The Hardball Times Season Preview is the forward-looking companion to their Baseball Annual, a retrospective of the prior season. After a brief intro and projected standings for 2009 (Mets in first -- Yay!) the book rolls right into the thick: a chapter apiece on each big league team, penned by a prominent internet writer covering that team. The chapters follow a common format:
- 2009 team-specific projection (record, runs scored, etc.)
- What happened last year?
- Players lost from last year's team
- Players acquired
- Management is...
- The minor league system is...
- Due for a change
- Reasons to be optimistic
- Reasons to be pessimistic
- Still left to do
- Most likely team outcome
- Individual player projections w/comments
After reviewing last year's edition, I was fortunate enough to be asked to contribute the Mets chapter to this year's edition. Here's the "Management is..." section from my chapter.
Off the field, General Manager Omar Minaya has a penchant for the big move, signing Pedro Martinez, Billy Wagner and Carlos Beltran in his first offseason and trading for Carlos Delgado in his second. He orchestrated a blockbuster deal for Johan Santana in his third winter, and has already signed Francisco Rodriguez and traded for J.J. Putz this winter. Big New York money helps with these things, so some credit goes to owner Fred Wilpon for opening his checkbook and generally keeping his nose out of the baseball operations department. Minaya has also shown a knack for turning lead into gold, as he did in acquiring starters John Maine and Oliver Perez essentially as throw-ins in deals for Jorge Julio and Roberto Hernandez, respectively.
It hasn't always come up roses for Minaya, however. Recent free agent signings of Moises Alou and Luis Castillo have not worked out, as Alou appeared in just 102 games over two seasons while Castillo missed almost half of 2008 and is under contract for another three seasons. The three-year deal given to Scott Schoeneweis after the 2006 season wasn't one of his brightest moments, either. He (somewhat) famously left catching prospect Jesus Flores unprotected in 2006, only to watch the Nationals pluck him from the Mets in the Rule 5 draft. Minaya also seemingly caved to player and media pressure by hastily shipping Lastings Milledge out of town last November. Perhaps his biggest mistakes as GM of the Mets -- especially so considering the team's bullpen failures late in 2007 and 2008 -- were trading four young relievers over a five-day span in November 2006 (Heath Bell and Royce ring to the Padres; Matt Lindstrom and Henry Owens to the Marlins) and getting back nothing of substance.
All told, though Minaya occasionally loses sight of the forest for the trees, he usually makes keen use of his financial resources and, when a deal he wants isn't quite to his liking, he has the patience to wait for circumstances to turn in his favor.
On the field, manager Jerry Manual is fairly run-of-the-mill and unimaginative by most standards. He manages by the book almost exclusively and is an entertaining post-game interview, the latter of which is a welcome departure from the incessant "battling" of Art Howe and the unapologetic sugar-coating by Willie Randolph. Given a set lineup and well-defined bullpen, Manual will put the pieces where they belong and generally keep from embarrassing himself. Given some question marks, a possible platoon situation or a patchwork bullpen, Manuel can manage his team right out of ballgames. He doesn't seem especially statistically-inclined, and often ignores his relievers' glaring platoon splits. He's not afraid to give young guys a shot (Daniel Murphy, Nick Evans) or demote a struggling veteran (Luis Castillo), but he also has a tendency to stick with things far beyond the point of rationality (Marlon Anderson).
The hardest part of writing the chapter was coming up with something interesting to say about some pretty uninteresting players. I provided 50-100 words for some 40 players, but probably would have killed myself were it not for Alex Nelson stepping in to take care of write-ups for Carlos Muniz, Claudio Vargas and a few others. His name doesn't appear in the annual anywhere but I'm happy to acknowledge his help right here.
Aside from myself, the preview features chapters from other SBN-ers Larry Borowsky (Cardinals), Scott Christ (Orioles), Brandi Griffin (Rockies), Eric Johnson (Brew Crew Ball), Jim McLennan (Diamondbacks), Ryan Richards (Indians) and Jeff Sullivan (Mariners).
There are plenty of places to get player projections, but the Hardball Times Season Preview goes beyond the numbers to bring you the best team-specific baseball writing anywhere. You could go and read all of the contributors' sites to find out what happened last year and what to expect in the year to come, or you can just grab this one book and be done with it. Available at ACTA Sports or that other online bookstore.