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. Starting from where I left off previously, I will finish off the 2007-2008 seasons in this convenient post and will wrap up the series with the 2009-2010 seasons in another post.
Thinking about it over the past few weeks, I decided that it would not be fun for any of us to hash out all that happened on the field in detail these past couple of years and that it'd be much more interesting and educational to just go over the nuts and bolts of Omar Minaya's job--the Transactions.
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)
The 2007 Season
April 4, 2007--Mets sign IFA RHP Jenrry Mejia
May 10, 2007--Mets sign RHP Brian Lawrence to 1 year contract
June 3, 2007--Mets release RHP Chan Ho Park after one disastrous start
June 7, 2007--Mets complete Amateur Draft, infamously known for the amount of relievers taken
July 16, 2007--Mets release "Methuselah" Julio Franco
We all know how this season ended but what is forgotten is that the Mets got off to a great start in 2007, ending the month of May atop the division with a 36-18 record. Many of the talking heads claim that the season was lost in September with the 5-12 stretch drive, but in fact while this technically may have been the case, most Mets fans could tell you of the warning signs that started on June 1st. From that point on, the team played uninspired, lifeless baseball and it showed in their record as they were just 54-56 through the end of the season.
Looking at the roster, the team was certainly short a #1 pitcher. Tom Glavine was the de facto ace of the club as they were without RHP Pedro Martinez for most of the season. Even though they got good performances out of youngsters John Maine and Oliver Perez and the ancient Orlando Hernandez, the team did not have a stopper in the rotation. Things also got dicey when Hernandez missed some time due to injury and when former first rounder Mike Pelfrey struggled, as the Mets had to turn to scrap heap signings to take their place. RHP Jorge Sosa received 14 starts and though he looked to be a savior early on, the former Brave and Devil Ray came back down to Earth and eventually settled into a bullpen role. The team also gave 6 starts to former Padres innings eater Brian Lawrence who was lit up in his time with the team and Pedro Martinez made his return late in the season with 5 decent starts.
Offensively, the club saw a number of players have down years compared to the year before. Carlos Delgado saw the effects of advanced age and offseason wrist surgery, putting up a paltry .781 OPS. Paul Lo Duca saw a decrease in his doubles power and his batting average, which affected his entire game. Lo Duca spent most of 2006 batting out of the 2 hole in the lineup but his mediocrity with the bat forced Willie Randolph to use him further down the lineup more often and eventually fueled the acquisition of Luis Castillo to bat 2nd. The other reason for the Castillo acquisition was the loss of Jose Valentin, who signed a $5 million extension in the offseason but saw the clock strike midnight early in 2007. Valentin was such a pleasant surprise for the 2006 team but a broken leg limited him to just 166 ab's. The team also got poor showings from RF Shawn Green, who's rapid fall from glory continued in New York and expensive LF signing Moises Alou, who was great when available to play but was injured more often than not. Alou put up a .916 OPS in just 87 games. They also got subpar performance from OF prospect Lastings Milledge, who seemed to alienate himself from the club by the day with his antics and from backup OF Endy Chavez, who injured his leg running out a ground ball and wasn't the same the rest of the season. The team also got solid performance out of INF's Damion Easley and Ruben Gotay off the bench.
At season's end, the obvious thing talked about was that the team lacked an ace in the rotation. While this was certainly an issue, this caused people to overlook many other issues. The first and foremost was that the team lacked depth overall in the minors but especially in the pitching department where they had to rely solely on retreads when players were injured. The importance of drafting and developing prospects was a key here. Even though Minaya was only in his third season, the well was still very dry when the Mets needed it. Another issue was the reliance on old players, which only highlighted the lack of suitable depth even more. When Alou went down and Green struggled, the team only had Lastings Milledge who could put up league average production and without Endy Chavez, they had to rely on the likes of Ricky Ledee, Ben Johnson, Marlon Anderson and a very raw, rushed Carlos Gomez to take at bats at subpar levels. Finally, all of the deals that Minaya made to try to "capitalize" on his bullpen depth truly bit him in the back, as the pen faltered down the stretch. Willie Randolph takes flack for "sticking with his guys" but the problem was that the team had no other guys to call up. Arms like Henry Owens, Royce Ring, Heath Bell and Matt Linstrom could've provided a lift to the bullpen but instead, they were dealt away for nothing. Once again, this is an issue of depth or a lack of it.
The 2008 Season Transactions
October 31, 2007--Re-signed INF Damion Easley to a 1 year contract
November 6, 2007--Re-signed UTIL Marlon Anderson to a 2 year contract
November 16, 2007--Re-signed C Ramon Castro to a 2 year contract
November 19, 2007--Re-signed 2B Luis Castillo to a 4 year contract
November 28, 2007--Purchased RHP Brian Stokes from Tampa Bay Devil Rays
February 22, 2008--Sign OF Brady Clark to minor league deal
March 13, 2008--Sign UTIL Fernando Tatis to minor league deal
Other minor in-season moves: Signed RHP Claudio Vargas, INF Abraham Nunez, RHP Brandon Knight, Acquired OF Trot Nixon from Diamondbacks, Acquired 1B Andy Philips from Cincinnati Reds
August 17, 2008--Acquired RHP Luis Ayala from Washington Nationals for INF Anderson Hernandez
Fresh off the collapse of 2007, the Mets began 2008 looking just as they did from June 2007 to the end of that season--listless and dead--and their record showed it. By the end of May, the Mets were 27-27 and that was with the acquisition of ace Johan Santana. Throughout those first few months, manager Willie Randolph's seat seemed to get hotter by the day as the media continually grilled him. The stoic Randolph continued to do what he was doing without showing the inclination to change much, whether it be his lineups, the way he handled the bullpen, etc. The Mets continued to flounder throughout June and on the morning of June 17th, Omar Minaya famously pulled the trigger. Of course, this being the Mets, they couldn't fire Randolph like a normal team would fire their manager. The Mets fired Randolph on the road in Los Angeles following a win. To make matters worse, the move was made after midnight PST or 3 AM back in New York and was sent to the beat writers via text message, meaning that the newspapers weren't able to publish it or had to scramble to get it into their morning editions. The team's beat writers, always looking out for the team's best interests (where's the sarcasm text when you need it), ended up siding with the man that they had grilled for months, as there were many articles vilifying Omar Minaya with regards to how he had botched the firing. Along with Randolph, the Mets sent longtime pitching coach Rick Peterson packing along with mysterious first base coach Tom Nieto. In Randolph's stead, the Mets promoted bench coach Jerry Manuel to the position of interim manager, while promoting AAA pitching Dan Warthen to the big league staff.
After a whirlwind day, the Mets had a game to play that evening against the Angels. Early on in this game, Jose Reyes singled but came up lame running to first base. When Jerry Manuel came out of the dugout for the first time as manager, he decided to make a statement by pulling Reyes from the game as a precaution. Reyes did not like this and pouted as he walked off the field. In this moment, Manuel showed that he was in control of the club and he set his foot down with one of the team's stars. The team finished out the month of June playing .500 ball but once the calendar flipped to July, things began to click and they had easily their best month of the season, going 18-8 and closing the month just a game behind the first place Phillies. The month of August was nearly as good, as they went 18-11 and ended the month with a one game lead in the division. Lost in the Mets manager change and the early season malaise was the performance of LHP Johan Santana, acquired from the Twins for four prospects. While the team struggled, the lefty ace was all that the Mets could've hoped for as he was solid in the first half and stepped it up a notch in the second half.
Unfortunately for these Mets, they floundered down the stretch for the second season in a row and though the collapse was not as epic as 2007, the Mets still had a lead in September as they were up by a high of 3.5 games over the Phillies on September 10th. A 13-12 record for the month, combined with a hot Phillies team that would eventually to go on to win the World Series would do the team in for the second year in a row. On the second to last day of the season, the Mets got an outstanding pitching performance for the second year in a row. In 2007, it was John Maine's 14 strike out, 7.1 inning one hitter. In 2008, it was a gutsy performance by Johan Santana who shut out the Marlins by a score of 2-0. Santana was dominant, throwing a complete game shutout on short rest and, as later was revealed, a torn meniscus in his knee. Just like 2007, however, this performance would be for naught. By this point, the Phillies had already clinched their 2nd consecutive division title and the Mets needed to win to keep up with the Milwaukee Brewers for the wild card. Ultimately, the Mets lost 4-2 in what would be the final game at Shea Stadium, as the awful LHP Scott Schoeneweis allowed a home run to RIGHTY Wes Helms and just as awful RHP Luis Ayala allowed a solo homer to the next batter Dan Uggla. As bad as the bullpen was in 2007, the 2008 pen was that much worse down the stretch, as it seemed that there was absolutely nobody who could get outs late in the game. On top of this, the team was also without closer Billy Wagner, who was lost to Tommy John Surgery in August.
So to recap some of the important moves, the Johan Santana trade was really the only one that looked good by season's end. Though Santana had seen a worrisome drop in strikeouts despite moving to the National League, he still produced dominant results, especially in the second half of the season. Meanwhile, the prospects dealt away looked even worse by year's end. Carlos Gomez struggled with the Twins as he continued to prove just how much the Mets rushed him. Deolis Guerra had an ugly season as he repeated A+ ball with the Twins and put up 1:1 K/BB ratio in 130 innings. Phil Humber and Kevin Mulvey did not show all that much, as they both put up so-so numbers at AAA. Another big deal was the acquisition of C Brian Schneider and RF Ryan Church for former top prospect Lastings Milledge. Church looked to be a steal through mid-May as he got off to a torrid start before he got hurt in a gruesome collision with Braves SS Yunel Escobar's knee. Church was completely mishandled by the Mets terrible training staff, who thought it would be okay for him to travel by plane to Colorado the very next day. Church missed a good portion of the rest of the season and was never the same even once he came back. Schneider, meanwhile, struggled with injuries throughout his Mets tenure and when healthy, he was what he'd always been with the Expos/Nationals franchise--a light hitting catcher with a good defensive reputation. Despite this reputation, his defense seemed to disappoint and he ended up being relatively worthless in his two years with the Mets. For Milledge, he played all of '08 with the Nats as their CF and put up decent offensive numbers. Combined with poor defense and a big mouth, however, Milledge wore out his welcome early in 2009 and he was dealt to baseball hell (Pittsburgh) where he played in 2009/2010 before he was non-tendered on December 3rd, 2010.
One other signing that proved to be important for the 2008 and beyond Mets was the minor league signing of INF Fernando Tatis. Tatis was called up by the Mets in May, despite many moans and groans by Mets fans and proved to be a pleasant surprise for a guy who was out of baseball a few years earlier. He proved to be an important cog, as he started in RF for a while when Church was injured and also became the team's top option off of the bench as a pinch hitter and utility man who could play a number of positions. Finally, the resurgence of 1B Carlos Delgado provided a huge boost to the team especially in the second half when they got hot. Delgado broke out with a monster day against the Yankees, when in the first game of a doubleheader, he hit two home runs and knocked in 9 runs. From that point on, Delgado played like vintage Carlos throughout the rest of the season making it a no-brainer (at the time) to exercise his option for 2009. One other issue was the impact of Jerry Manuel and whether it was Manuel who spurred the team's run in July and August or whether it was just a matter of time before they caught fire and perhaps the firing of Randolph served as a wakeup call. Although many of us did not notice the red flags, Mets fans can safely say that after watching Manuel "manage" (or mis-manage) the Mets in 2009 and 2010, the resurgence likely had very little to do with Manuel and more to do with the underachieving talent on the team getting hot at the right time.
Make sure to check back for the recap of the 2009 and 2010 season's transactions as we wrap up the Omar Minaya Chronicles within the next few days.