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False Hustle

Think tanks, as a concept, seem morally bankrupt. Entire companies exist just for publishing policy papers from one general viewpoint. It works, too: there's enough evidence and data generated to defend basically any viewpoint. I think these policy writers knowingly deceive, thinking the ends justify the means. And maybe they have weighed all the different perspectives and, believing their policies are the best, write blatantly slanted articles for the sake of persuasion - who knows?

I don't think Adam Rubin was angling for anyone's job; that would be a scheme ridiculous on the level of Dr. Doom's scheme to take over the world. I do wonder, however, when he writes a 10-page trashing of the Mets farm system, complete with quotations from an "anonymous scout," then turns around and talks about fringe-prospect Lucas Duda's power potential last week on SNY (spoiler: Lucas Duda isn't on our top-26 Mets prospect list). Who wants to bet the "anonymous scout" that John Harper, Adam Rubin, and a few other writers keep citing is the same person? It's the same story every time: "Omar Minaya's only plan is to sign high-priced free agents because the Mets have no farm system." That's not a particularly true indictment of Minaya, but when it gets repeated by three newspaper sources, then quoted on some blogs, suddenly it seems like fact, the inescapable reality of the failed Mets' farm system.

Due in part to this echo-chamber effect, the firing of Omar Minaya at the end of the season feels sort of inevitable. The popular sentiment to fire him, though, seems more like an outward frustration with the results of this season, not a meaningful criticism of Minaya's method. What happens if Minaya goes? The Mets will probably hire John Ricco; they haven't looked outside the organization for GM candidates since Frank Cashen (last Mets GM to wear a ring). Then what if he just makes 50 more Church-for-Francoeurs but the Mets manage to take the wild card on the strength of some returning stars? Does everyone herald a new era of winning, while the slow erosion of the franchise continues? That is not a premature judgment of Ricco, mind you. No one really knows whether Ricco suggested Francoeur-for-Church or just the abstract acquisition of Francoeur. Also, if its true that Mets stat-types Ben Baumer and Adam Fisher are more Ricco's guys than Minaya's, this presentation is certainly encouraging.

No, that scenario is just worst case, but still well within the realm of possibility. I'm not suggesting that the Mets beat writers have some vendetta against Minaya and are intentionally misleading people to get him fired. I think they're just trying to diagnose the organization's problems (and play to popular sentiment) and are doing a poor job of it. My number one reason why Minaya should go is that he doesn't pay attention to the details and the smaller nuances of roster management, leaving the team too top heavy and susceptible to depth issues. That gets discussed sometimes when people talk about how a team with the Mets' payroll could get this bad through injuries, but it's never talked about in specifics. The average fan does not understand the difference between Angel Pagan and Endy Chavez, between Angel Berroa and a competent back-up shortstop, and probably doesn't care, which is fine. The problem comes when the writers ignore those subtleties, too.

Honestly, I think it's an issue of statistics. Most writers just don't examine the roster with much precision because they lack precise tools. The GM whose moves check out in the WAR-column or another useful metric generally moves his team forward. Whether that's because the team used statistics to make a decision is a chicken-and-egg question, and probably an irrelevant one as most good front offices have both good scouts and good analysts. Jack Zduriencik is a good example: most of his moves have been really popular with the sabermetric blogs, despite his background as a scouting director. There was considerable fuss when a Mariner's exec told Baseball Prospectus that they had employed Tom Tango, but there's nothing particularly unusual about that - several hockey and baseball teams have and do consult with him.

Similarly, how do you know whether a GM is good or needs to go, then? Is it the sum of all his moves or the team's performance on the field? Would I like Zduriencik as much if the Mariners weren't over .500? Am I only calling for Minaya's head publicly now because I know the strange bunch of injuries are the only circumstance where there will be sufficient popular support of the idea? The recent Will Leitch article suggesting the Mets hire Billy Beane to give both the Mets and Beane a fresh start in a more competitive market creates an interesting contrast between Minaya and Beane.

And I say this because coming from Will Leitch, okay, and Will, you gotta understand this, Will, for the past couple of years, has lobby for an Amazin' Avenue writer position.

While Beane rarely makes a single move that looks bad, the sum of his recent moves hasn't resulted with a winner on the field. Granted, he's sitting on a heck of a farm system he just built from scratch, but I don't think his plan was to wait another year when he traded for Matt Holliday, and got a good deal for him. That's what I thought of when I read Minaya's quotation from the Mix Master SI story that Leitch referenced:

"I see the job in bigger terms. Paperwork, that’s false hustle. It takes away creativity. People who are into paperwork are into covering their asses, so if things go wrong they can point to all the work they did. They’re thinking more about failure than success. The more paperwork the opposition does, the better my chances are. Know what I’m sayin’?"

Minaya is saying that GMs that worry too much about making the right move never make the move that puts their team over the top with a Johan Santana-type trade. I think a GM has to have both: be constantly thinking of creative trades while making sure the numbers check out. Omar Minaya's pretty bold, but he's not always creative. He just traded to get Anderson Hernandez back. I always joke about him collecting former Expos but the list is pretty staggering, and honestly it's more worrying than funny. Maybe that GM who does both is John Ricco: a guy who trades for Jeff Francoeur, just not at the expense of Ryan Church. After all, John Ricco is supposed to be Minaya's paperwork guy.

Ultimately this "Omar needs to go"/"It's just the injuries" debate I referenced earlier is irrelevant and disingenuous, blown out of proportion by the media. Whether a good GM is determined by his moves or his results, I think all GMs are revealed to be good or bad in time and Minaya's time is up. The in-season management of the injuries and replacements has been just as big a problem as the injuries themselves. Omar Minaya is neither the killer of farm systems nor the anti-media villain the press portrays him as. He's just a big-picture guy on a team that needs paperwork.