By Mike Steffanos
As mentioned in part 1 of this analysis, we're taking a look at the moves Omar Minaya has made as General Manager of the Mets. Minaya has taken a lot of heat lately for some of the moves that didn't pan out, so we thought we'd look at the overall picture and try to determine if all the criticism is fair. Again, for our purposes here we will divide the years from the preceding off-season through the end of the season (October - October). We will not consider the drafts in this analysis, as it is too early to determine how the players might pan out.
Major League: OF Moises Alou, INF Damion Easley, INF Jose Valentin (Re-sign), SP Orlando Hernandez (Re-sign), RP Guillermo Mota (Re-sign), RP Scott Schoeneweis, RP Jorge Sosa, UTIL David Newhan, SP Chan Ho Park
Minor League: P William Collazo, OF Chip Ambres, OF Ruben Sierra, SP Aaron Sele, C Sandy Alomar Jr., SP Brian Lawrence (May), INF Marlon Anderson (July)
Lost in Rule 5 Draft:
C Jesus Flores (Nationals)
Traded RP Henry Owens and RP Matt Lindstrom to the Marlins for SP Jason Vargas and SP Adam Bostick.
Traded RP Heath Bell and RP Royce Ring to the Padres for OF Ben Johnson and RP Jon Adkins.
Traded SP Brian Bannister to the Royals for RP Ambiorix Burgos.
Traded C Drew Butera and OF Dustin Martin to the Twins for 2B Luis Castillo.
Traded INF Jose Castro and OF Sean Henry to the Reds for 1B/OF Jeff Conine.
The free agent signings were really a mixed bag this season. Alou and Easley were terrific for the Mets when healthy, but both missed significant chunks of the season to injury. Still, I liked both signings at the time, expecting 400 AB from Alou and liking Easley as a bench player. Signing Schoeneweis to a 3-year deal after letting Chad Bradford walk for failure to offer that to him was a real black mark. In fairness, though, I don't think anyone understood what was going to happen to the market for proven relievers. The opinions of the Orioles handing relievers Bradford and Danys Baez 3-year deals were almost universally negative. On the other hand, it's a GM's job to anticipate what might happen to the market and act accordingly.
If losing Bradford was somewhat understandable, vastly overrating Scott Schoeneweis as anything more than a pretty good lefty specialist is more damning. Granted, he was hurt for most of the year, and I respect the way he took the heat, but even improved and more effective he's still an overpaid LOOGY.
Newhan was also a fairy bad signing -- a quintessential Quad-A player who had one great year for the Orioles in 2004. He had more AB with New Orleans than New York. Chan Ho Park bombed out completely, but given the uncertainty surrounding the rotation that signing was more understandable. Sosa was the gem of the outright signings, bringing a ton of value as a starter and a reliever. Had the Mets managed to win a couple more games, Sosa would have been a candidate for the unsung hero roll Valentin pulled off in 2006.
The free agent Mets who Omar decided to re-sign were a mixed bag, too. Valentin seemed a no-brainer, but got hurt early and was never the same player. Orlando Hernandez was the Mets most effective starter all season, but was only able to make 24 starts. I thought re-signing Mota was sound, but I was wrong and so was Omar. I think if Mota was given a 1-year deal that would have been more defensible. Apparently other teams had offered more than a year, but Mota was coming off some bad seasons and had only a good couple of months under his belt. Two years wasn't warranted, especially with the steroid suspension hanging over his head. They also probably wouldn't have stayed with him so long last season if not for the 2-year contract.
As for the minor league free agents, I thought Sele was a mistake. Given how much the Mets depended on their bullpen down the stretch, they needed a long man that Randolph had confidence in for more than just mop-up duty. Sele, with stuff that was clearly below average, was not that man. I can't blame Omar for taking a shot with him, but Sele staying on the roster for the whole season was a mystery.
Chip Ambres had one great moment with a walk-off game-winner. Sandy Alomar, Jr. got some time with the Mets, as did Collazo. Lawrence was worth a shot for a pitching-hungry team, but he got one start too many at the end of the season. Marlon Anderson was a great pick-up in-season. He was another guy who, like Sosa, could have been a real season-saving hero had the team held on.
Losing young catching prospect Jesus Flores in the rule 5 draft was unforgivable. Among others, Steve Schmoll was still on the 40-man roster at that time. Some teams have so much young talent that it is impossible to protect all of it, but that certainly wasn't the case for the Mets. Respectfully, crossing your fingers and hoping that no one takes one of your top prospects from you is no way to run a baseball team. Flores was regarded as perhaps the best available talent in the rule 5 draft that year, a rare young catcher who had real offensive skills. It was almost inevitable that a team that was going nowhere would carry him for a season on their major league roster to grab him, and that's exactly what happened.
Minaya made 3 off-season trades that year and they all blew up in his face. Trading relievers Henry Owens and Matt Lindstrom for a couple of young starters didn't seem a bad move at the time. Jason Vargas in particular seemed like he added some valuable depth to a dicey rotation if they could get him turned around, but his velocity was down all year. After the season he had some chips cleaned out of his elbow, but then went down early in spring training to a hip injury. He won't be back until June. Meanwhile, Owens has also been hurt a lot, culminating in rotator cuff surgery, but Lindstrom and his high-90s heat has been a very solid contributor to the Marlins' bullpen.
Ben Johnson has spent most of his time with the Mets either injured or in the minors. Adkins is with the Reds now as a minor leaguer. Meanwhile, Heath Bell has become a durable and effective setup man and Ring is now pitching for Atlanta.
Brian Bannister had a terrific rookie season with the Royals as the Mets struggled to find effective starting pitching for the bottom of their rotation. Burgos showed a terrific fastball and slider combination with no idea of how to utilize it effectively. He went down to Tommy John surgery midway through last season and will probably not be back with the Mets at all this season.
In these three trades, Minaya has found himself in a position of having given up players who have made real contributions to other teams while bringing back players who contributed little or nothing to the Mets. In the Marlins deal, we could hope for Vargas to bounce back and become an effective bottom of the rotation starter or situational reliever. He's shown no sign of that yet, however. As for Adam Bostick, he's a young lefty who has great stuff but has been unable to control it. Right now he is with New Orleans and had a solid first start. Lindstrom has the stuff to become the Marlins closer at some point. Huge advantage in this deal to the Fish now, which may be tempered if Vargas or Bostick can contribute in the future. The Mets sure could have used Lindstrom down the stretch last year, though.
The Bell trade came out even worse for Minaya and the Mets. Adkins and Johnson made almost no contribution at all to the Mets, while Heath Bell became a key component of the Padres bullpen. Moreover, with Adkins gone and Johnson not even on the 40-man roster -- he's hurt and will play in New Orleans when his ankle fully heals. Still, in all honesty there was almost no one who thought this was a bad deal for the Mets when it was made. Bell could never establish himself here, while Adkins was seen as an adequate bullpen arm and Johnson as a young guy with some promise. As bad as this deal looks in hindsight, deals like this happen to every GM.
Bannister for Burgos is another deal that looks horrible in retrospect, but not so much at the time. Burgos has an electric fastball and a swing-and-miss slider. He's still a kid and has a chance to return from TJ surgery and be a valuable bullpen arm. If Bannister proves that last season was no fluke, as I suspect he will, the Royals win this one easy, but if Burgos pans out as an effective reliever than the deal looks better than it does right now.
The trades for Castillo and Conine were marginal prospects going out in return for veteran help for the stretch run. It remains to be seen if any of the 4 prospects the Mets dealt pan out. None were big-time prospects, but all were considered as guys with a chance to make the major leagues. Castillo proved to be a nice pickup, but Conine gave the Mets little off the bench.
This was a rough year for Omar Minaya, and he took a lot of heat for bad moves that contributed to the failure of the 2007 Mets. As previously noted, young pitching was dealt who could have provided this team with a shot in the arm while none of the returning players contributed much of anything. A top prospect was lost to poor decision making and wishful thinking. To compound it all, the Mets epic collapse in September put a rotting, foul-smelling cherry on top of dissatisfaction with what Minaya did and did not do.
What made it a little uglier is that previously, Minaya had made trades that were mostly considered even or favoring the Mets. Now all his deals seemed to go bad, as did many of his free agent signings and re-signings. Both Alou and El Duque seemed to be reasonable stopgaps while waiting for some younger, talented prospects to become major league ready. Both were great when they were on the field, but both got hurt and missed significant time. Mota seemed a solid signing at the time, although unpopular with a segment of the fan base who didn't feel someone who was an admitted cheater should be rewarded like that. In retrospect, despite displaying solid stuff he was just too emotionally fragile for New York.
Easley was a nice signing, but he wound up with that ugly ankle injury when they could have dearly used his bat. Sosa proved to be a bargain, but Schoeneweis -- who looked like somewhat of a reach when signed -- failed to live up to any of the hopes the Mets hierarchy seemed to have for him. Newhan was a waste of money and a roster spot.
Even in the minor league signings, where the Mets had really shined the previous two seasons, only Marlon Anderson really distinguished himself -- and he was basically a gift from the Dodgers.
In a lot of ways, the epic collapse of 2007 was due to a perfect storm of things gone bad, some beyond the Mets control, but some due to baseball malpractice on and off the field. Omar's bad moves contributed, although he was in some ways as unlucky in his endeavors this season as the Mets team was. When bad decisions and bad luck collide, the result is seldom a happy one.
Well, this sad year took all of my available time today. Looks like we'll need to finish up analyzing the moves in Part 3 and sum it all up in Part 4.