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Evaluating Omar, Part 3

Mike SteffanosMonday, April 7, 2008
By Mike Steffanos

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

In this, the third segment of our analysis of Omar Minaya's tenure as GM of the New York Mets, we'll take a look at the moves he has made since the collapse of last year's club.


Free Agents:
Major League: C Ramon Castro (Re-sign), 2B Luis Castillo (Re-sign), RP Matt Wise, RP Jorge Sosa (Re-sign)

Minor League: C Raul Casanova, RP Juan Padilla, INF Fernando Tatis, C Robinson Cancel, INF Jose Valentin, P Nelson Figueroa, P Tony Armas Jr., INF Olmedo Saenz, OF Ben Johnson, OF Brady Clark

Off-season Trades:
Traded RP Guillermo Mota to the Brewers for C Johnny Estrada.
Acquired P Brian Stokes from the Rays for cash. Traded OF Lastings Milledge to the Nationals for OF Ryan Church and C Brian Schneider.
Traded OF Corey Coles and P Ryan Meyers to the Cubs for OF Angel Pagan.
Traded OF Carlos Gomez, SP Deolis Guerra, SP Kevin Mulvey and SP Philip Humber to the Twins for SP Johan Santana.

The Mets weren't all that active in the major league free agent market this past winter, concentrating instead on the pursuit of a top of the rotation starting pitcher. Matt Wise was the only free agent from outside the organization who they chose to sign. Although not met with much acclaim, I liked the signing for reasons I'll simply quote from a post from opening day:

... [Wise] is a guy who was great two years ago, struggled somewhat in 2006, and then was very, very good last season until hitting a batter in late July. Look at his splits month-by-month last season. The league was hitting .213/.252/.346 in the first half. I think he has a chance to bounce back nicely. Keep in mind that he'll be pitching the innings Guillermo Mota was pitching last year, and I think we have quite an upgrade here.

Wise was a dominating setup man in 2005, struggled a little in 2006, and was pitching back to the high standard of his 2005 campaign when his season fell apart after hitting a batter in late July. This was a logical signing, despite his early struggles this season.

The Mets chose to re-sign 3 of their own free agents, handing Sosa a 1-year deal, Castro 2 years and Castillo 4. Of the three, Castillo seemed like a reach. He was solid down the stretch last season, but the way he's deteriorating physically he may be playing second base with a walker the last couple of years under contract. Plus, he's a guy whose game is dependent on speed. I find it hard to believe that he will be worth $6 million per at the end of his stay here. It's not a huge amount of money for a large market team to risk, but 2 or 3 years with an option would certainly have made more sense to me.

As for Castro and Sosa, I thought those were no-brainers -- reasonable term contracts for guys who contributed solid performance in 2007. Of course, Castro has those injury issues and Sosa can be bad at times, but for the money invested these were smart deals.

The minor league signings, one of the strengths of Minaya's regime, seem pretty solid judging them this early in the season. Casanova is the backup catcher while Castro heals, and looks like he can contribute with the bat when called on. Cancel looks like another solid insurance catcher. Tatis almost made the squad this spring, and is one of the few veteran insurance types that populate the New Orleans roster who has a little pop in his bat. Last year for the Zephyrs he hit 21 HR in 497 AB while putting up a solid .276/.359/.485 batting line. Brady Clark is currently the 25th man on the roster, with all of the job security that implies, but he certainly had a solid spring.

Figueroa is already in New York, thanks to Pedro's injury, and Tony Armas, Jr. is another guy who gives the Mets some pitching insurance. Padilla is still recovering from surgery, but is expected to pitch sometime soon. After missing so much time he's a long shot to make it back, but it's not impossible for a guy who pitches with guile rather than lighting up the radar gun. Ruddy Lugo, a waiver pickup this winter, is also contributing to the minor league depth in pitching.

Jose Valentin's playing days me be over after a neck problem surfaced, and Saenz left the Mets after not making the major league roster. That latter move disappointed me, because I thought Saenz could provide a second dependable RH bench bat behind Easley and also spell Delgado at first. On the other hand, he is a one-dimensional player for a 5-man bench. Ben Johnson made it through waivers and was willing to sign a minor league deal with the Mets. The biggest significance is that this ensures, for the time being, that the Heath Bell deal is still not a total loss. Maybe Johnson, once he comes back from last year's ankle injury, can prove that he can contribute something at the major league level and tilt the scales on that trade somewhere closer to even rather than giving Bell away for literally nothing.

We'll take the trades in chronological order, saving the big one for last. The Mets virtually dumped Mota since they elected not to tender a contract to Estrada. Hard to see how the emotionally high-strung Mota would have ever overcome the skepticism of the fans after last season's debacle. Stokes for merely cash was a solid insurance move.

The Milledge deal was the most controversial of the winter for Minaya. On the plus side he received two solid major leaguers in return for a prospect. On the negative he traded away a player who has the potential to become a star for those aforementioned solid major leaguers. What bothered me as much as anything about the deal is trading the kid with star potential to a division foe, where he can come back to bite the Mets for many years. People who like the deal point to Schneider's competence as a backstop and Church having potential to become a very good hitter. Unlike many, I can see both sides. In fairness, evaluating this trade will have to wait a few years. Again, what bothered me the most was trading him within the division. Time will tell.

Pagan was a solid pickup. He's grown into a solid extra outfielder. Coles was 25 before he got above A ball, and has a lifetime minor league slugging % of .387 in 1,480 AB. Meyers is a 21-year-old with some promise who had a solid season in Low-A ball last year.

The Santana deal is one that I both love and hate. I like the fact that they were able to land an ace pitcher and hold onto Fernando Martinez, their top prospect. On the other hand, every time that Johan Santana so much as sneezes for the next 7 years I'll be holding my breath. Such is the gamble when you pursue an elite starter in the current economic climate of major league baseball.

I liked all of the players the Mets gave up. I was sad to see them go, and suspect that at least a couple of them will have long, solid careers. On the other hand, Minaya refused to buckle under pressure and give up Jose Reyes. ESPN's Buster Olney was even promoting a deal which would include Reyes and prospects. This would have been ludicrous given the fact that the Mets are assuming all of the risk of giving out a huge long-term contract to a pitcher with no inexpensive years left, which was the case with Danny Haren and Erik Bedard.

Minaya had proven willing to play the big risk - big reward game, and this certainly qualifies. Again, you can't judge this for a few years. If Santana stays healthy and productive the deal is good even if the prospects pan out. One thing I'll say, as nervous as I am about committing so much for one player, I am grateful that Minaya did this in return for a great pitcher. For all those who crucified him for not making this sort of deal to Barry Zito, not only has Zito not performed, but the money to sign Santana would not have been there if Zito was getting paid $17 million per. This kind of financial risk for such a long term only makes sense if you are taking that risk on excellence.

Obviously the jury is still out on the just-begun 2008 season, but -- with reservations -- I like the moves a lot better that preceded this season than last. Minaya has been taking a lot of heat, some earned, some unfair, for the body of work he has produced since taking on the job after the 2004 season. While it's fair to judge him on moves that have backfired (Heath Bell, Matt Lindstrom, Brian Bannister), people quickly forget that the decision to pass on Barry Zito made signing Johan Santana possible. The Ken Rosenthals of the world are quick to damn Omar for the Bannister deal without acknowledging the Maine deal.

As best as I could, I have presented in the first 3 parts of this analysis the body of work Minaya has produced so far for the Mets. No one thinks he is infallible anymore, as some did when he was perhaps receiving a little too much credit in the early days of his honeymoon. On the other hand, the severity of the criticism from some quarters as of late seems equally overblown. Coming next, we will attempt to sum it all up in our conclusion.

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

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 (6)

I think yours has been a very fair and accurate evaluation of Omar's moves. If one of Vargas or Bostick pans out as a #4 or 5 starter (or better), even last year looks at least passable, particularly if Burgos ever comes back and makes some kind of contribution. The Mets clearly expected Ben Johnson to be at worst a 4th outfielder possibility, and I think the Bell trade was done with the idea that you were going to need to trade at least one of Gomez and Milledge to get a front of the rotation starter at the trade deadline last year or in the past off-season, with Johnson filling the outfield void. Castillo's signing is for too many years and, while I like his attitude as a player, I am not sure there weren't/aren't better options at 2nd for near and long term, though I didn't get the sense that Gotay was the answer.

The one thing you didn't evaluate was Omar's drafting, and it will likely be 2 years more before we really know how that turned out, though his picks did not seem to have much trading value with the teams he sought to deal with.

DKA - I did mention in Part 1 of this thing that I felt it was too early to evaluate the drafts. Also keep in mind that Minaya was somewhat handicapped by the team's policy of adhering to those arbitrary slotting guidelines from the Commissioner's office. I'll still probably make some points about the draft when I write the conclusion at some point this week.

The biggest problem with Omar and Willie is their desire for experience over youth. They let a young Keppinger go and he is flourshing with the Reds. I can't wait to see what Gotay does with the Braves. Instead we give our guy with bad knees a 4 year deal. Same can be said for Bell and other trades. I was never a big Davey Johnson fan, but I loved his faith in the young...see Dykstra, Bachman, Gooden, Straw and company. Cashman wasn't afraid of youth either. Willie's time has come and gone...Omar better have a good couple of years or he should be on the block also

I thought Keppinger deserved more of a shot with the Mets, but don't forget the Royals let him go, too, trading him for a minor leaguer to the Reds. He's had one very good season (half season, actually) of less than 250 AB. Davey played the young guys early on, but that's what he had. I agree Omar and Willie need to trust youth more, but Gotay doesn't look like anything more than a utility infielder with a little pop. He had a hot couple of months in June and July, but faded down the stretch. He hit .189 in August and .200 in September.

Check out Gotay's month by month splits here:

Omar needs to go. He is nothing but a second rate GM. While at Montreal he made some good moves in an all but impossible situation, but working with a major league budget in NY is beyond his capabilities. Too many of his signings have been long in the tooth players that might contribute 1 good season out of a 3-4 year deal. If the Mets had the current roster 5 years ago, they'd be the top team in baseball but in 2008....Delgado, Alou, Martinez, Castillo, should be retired, or somewhere else.

I know it's early in the season, but from what I've seen so far, the Mets will be lucky to finish third in the NL east. They don't have the offensive power to stay with the Phillies or Braves, and while their starting pitching might be slighly better than the Phils/Braves, their bullpen is strictly second division.

I went back to the first three articles and gave Omar grades based upon the results:

04-05: C
05-06: B+
06-07: C-
07-08: B (too early to tell yet)

Very average results for one of the highest payrolls in baseball. If you reviewed the Yankees's and Red Sox over the same period of time, the Red Sox grades would all be A's and B's, and the Yanks,mostly B's.

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