Now that Mets General Manager Omar Minaya and Manager Jerry Manuel have officially been relieved of their duties, I thought it would be of interest to break down the history of our embattled ex-GM. In this series, the good, the bad and the ugly of Omar's reign of terror will be explored.
I encourage you to read on after the jump and participate and share your memories, as well as correct me where my mind may have slipped up or blocked something out.
Click here to read Part I: From Humble Beginnings (2004-2005 Offseason)
Click here to read Part II: The Quest for Respectability (The 2005 Season)
Click here to read Part III: Putting on the Finishing Touches (The 2005-2006 Offseason)
Part IV: Destiny, Destiny (No Escaping That for Me!) (The 2006 Season).
The 2006 Mets came into the season with a lot of hype after the acquisitions of Billy Wagner, Carlos Delgado and Paul Lo Duca to name a few. Being a Met fan, however, you most likely know that hype always has to be met with a healthy plate of skepticism. Otherwise, you'll be smacked in the face by teams like the 1992 Mets or the 2002 Mets, who were thought to be playoff contenders after big acquisitions. The 2006 Mets quickly put these doubts to rest, though, as they finished April with a 16-8 record and followed that up with a solid 16-12 May. In these first two months, the offense established itself as a dominant force that saw David Wright, Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran and Xavier Nady put up breakout seasons and Carlos Delgado and Paul Lo Duca put up stellar numbers at their respective ages. LF Cliff Floyd, off of a big 2005, saw his numbers decrease some due to injury but this was not considered a huge deal at the time, as everybody was contributing. Even the so-called "little guys" put up good numbers -- scrap heap bench signings Endy Chavez and Jose Valentin got off to bad starts early on but picked up the pace in May and had outstanding seasons. Valentin was so solid that he took the 2B job away from opening day starter Anderson Hernandez and true incumbent Kaz Matsui. Chavez, meanwhile, became a reliable fourth OF who saw a lot of playing time due to Floyd's maladies. Throughout the season, Willie Randolph was credited as helping Chavez change his mentality at the plate -- instead of trying to pull the ball of the time, Randolph told Chavez to focus on hitting the ball to left field and on the ground to utilize his speed.
Despite sitting in first place from the third day of the season onward, Mets fans were still waiting for the moment that showed them this team was something special. That moment came on a magical ten game West Coast road trip beginning on June 5th. The Mets played 3 games in Los Angeles, 4 in Arizona and 3 against division rival Philadelphia and won 9 out of the 10 with sweeps of the D-Backs and Phillies (the only loss came in game 2 in LA) culminating in a season-best 8 game win streak. Not only did the Mets win 9 of 10, they asserted their dominance by drubbing the opposition -- they scored 37 runs in the 4 games in Arizona, for example -- and they lengthened their division lead, which stood as just 4.5 when they left Shea Stadium on June 4th, to a healthy 9.5 games in a little over a week. Highlights on this trip included Alay Soler's complete game shutout in Arizona, besting Brandon Webb and a thriller in the first game of the set in Philly that saw Billy Wagner nearly choke the game away against his former team. The game ended in a Mets victory after noted Mets villain Pat Burrell lashed a double play grounder down the 3rd base line that David Wright made a sensational dive for, got up and turned over, just beating out Burrell at 1st to record a big two outs. The 2006 Mets had 6 players make the all-star team (Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes, David Wright, Paul Lo Duca, Tom Glavine and Pedro Martinez) and at the trade deadline, the Mets were sitting pretty with a 63-41 record and a 13.5 game lead in the division. Rumor had it that Omar Minaya was ready to make a big splash and wanted to acquire an ace starter for the stretch run (Roy Oswalt and Jason Schmidt were two names that were thrown around). Unfortunately, these deals never came to fruition as a big hole opened up on the day of the trade deadline.
Early in the morning on July 31, set up man Duaner Sanchez and some buddies had a craving for Dominican food while the Mets were in Miami, enjoying a day off. Sanchez got into a taxi cab and while they were on the way, the cab was struck by a drunk driver. Sanchez suffered a badly dislocated shoulder and was lost for the rest of the season after having surgery to repair it. The Mets found out about the injury later that morning and did the best they could to cover it up until they struck a deal to acquire a relief pitcher. Sadly, the move cost the Mets their starting RF as they dealt Xavier Nady to the Pittsburgh Pirates, in exchange for old friend Roberto Hernandez and talented but inconsistent LHP Oliver Perez. It was the definition of a desperation move and it may have hurt the starting lineup's balance (and not to mention the stellar bullpen's makeup) but desperate times call for desperate measures. In one day, the club's focus shifted from ace to set up man all because of a fateful taxi ride. This can be looked back on as a big turning point in Omar Minaya's Mets tenure as the tide seemingly began to turn on the Mets' luck.
Going back in time a bit, Omar Minaya made a number of solid moves throughout the season. One of his best moves was the acquisition of Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez from the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for struggling reliever Jorge Julio. Hernandez was struggling himself in Arizona, as he had suffered from some bad luck due to an inflated HR/9 and a .364 BABIP, despite having a K/9 of over 10. His 6.11 ERA was a mirage indicated by his 4.18 xFIP and upon joining the Mets, he pitched to the tune of a 4.09 ERA and 4.25 xFIP. El Duque was a savior for an injury plagued Mets rotation that had seen veteran Victor Zambrano and rookie Brian Bannister go down to major injuries the first month. The Mets had gotten by using veterans Jose Lima and Jeremi Gonzalez as stopgaps and relying on their offense to do the heavy lifting, but they needed a sure thing. This lead them to acquire Hernandez in May, completing a string that saw Minaya turn the mediocre, expensive Kris Benson into two similar, yet cheaper starters in Hernandez and John Maine. The rookie Maine would see extensive time in the rotation later in the year, as well as in the playoffs.
Other moves made by Minaya include the trade of 2B Kaz Matsui to the Colorado Rockies in exchange for C/OF Eli Marrero, the acquisition of LHP Dave Williams from the CIncinnati Reds and the subsequent trade of Jeremi Gonzalez to the Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for RHP and future San Diego Padres set up man Mike Adams (Minaya would lose Adams on waivers to Cleveland less than two months later). The trade of Matsui to Colorado was considered a great move for the Mets, considering they got an actual live body in exchange for Kaz (not that Marrero was particularly any good -- in fact, he was pretty awful in his short Mets tenure). Matsui would have some decent seasons in Colorado and Houston but overall, he ended up being a huge bust and Mets fans everywhere were clamoring for his departure (except when it came to Opening Day, as you could set your watch to Kaz's annual opening day home run). One other interesting move included the trade of grissiony infielder Jeff Keppinger to the Kansas City Royals in exchange for failed infield prospect Ruben Gotay. The deal would not have any ramifications on 2006 but Gotay would play a role on the 2007 team. And finally, Minaya would acquire RHP Guillermo Mota from the Cleveland Indians in mid-August in exchange for cash. Mota was in the midst of a terrible season in Cleveland but would take over the setup duties in New York the rest of the way, looking dominant in the process.
Part of the reason Minaya went looking for an ace was due to the condition of RHP Pedro Martinez. The Mets ace got off to a fantastic start in 2006, as he won his first 5 decisions and pitched dominantly through the end of May. When the calendar flipped to June, however, things may have looked up for the Mets as a team but not for their ace. It was later reported that Martinez had slipped in the visitor's clubhouse in Florida before a game, after the umpire had asked him to cut the sleeves of his long sleeved shirt. After trying to pitch through it for a few ineffective starts, to no avail, Martinez was shutdown for a month. After returning, Martinez made just four ineffective starts beginning on July 28th against Atlanta before shutting it down again on August 14th due to a strained calf muscle. The righty finally gave it one more try, making three awful September starts before shutting it down for good on September 27th, including the infamous game against the Pirates in which he was seen sobbing in the dugout. Days after his last start, Martinez was diagnosed with a double whammy -- a torn muscle in his left calf and a torn rotator cuff in his pitching shoulder -- injuries that would cost him the rest of 06 and most of 2007. With the loss of Martinez, the rotation was down to veterans Tom Glavine, Orlando Hernandez and Steve Trachsel, rookie John Maine and a mixed bag of mediocre fifth starters that included enigmatic LHP Oliver Perez, LHP Dave Williams and raw 2005 1st rounder Mike Pelfrey, who made four uninspiring starts. With the team's offense clicking as it had most of the year and with the league's best bullpen, the lack of an true #1 starter ended up being pushed to the back burner.
While the team continued to roll throughout July and August, the loss of Xavier Nady in the lineup proved to be a void that couldn't be filled internally, whether it be filled by Endy Chavez or star prospect Lastings Milledge, who was promoted from AAA Norfolk when Nady landed on the DL in May with appendicitis and again after Nady had been traded. Being past the trade deadline, the options were limited for a team that had a dearth of prospects to deal from. Minaya had to acquire the best guy he could get and ultimately, that ended up being lefty swinging RF Shawn Green who was acquired from Arizona in exchange for LHP Evan MacLane. Green, in his prime, was one of baseball's great talents with the Blue Jays and Dodgers as he slugged over 40 home runs twice in his career. Quickly approaching his mid-30's in 2006, Green's production had tailed off as his power had turned from middle of the order home run power to bottom of the lineup doubles power. Couple that with the expensive year left on his contract for 2007 and the fact that Green was a lefty joining a lefty filled lineup (whereas Nady was a righty) and this was not an ideal fit for the Mets. Green was decent enough for the Mets, putting up a .768 OPS the rest of the way and playing average defense in RF.
Despite all of the tumult throughout the season, 2006 was an outstanding year for the Mets and their fans. On September 18th, the Mets officially clinched their first NL East Division Title since 1988, winning 4-0 over the Marlins behind 6.1 shutout innings thrown by the team's longest tenured player, RHP Steve Trachsel. On a side note -- one of the favorite moments in this relatively young Mets' fans life is seeing Cliff Floyd catch Josh Willingham's fly ball to left field and then seeing Billy Wagner and Paul Lo Duca jumping up and down on the mound together. That, along with Gary Cohen's outstanding "the Mets finally have a title to show for it" line just sends chills up my spine. We all know what happened in the playoffs in 2006 and to recap it wouldn't make sense for the purpose of reviewing Omar Minaya's reign. The 2006 Mets won 97 games partially because of luck with some players but partially because they were a well put together team. Whether this was intentional or by accident, nobody will know except for Omar Minaya and his front office team. All I can say to sum up part IV is that through the first two years of Omar Minaya's time as Mets GM, everything was going exactly as planned -- the Mets were winning.
In Part V, we will look at the fateful 2007 season and see where things went downhill. Despite the division championship in 2006 and the little moves that turned out to be important, there were a number of red flags in the construction of the team. Could Minaya's Mets continue to strike gold on the older boom or bust players? Would the farm system begin to churn out some more players? And most importantly, could the 2007 Mets -- the team with the slogan "Your Season Has Come" match or better what the 2006 edition had accomplished?
Look out for Part V of the "Omar Minaya Chronicles: Where Do We Go From Here?" (The 2007 Offseason and Regular Season).