In his opening press conference with the Mets, Omar Minaya immediately expressed a desire to make the team "younger and more athletic." In his ad-hoc press conference with the Mets yesterday, Minaya said (and I'm paraphrasing) "Were' investigating it with an investigation...We're going to investigate it....investigaty investigations."
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. This season, as the Mets have fallen out of contention, calls for Omar Minaya's firing have expectantly increased. In fact, the rumblings were present before the team's slide, as the Oliver Perez contract looked like a bust from the get-go. The calls for Minaya's job, however, are hardly universal, as his defenders cite the bad luck with injuries. So the debate goes:
- "Fire omAr!!"
- "No, it's not his fault, too many injuries."
- "He should have better backups."
- "No team can lose three of their best hitters and win."
And that's where it ends. The Minaya-defenders often come out of this argument looking more rational, because the fire-Omar position boils down to "we're losing." The main argument defending Minaya, "no team can lose that many players and be good," often goes unchallenged. Which is a shame, since it's wrong. The Boston Red Sox play in the A.L. East and have a lower payroll than the Mets. They have a well above-average defense, offense, and pitching staff. If the Red Sox were to lose David Ortiz, Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Tim Wakefield, and Hideki Okajima and be thrown into the N.L. East, they'd beat the Phillies by at least five games. Their pitching staff would still be about 80 runs better than the Phillies, while their offense would only be marginally downgraded by slotting Adam LaRoche, Lars Anderson, Rocco Baldelli, and Jed Lowrie in for the injured position players. They have so much pitching depth, they could lose Dice-K, Penny, and Wakefield and have a better rotation the next morning. The Mets, for the same payroll, have one of the the worst rotations in the league. The only (non-fictional) injury to that rotation this season has been John Maine, a player who could barely throw the ball before spring training opened.
That's why the injury responsibility debate is a red-herring. Yes, the Mets would be in contention without those injuries. I do not deny that. Still, they'd only be in contention because they have enough great players to outweigh otherwise shoddy roster construction in a weak division. This season has not changed my opinion of Omar Minaya, it's validated it. The same people who once crooned for the Oliver Perez signing are printing "Fire Omar" T-Shirts because a giant spotlight has been cast on the rest of the roster. The Mets have been successful because they have four of the best players in the National League all playing premium positions, half of whom Minaya acquired. As somewhat of a side note, that's why it's always hard to compare the Mets' injury situation to other teams. No single other team has their three best position players at premium defensive positions. If the Mets didn't dump their garbage at first and in left, they would run away with this division every year.
Which is the main problem: Omar Minaya simply has not put enough talent on the field to make the Mets a championship organization. They can make the playoffs. Every year, there's a good shot. But they don't, and that's because he's wasted too much money and left too many holes in the roster every year. The Phillies never acquired a Johan Santana, they didn't have to. They just sat there and waited for the Mets to get worse on their way to the title. It's funny, because I used to think finding complementary players was Minaya's strength, because he continually struck gold (mostly in the bullpen) with every little trade he made in 2006. From that article:
It may be luck, it may be skill. It may be the result of a team with money taking good calculated risks. Whatever it is, Minaya's had it this year.
Turns out it was luck. The strength of the 2006 Mets, their bullpen, was made of good, not great, relievers who had career years. Such is the nature of the bullpen; in such small sample sizes, it's basically a coin flip between Mota-2006 and Mota-2007. That's why smart teams fill their bullpen with players with skills, namely high strikeout rates, that avoid the luck element of balls in play. David Aardsma isn't some lucky fluke that has become a shutdown closer out of the blue. He's got great skills, and is a guy USSMariner identified as a potentially good reliever for the M's last year. The last two pitchers with such skills in the Mets organization? Heath Bell and Billy Wagner. One got a big contract, the other was given away. Instead of investing in pitchers like Bell, who miss bats, the Mets threw a bunch of money at the now-infamous Mota and Scott Schoeneweis, who's only skill is being left-handed. The Mets didn't realize how lucky they were on many counts that year, with Beltran's career year, LoDuca's fluky BABIP-inflated average, and Jose Valentin's existence. None of those things, including the performance of their entire bullpen, could be expected to return the next year, but they sat there like next season started with a re-do of Game 7.
This inability to construct a good bullpen and bench has led to another conclusion I was previously averse to: it's nearly impossible for a General Manager that shuns sabremetrics to be successful in today's game. The emphasis on smart money management, coupled with the rise of young, underpaid superstars, has left extremely well-managed small-market teams like the Rays in too good a position. This point is NOT some trite stats vs. scouts argument, because obviously the Rays would be much worse off without the guys who take a radar gun down to Vanderbilt to watch David Price. Simply put, people who consider themselves scouts, and oppose sabremetrics, should not be put in charge of the asset management elements of a team (i.e. the position of General Manager). Besides Minaya, I would say Bill Smith of the Twins is a great example of this principle. The Twins are successful because they drafted a slew of good pitchers and Joe Mauer. Still, Bill Smith's tenure as GM has been mixed because he hasn't properly gotten maximum value for his money, trading Johan Santana, extending Jason Kubel, trading for Delmon Young, among other questionable moves.
I think Omar Minaya is a good scout, who knows how to get "his guy". That's proven by the acquisitions of Francisco Rodriguez, Carlos Beltran, and Johan Santana. Still, no one with a reasonable grip on advanced fielding metrics would throw $4 million this offseason at Alex Cora, Cory Sullivan, and Rob Mackowiak. That's Dayton Moore, "I can see who can field," territory of roster mismanagement. That's why people are right the Mets shouldn't be this bad with this amount of money, why the Buffalo Bisons are so freaking awful. The Mets build depth, useless, counterproductive depth. Ramon Martinez and Angel Berroa will only make your team worse, there are better players out there making league minimum. Good GMs simply don't employ these types of players, at the risk they somehow have to use them.
That being said, I don't blame Omar Minaya for not having enough prospects to fill in for this season's injuries. Few teams can just call up top prospects for a bunch of positions they actually had blocked anyway. The two players the Mets could have most used this season, Carlos Gomez and Mike Carp, were traded with the intention of making the big league roster better. I think Minaya's doing a good job with the farm, despite his foolish reluctance to bust slot in the draft. When he does get a first-round pick, he hits, and when he hands out a big bonus to an international free-agent, they more often than not work out. That's why I think it's ludicrous the Mets are looking to make the scouting department a scapegoat this season (really, no medical staff?). Sorry John Harper, you missed the whole point, Mejia and Holt are great.
Instead, I think the larger problem, and my second big criticism of Minaya, is that he lacks a coherent plan. I don't mean Minaya's plan is just to sign big free agents and trade the farm, despite what that one anonymous scout assigned to Buffalo has been telling all the Mets beat writers. No, Minaya lacks coherent plans to build a complete team, which relates to the idea of complementary players discussed above. If I could condense this entire critique down to one word it would be "myopic." In 2008, Minaya focused on starting pitching and got Santana, leaving the bullpen an open wound. This offseason, it was all-bullpen all-the time and the Mets fielded their worst starting rotation in recent memory. Tim Redding and Livan Hernandez are the Ramon Martinez and Angel Berroa of the starting rotation. They don't eat innings, they cancel out Johan's contributions. The Mets rotation, despite featuring Johan Santana, are 23.8 runs below the average staff, somehow worse than a team that has Joe Blanton, Chan Ho Park, and Jamie Moyer.
The most annoying part of this offseason, indeed, was Minaya's insistence that they couldn't pursue outfielders because "they were working on their pitching." Coming from a team that "brainstormed" Francoeur-for-Church, that excuse just rings pathetic. Hey Mr. Wilpon, there are 100,000 Mets fans on the internet everyday who fix your bullpen AND lineup during their lunchbreak, and they do it for free (albeit with varying levels of success).
Before this season, I thought the Mets could win, but only in spite of what Minaya had done. The most positive move he had made was signing Gary Sheffield, a guy who even Gary Sheffield thought would be a pinch-hitter. Alas, Sheffield became the one player holding the Mets together, not because he is really that good, but because the "plan" in left was one Daniel Murphy, who had modest success in AA and a fluky BABIP in the majors the year before. Just to prove hindsight isn't 20-20, I humbly submit that I had these same qualms before the season, including Oliver Perez possibly exploding, the core getting injured, Maine's arm falling off, and Murphy being bad. The difference between my optimism then and my apathy now is all that bad stuff happened, and everyone gets to watch those holes in the roster magnified times 100.
The in-season management has only exacerbated the problem. The Santos-trade, the Francoeur-trade, and the release of Darren O'Day (has a better tRA in the American League than K-Rod has on the Mets right now), have been plain stupid. If Minaya's saving grace is identifying talent, I'm worried.
Amidst all this Bernazard craziness, Peter Gammons said something interesting yesterday about Tony B. undermining Minaya by both having a stronger relationship with Wilpon and by being the architect of the laughable minor-league depth. I'm not sure whether that reflects better or worse on Omar, but either way it suggests he's losing control of the team. I'm starting a campaign. It's not "FIRE OMAR." It's "Fire Bernazard, demote Minaya." The biggest defense of Minaya is that he brought the team out of obscurity, which is partially true. But if this season has taught us anything, it's that Steve Phillips' baseball intellect can make anyone look good. The Mets need a Chris Antonini or a Neal Huntington, a young dynamic leader who understands the finer points of player value to finish off the job Minaya started.
Omar Minaya is the scout who discovered Jose Reyes, not the General Manager who is going to put a ring on his finger.