS and had a decent year hitting. Castro provided terrific offense as the backup catcher. Padilla and Hernandez were reliable relievers in a bullpen starved for that. Marlon Anderson was and is the best pinch hitter in the game today. In retrospect, I only wish they gave up on guys like Ishii and Graves sooner.
Major League: RP Chad Bradford, OF Endy Chavez, INF Julio Franco, SP Yusaku Iriki (Japan)
Minor League: RP Darren Oliver, RP Pedro Feliciano, INF Jose Valentin. INF Brett Boone, SP Jose Lima, SP Geremi Gonzalez, INF Jose Offerman
Traded 1B Mike Jacobs, SP Yusmeiro Petit and INF Grant Psomas to the Marlins for 1B Carlos Delgado and cash.
Traded OF Mike Cameron to the Padres for OF/1B Xavier Nady.
Traded SP Gaby Hernandez and OF Dante Brinkley to the Marlins for C Paul Lo Duca.
Traded SP Kris Benson to the Orioles for RP Jorge Julio and SP John Maine.
Traded SP Jae Seo and RP Tim Hamulack to the Dodgers for RP Duaner Sanchez and RP Steve Schmoll.
Traded Minor League P Robert Manuel to the Reds for SP Dave Williams.
Traded RP Jorge Julio to the Diamondbacks for SP Orlando Hernandez.
Traded INF Kaz Matsui to the Rockies for UTL Eli Marrero.
Traded OF Xavier Nady to the Pirates for RP Roberto Hernandez and SP Oliver Perez.
Traded PTBNL to the Indians for RP Guillermo Mota and cash.
Traded Minor League SP Evan MacLane to the Diamondbacks for OF Shawn Green.
Traded OF Victor Diaz to the Rangers for Minor League C Mike Nickeas.
This was a busy year for Omar and the Mets, culminating in the 7-game NLCS loss to St. Louis. Of the major league free agent signings, both Chad Bradford and Endy Chavez played huge roles for the Mets. We read that Julio Franco's leadership may have been overstated; certainly his bat was drastically slowing down. In retrospect, allowing Marlon Anderson to depart and giving Franco that 2-year contract instead was a mistake. Iriki never pitched a regular season inning for the Mets and then failed a steroids test in the minors.
Of the minor league signings Darren Oliver, Pedro Feliciano and Jose Valentin were all solid contributors to the success of the team. Lima and Gonzalez were bad in their stints with the Mets and are best forgotten.
Carlos Delgado was an important piece of the puzzle in '06, but has seemed to lose critical bat speed since. If he doesn't bounce back this year he will be rightfully considered a disappointment as a Met. Jacobs has become a decent major league first baseman who probably doesn't hit enough HR to justify his strikeout totals. Petit has bounced around and has yet to live up to his promise.
Cameron for Nady was a good deal for both clubs. Nady has developed into the solid major league hitter Minaya expected him to be, unfortunately with the Pirates. Lo Duca was a solid contributor, especially in his first season. Gaby Hernandez is still in the minors, but has a chance of becoming a major league pitcher.
The last two off-season trades were Omar's best of the winter. John Maine has been a revelation, and Julio became El Duque. Duaner Sanchez was a key setup man until his ill-fated cab ride, while neither Jae Seo nor Tim Hamulack is pitching in the majors.
Of the in-season deals, the El Duque trade was solid. Despite injuries, Duque has been an effective starting pitcher in New York while Julio has bounced around. Giving up Nady was a tough one, and they didn't even use Roberto Hernandez in key spots, but the rehabilitation of Ollie Perez makes that deal look good in hindsight. Mota was a steal -- for that season at least. Shawn Green didn't cost much, but the Mets would have been much better off looking elsewhere for a RF. He was a good guy and a solid citizen, but had no business being a starting OF for a playoff club.
Omar's first two seasons in control of the Mets featured a lot of smart signings, trades that broke mostly in the Mets favor or even, and a few bad decisions (Franco, too much Lima time, staying too long with some guys, and the Green pickup). When we conclude this look at what Omar has done in Part 2, we will look at what have been some of his more questionable moves, and then in Part 3 we'll to sum it all up.