Now that we have descended into the Sandy Alderson/Terry Collins regime and we have our snazzy new front office in place, I figured it'd be as good a time as any to polish off my little pet project: The Omar Minaya Chronicles. In this final post, I will chronicle the transactions that made up the 2009 and 2010 seasons for our beloved Mets.
So sit back and relax and for you older folk out there, put your reading glasses on.
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)
Click Here to read Part IV: Destiny, Destiny (No Escaping That for Me!) (The 2006 Season)
Click here to read Part V: Where Do We Go From Here? (The 2007 Offseason)
Click here to read Part VI: 2007 and 2008
December 3, 2008-Signed RHP Nelson Figueroa to a minor league contract
December 9, 2008-Signed RHP Francisco Rodriguez to a 3 year contract
December 11, 2008-Acquired RHP J.J. Putz, RHP Sean Green and OF Jeremy Reed from Seattle Mariners as part of a 3 team trade sending LHP Jason Vargas, RHP Aaron Heilman, OF Endy Chavez, 1B Mike Carp, RHP Maikel Cleto and OF Ezequiel Carrera to Seattle and RHP Joe Smith to Cleveland Indians. In addition, Seattle sent INF Luis Valbuena to Cleveland in exchange for OF Franklin Gutierrez.
December 23, 2008-Signed C Omir Santos to a minor league contract
January 12, 2009-Signed RHP Tim Redding to a 1 year contract
January 13, 2009-Signed INF Alex Cora to a 1 year contract
January 20, 2009-Signed OF Cory Sullivan to a 1 year contract
February 2, 2009-Signed LHP Oliver Perez to a 3 year contract
February 5, 2009-Signed RHP Elmer Dessens to a minor league contract
February 14, 2009-Signed RHP Livan Hernandez to a minor league contract
March 10, 2009-Released RHP Duaner Sanchez
March 30, 2009-Signed LHP Ken Takahashi to a minor league contract
April 5, 2009-Signed OF Gary Sheffield to a 1 year contract
April 13, 2009-Released INF/OF Marlon Anderson
April 22, 2009-Darren O'Day claimed off waivers by Texas Rangers
May 26, 2009-Purchased INF Wilson Valdez from the Cleveland Indians
August 20, 2009-Released RHP Livan Hernandez
After the disappointment that was the end of the 2008 season, Omar Minaya quickly made it his goal to remake the Mets' bullpen going into the 2009 season. The last 2-3 months of 2008 saw the team's bullpen become a laughingstock as no lead seemed to be safe for this cast of misfits that included the likes of Scott Schoeneweis, Aaron Heilman, Luis Ayala, Joe Smith and Pedro Feliciano. Going into 2009, only Feliciano was back with the team as the lefty was a quality reliever, though miscast due to the team's struggles. During the winter meetings, the first task Minaya worked on was solidifying the back of the bullpen and on December 9th, the team agreed to a 3 year contract with RHP Francisco "K-Rod" Rodriguez. The signing seemed to be inevitable as the Mets were likely to be the only team who could afford Rodriguez that had a hole at closer. The veteran closer, who had saved a record 62 games in 2008 with the Angels would be joined at the back of the pen two days later, when the Mets would announce the acquisition of RHP J.J. Putz as part of a 3 team, 12 player megadeal. Putz was a dominant closer in 2006 and 2007 with the Mariners and was arguably better than Frankie Rodriguez during those 2 seasons, but injuries derailed his 2008 campaign and new Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik decided to unload Putz' salary and potential injury risk for other players. It was deemed that Putz would act as the setup man to Rodriguez for the 2009 season.
Minaya also decided to shed some dead weight in the pen and he picked up some new bodies to replace them. Darren O'Day and Rocky Cherry were Rule V draft picks and O'Day especially came with some fanfare. The sidearming RH was left unprotected by the Angels organization due to injury concerns but was highly regarded as a future big league reliever. RH Sean Green was acquired as part of the Putz trade and similarly to O'Day, was also a highly regarded sidearmer, though he had more big league experience then O'Day.
Unfortunately for Minaya, most of these moves did not prove to be fruitful in 2009 or beyond. For starters, Frankie Rodriguez followed up a solid 1st half of the season with a dreadful 2nd half. J.J. Putz got off to a poor start in April and May of 2009 as his control was off from the start (he had an ugly 19:19 K:BB ratio in 29 innings) and in May, he was placed on the disabled list. A few weeks later, it would be reported that he was out for the rest of season. The other part of that deal, Green, put up a very poor season despite making 79 appearances. Green exhibited almost no control out of the team's pen and was very disappointing considering how heralded he had been when the team acquired him. And while Rocky Cherry was cut at the end of the spring, Darren O'Day made the club out of the spring only to be inexplicably DFA'd on April 22nd when the team needed a spot starter for RHP Mike Pelfrey. The team recalled RHP Nelson Figueroa for the day, then subsequently DFA'd him after the game. After this game, Figueroa was rightly mad that he was DFA'd so quickly and instead of accepting a minor league assignment, he declined and became a free agent in order to look for a new team. Figueroa eventually resigned with the club a few days later but if he had left, this single spot start would have cost the Mets two decent players. These were unfortunately the types of small roster moves that made the Minaya reign so frustrating. Figueroa would eventually make it back to the majors with the club, but O'Day would be claimed off waivers by the Texas Rangers after throwing all of 3 innings for the Mets and would become one of the Rangers' best relievers in 2009 and on their 2010 World Series team, exhibiting excellent control and strikeout stuff for the big league minimum. Aside from these players, the team also received substantial bullpen innings from rookie RH Bobby Parnell, AA cult favorite Sir Dr Sen Brain Socks and the ancient RH Elmer Dessens.
Beyond these bullpen maneuvers, Minaya decided that the rest of the team was fine and really did not make any other substantial moves. This was typical operating procedure, to fix the previous year's big problem while not addressing any other obvious potential issues. So the Mets went into the inaugural season at Citi Field with a flashy bullpen but with a gaping hole in LF and the rotation and with question marks at 2B, RF and C. As the season rolled along, the team was devastated by injuries, as everybody in the opening day lineup except for Daniel Murphy and Luis Castillo spent time on the DL with injuries. Speaking of Murphy, he was penciled into the starting LF role and he struggled mightily on defense before shifting to 1B to replace the injured Carlos Delgado. Due to the injury bug, the team's lack of minor league depth was once again on full display. Once Jose Reyes got hurt in May, the team had nobody to adequate to play SS in the minors and were forced to play Ramon Martinez there for a little while before he got hurt. Once Martinez was injured, the Mets had to purchase INF Wilson Valdez from the Indians and eventually reacquire former 2006 opening day 2B Anderson Hernandez from the Nationals to have some decent players to start in the lineup.
In terms of starting pitching, they got some decent outings from RHP Livan Hernandez out of the fifth spot before he began to tank by midseason. RHP Tim Redding got off to an awful start as a Met, as he was shelled in his first spring start against the University of Michigan baseball team and then told the team he was injured. Redding eventually stepped into the rotation and made 17 mostly bad starts for the team before shifting to the bullpen for good. John Maine was very mediocre at best before succumbing to injury and the newly resigned Oliver Perez was absolutely awful in 14 starts, showing that his getting married in the offseason did nothing for his maturity and that the 3 year deal was not a good idea nearly from the beginning. Overall the team's starting pitching was not very good and the replacements were less than ideal, as Nelson Figueroa, Pat Misch, Fernando Nieve and Redding ate up way too many starts. Even when they were able to promote a prospect, like Jonathan Niese who made 5 starts, he was hit with the injury bug when he tore up his hamstring on a strange stretch play at 1B.
The 2009 season may not have been a very good season on the field for the Mets, but there were two things that happened during the season that created a lot of press. The first of these was the team's acquisition of former Braves golden boy Jeff Francoeur in exchange for ungrissiony, ungangsta, concussiony RF Ryan Church. Francoeur's acquisition created a lightning rod of discussion here at AA over the past season and a half. At the beginning, perhaps the move could've been looked at as the "change of scenery" type of move--the Mets were getting a player who was still young and had some talent and perhaps with the right coaching, Francoeur could be molded into the useful player that the 30 year old Church likely wouldn't ever become. Francoeur quickly won the hearts of some Mets fans with his smile, his eyes, his grission and his surprisingly solid play over the last 3 months of the season. However, we all know what happened in 2010 (I mean, come on...he's Jeff Francoeur) and the worst possible thing that could have happened nearly became a reality over the winter-the words "Jeff Francoeur" and "contract extension" were used in tandem. Luckily nothing came of these rumors but this writer can surely say that locking Francoeur in for the 3 years discussed would have been nothing short of a disaster.
The other press-maker for the Minaya Mets in 2009 was the scandal involving the team's director of player development and assistant GM Tony Bernazard. Bernazard was not liked by many around baseball and his bristly personality clashed with many and created a number of controversies during his Mets tenure, beginning with the botched Carlos Delgado negotiations discussed in Part I. Bernazard also played a key role in the Willie Randolph firing in 2008, as he went around the embattled manager's authority to speak with players. In July 2009, more and more began to come out about Bernazard. The first piece of news that came out was about the time Bernazard screamed at a Diamondbacks scout after the scout sat in his seat at a game. The next piece of news was even stranger-the Mets AA team in Binghamton was going through a rough season in 2009 when Bernazard paid the team a visit and allegedly ripped his shirt off and challenged a number of players to a fight in the clubhouse. It was also reported that Bernazard and Frankie Rodriguez had nearly gotten into a fight on a team bus after a game. Along with his poor handling of the minor league system, the media rightfully called for Bernazard's head.
On July 27th, the Mets scheduled a press conference to announce the firing of Tony Bernazard. In a surreal moment, however, Minaya ended up accusing Daily News beat writer Adam Rubin, who had written all of the stuff about Bernazard, of angling to take Tony's job. Minaya explained how Rubin had asked a number of people in the front office about how to go about getting into a major league front office and subsequently backtracked from these statements when Rubin questioned the motives for these accusations. The whole situation was quite a scene and pushed the Mets further into laughingstock territory and the strangest thing of all was that it did not even get Minaya fired at season's end.
November 30, 2009-Re-signed 2B Alex Cora to a 1 year contract w/ vesting option
December 3, 2009-Signed INF Mike Hessman to a minor league contract
December 4, 2009-Signed C Henry Blanco to a 1 year contract
December 9, 2009-Signed RHP Elmer Dessens to a minor league contract
December 17, 2009-Signed RHP Ryota Igarashi to 2 year contract
December 21, 2009-Signed RHP R.A. Dickey to a minor league contract
December 26, 2009-Signed RHP Kelvim Escobar to a 1 year contract
December 29, 2009-Signed LF Jason Bay to a 4 year contract
January 22, 2010-Traded RHP Brian Stokes to Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in exchange for OF Gary Matthews Jr and cash
January 28, 2010-Re-signed INF/OF Fernando Tatis to a 1 year contract
January 29, 2010-Signed PH Frank Catalanotto to a 1 year contract
February 3, 2010-Signed INF Luis Hernandez to a minor league contract
February 10, 2010-Signed 1B Mike Jacobs to a minor league contract
February 11, 2010-Signed LHP Hisanori Takahashi to a minor league contract
February 24, 2010-Signed C Rod Barajas to a minor league contract
March 30, 2010-Claimed RHP Manny Acosta off waivers from Atlanta Braves
April 7, 2010-Phillies claim RHP Nelson Figueroa off waivers from Mets
May 25, 2010-Selected 2B Justin Turner off waivers from Baltimore Orioles
June 15, 2010-Released OF Gary Matthews Jr.
July 30, 2010-Traded 1B Mike Jacobs to Toronto for PTBNL
August 7, 2010-Released 2B Alex Cora
August 22, 2010-Sold C Rod Barajas to Los Angeles Dodgers
August 31, 2010-Traded RF Jeff Francoeur to Texas Rangers for INF Joaquin Arias
After the signing of Jason Bay in the offseason, the talking heads (including the GM himself) heralded this team as a World Series contender (yet again). Unfortunately, most realistic fans looked at this club as a .500 team at best and by season's end, those expectations were confirmed as they finished the 2010 season at 79-83. Beyond the Bay signing, Minaya didn't do a good job of adding any actual talent to the club and for the fourth year in a row, he decided to fix last year's main problem and then sit on his hands. Bay was given a large contract based on his "power numbers" that were supposed to translate to Citi Field and help the Mets' punchless offense, as well as his durability. Both of these went attributes were for naught in 2010 as Bay missed the entire second half of the season because of a concussion and underwhelmed in the first half as he hit a very punchless .259/.347/.402 with just 6 home runs. Along with his already mediocre defense, Bay's first season was a disaster and the next 3 seasons do not look all that hot, as Bay will be 33 by the end of the 2011 season.
As mentioned in the previous paragraph, Minaya signed Bay and then decided that the team was okay as is and resorted to bringing new players in on one year/minor league contracts. If the team was in better shape, then this would not be an awful strategy to add depth. However, for a team with Oliver Perez and John Maine rounding out the rotation, no starting catcher or decent second baseman and Fernando Tatis as the top pinch hitting option off the bench, this was very disappointing. To "complement" the stars in the lineup, Minaya decided to bring in the equivalent of a poop sandwich by signing out-machines Rod Barajas and Mike Jacobs to go with other out machine Jeff Francoeur. The bench was fortified with the signings of over the hill utility man Frank Catalanotto, C Henry Blanco and the resigning of frown machine Alex Cora along with the acquisition of useless OF Gary Matthews Jr (but remember he made that catch that one time), who inexplicably was named the opening day starter over the promising Angel Pagan (he of the .837 OPS in 2009). Matthews was acquired after star CF Carlos Beltran decided to "selfishly" look out for the health of his knees and have surgery in January after the Mets told him yes and then no (despite already having signed the papers). Instead of signing any old replacement level OF with a decent glove to take Beltran's spot, the Mets went out and secured the services of Matthews, who had one good steroid aided season in his big league career (the season which got him the unwarranted 5 year contract that the Angels decided to eat when dealing him to the Mets).
Overall, these moves were cheap but the phrase "you get what you pay for" was truly in action here, as this was not a good crop of baseball players. One by one, Minaya released each one of them due to their lack of production (something that Minaya could have avoided had he just read Amazin' Avenue before he made each of these moves). Of course, Jerry Manuel decided to punctuate each of these moves by using each player as often as he could in the worst possible situations and lineup spots that he could. As dictated by the rules of Jerryball, laughable decisions ranged from Matthews getting an inordinate number of starts in order to get "hot" to starting "first basemen" such as Mike Jacobs and even Frank Catalanotto (!!!!!) batting cleanup (per Jerryball rules "1st baseman must always bat 4th, just as the 2nd baseman must always bat 2nd") and of course the ignorance of decent pinch hitting options such as late additions Chris Carter and Nick Evans in order to give the veterans a chance to heat up. The Jerryball rules provided a great deal of laughter (or pain, mainly) around Amazin' Avenue and only helped to show just how awful these pickups truly were.
Not all of the Mets' minor league signings proved to be this bad and in fact, two were surprisingly very good to the 2010 Mets. The signings of LHP Hisanori Takahashi and RHP R.A. Dickey proved to be highlights of the 2010 Mets as both pitchers threw way above expectations. Takahashi made the team out of spring training as a long reliever (though C Rod Barajas claimed Takahashi had the stuff of a #3 starter) and from the beginning was dominant out of the pen. The expectations for the 35 year old lefty were pretty low, considering the fact that he was on a minor league deal and that the Mets' experiment with oldish Japanese lefties named Takahashi did not go all that well with 40 year old Ken Takahashi the previous season. Hisanori was a different story, though, and proved his worth in a number of roles on the pitching staff as a long reliever, middle reliever, starter, set-up man and even closer. The 35 year old knuckleballer Dickey, meanwhile, was an afterthought to most after signing with the club, as his major league numbers combined with Texas, Seattle and Minnesota were unimpressive. Most people assumed he was brought in to provide depth at AAA Buffalo and perhaps make some spot starts if there were a slew of injuries at the big league level again. Dickey had a mediocre spring and began the season at Buffalo where he mowed down the International League and really caught people's attention when he retired 26 consecutive batters in one start. Once Dickey made his Mets debut, he showed that he was for real as he exhibited excellent command of his stuff and showed off not one but two knuckleballs (one hard and one soft). By the end of the season, Dickey established himself as the Mets' best starter (after Johan Santana was injured) and looks to continue his dominance going into 2011. Dickey also gained a number of fans due to his blue collar, hard working nature, his being a very intelligent and candid guy as well as his "pitch face," which was the foundation of the great contest here at AA, won by yours truly (had to get that in...I apologize).
For the first time in Minaya's tenure, the Mets saw a nice crop of homegrown players graduate from the minors between 2009 and 2010. Homegrown players such as Josh Thole, Ike Davis, Bobby Parnell and Jon Niese played large roles on the team alongside another Minaya product Mike Pelfrey and other homegrown talents David Wright, Jose Reyes and Angel Pagan. Once Mike Jacobs was relieved of his duties, Davis was recalled in late April and put up a solid rookie season. The former 1st rounder put up a very nice .791 OPS with solid power, an outstanding walk rate and near gold glove defense down at 1st. Jon Niese also was very good in his first full season and bordered on dominant at times, before struggling late in the season with fatigue. Both players look poised to become solid contributors for the 2011 Mets team and beyond.
Finally, the Mets' pitching in 2010 was actually very solid by the end but in the beginning, the rotation featured stalwarts John Maine and Oliver Perez. These two pitchers, who were promising back in 2007 but have been given way too many chances, symbolize what has been wrong with the Minaya regime. The reliance on players who require the fans to cross their fingers when projecting them was a major theme during Minaya's tenure and almost never seemed to work out for the best. In Maine and Perez's case, they made a combined 16 mostly awful starts before Maine was shut down for good and Perez was banished to the deepest recesses of the bullpen, wasting a spot and forcing the team to play with a 24 man roster most of the year because he wouldn't accept a minor league assignment. Neither he or the team blinked in this "showdown of wretchedness" and Perez is still on the roster, likely to get one more shot in spring training for 2011. The final PR disaster of the Minaya era took place in August, when closer Frankie Rodriguez got into a fight with his girlfriend's father after a loss and punched him in the face in front of teammates' wives and children. Not only was Rodriguez arrested and detained in a holding cell at Citi Field overnight, but he also suffered a torn ligament in right thumb that caused him to undergo season ending surgery. Rodriguez was suspended by the team after the incident and was forced to forfeit the final 3.5 million dollars left on his 2010 contract at the time of the suspension.
Wrap-Up of the Omar Minaya Chronicles
Looking back at the seven parts of this series, one of the biggest themes of the Minaya regime is the lack of depth at the minor league level, whether it be the lack of decent prospects to fill holes or the lack of replacement level players to take over for injured players. This was apparent in 2007, 2008 and 2009 as the team's injuries played a big role in the lack of success. Another theme was the over reliance on boom/bust players and older players in general. Moises Alou was one of these-when healthy, he could still hit but when he wasn't healthy, there was nobody to replace his production. Other examples include Orlando Hernandez, John Maine and Oliver Perez in the rotation and Jose Valentin in the lineup. Another big theme was the strategy of filling last season's hole and then ignoring the rest of the glaring openings. For years, the Mets had large holes in LF and 2B as well as in the rotation (the Mets never had a legitimate fifth starter going into spring training under Minaya) that were ignored. Then, once the holes were filled with a name player (Moises Alou in LF, Luis Castlllo at 2B) Minaya deemed it to be fixed and never re-evaluated, despite getting poor production from those spots, due to injuries and age related issues. Another thing that I've noticed is that Minaya became less aggressive in his moves throughout his tenure. In 2005 and 2006, Minaya did work to build a team as he brought in starters, offensive players, relievers through the free agent and trade market. After 2006, however, Minaya began to sit on his hands and fix one problem per offseason. It almost seemed as if the creativity, especially on the trade market, had disappeared completely. Perhaps this was an affect of Minaya being jaded and thinking that he truly had a great team or perhaps this was an affect of Jeff Wilpon becoming more involved with front office dealings, a rumor that began to spread over the past 2-3 seasons and a rumor that came up during Jim Duquette and Steve Philips' time with the team as well. Did ownership meddle in personnel affairs? We likely will never know the truth, but in my opinion, seeing what Minaya did early on and what he turned into later on in his tenure, it wouldn't surprise me to find out that ownership had pulled the reigns on Minaya a bit and that Jeff Wilpon was more in charge than he'd like you to believe.
Where do the Mets go from here?
The first question is "In what shape did Minaya leave the Mets?" Considering where the team was before the Minaya era, the big league team is better than where they were in 2003 and 2004. There are star contributors on offense in Wright, Reyes, Beltran, Pagan and Bay among others and the rotation features 3 solid though unspectacular pitchers in Dickey, Niese and Pelfrey (and four if you count Santana). For all of the flack taken about not going overslot in the draft, the system has improved from a barren wasteland in the early 2000's to around middle of the pack and they have had a decent wave of players who should help out in 2011 with Niese, Davis, Parnell, Thole, Murphy, Pelfrey and Evans along with potential callups Kirk Nieuwenheis, Fernando Martinez, Dillon Gee, Jenrry Mejia, Ruben Tejada. These players aren't world beaters but compared to the dreck that made up the Mets farm system 5 plus years ago, these are some interesting prospects. On the other side of the coin, though, Minaya's penchant for spending the big bucks has really bitten the new regime and as GM Sandy Alderson has said a number of times, they will not be big spenders this offseason. While this isn't the worst news in the world, this will likely keep the 2011 Mets from truly being competitive in the NL East, barring a miracle or two. Minaya's ill-advised large contracts will continue to bog down the payroll for another season and this offseason teaches a great lesson-though the signing of star players to big money contracts is fun in the offseason, eventually the team will pay in the long run. Minaya continually tossed money and years at players and while this may have been a decent strategy in 2005 to get guys like Beltran and Martinez on board, eventually you have to be able to discern the smart deals from the not so smart deals, in order to keep from using all of your resources on bad players like Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo, limited players like Jason Bay and overrated closers like Frankie Rodriguez. Sandy Alderson, luckily, has a history of being smart with deals and has preached patience thus far in his time with the Mets. Hopefully Alderson can juggle the responsibility of handing out the big contract compared with the small contract better than Minaya could.
The team may be in a better position talentwise post-Minaya than they were pre-Minaya, but at the same time, a number of ill-advised deals given out by Minaya have chewed up too much of the team's payroll for 2011. The Minaya era got off to a quick start in 2005 and 2006 before crumbling in 2007 and 2008 and imploding in 2009 and 2010. It started with fanfare, as playoff appearances and winning baseball teams danced in our heads. Sadly, Minaya brought us to just one lone playoff appearance, a huge disappointment considering all of the talk and all of the resources that he was given. To me, the worst part is the wasting of the 0-6 seasons of our homegrown superstars David Wright and Jose Reyes. The Mets had these two cornerstones on the cheap for the past six seasons but because they were surrounded by a lot of garbage, they only appeared in the postseason just that once. Now with both players reaching the end of their contracts (Reyes' expiring after 2011), their future together with the Mets is up in the air, despite still being in their primes. The same goes for Carlos Beltran, who after a disappointing 2005 season, turned out to be one of Minaya's greatest pickups. Unfortunately, it seems as if these players' prime years were squandered by the Mets mismanagement. If I were in charge, in order to make sure I didn't waste these players' prime years, I would've relieved Minaya of his duties after 2008. There was plenty of evidence by then that he was in over his head after the two collapses and the poor offseasons in 07 and 08 and when you have investments like Wright, Reyes and Beltran among others, the Wilpons should have realized that they were up against the clock. Now, despite having an improved front office, there are a number of questions that will force us to just sit back and see if they get answered.
Thanks for reading everybody! Hope you enjoyed!