Sympathy for Minaya

Some have shrewdly pointed out that the final two paragraphs of my last post seem to contradict my original thesis; and they are right. In retrospect, I am far too harsh on Omar Minaya at the opening of the post. I do continue to maintain that my observations remain valid when it comes to describing Jerry Manuel’s performance. The things he does are simply the results of a simple mind making decisions on the most shallow and flimsy of impressions while not allowing the slightest avenue for rational thought of any kind. Thus, Omir Santos is given pride of place over Ramon Castro because one grand slam proves that he is clutch and shows that he has a nice short swing. Thus, Alex Cora bats second because he’s a smallish, slap-hitting middle infielder and smallish slap-hitting middle infielders bat second, while first-base power bats like Mike Jacobs and Frank Catalonatto bat cleanup. (Forget that Catalanato was never a power-bat; he’s a big guy who plays first, and is thus a power bat in the eyes of Jerry Manuel’s purely impressionistic and thought-devoid universe. (I would give odds that Manuel really thinks Catalonotto is a power bat for this very reason, and that he has never checked Catalanatto’s batting stats, nor would he trust them if he had.) Regardless, Manuel’s performance is best attributed to a determined and unrelenting idiocy that dominates his mental condition, which can never be understood by appealing to any rationality.

Omar Minaya’s situation is different. I must refer to the post offered by Sam Page some months ago that is on the very short list for finest posts ever on Amazin’ Avenue. Here, Page basically gives what should have been the final word on the Omar Minaya matter.

As fielding stats get more widely accepted, it seems a glorified Moneyball scenario, where a few teams with superior objective analysis carry an edge, is becoming less likely. As more players, are signing long-term deals with the teams that drafted them, and fewer are hitting free agency, the statistical analysis the Mets have been so neglectful of becomes just the baseline. Indeed, as Jay wrote about some of the most successful teams around the league: "it's noteworthy that other organizations that have gone with the 'Ivy League whiz kid' GM model tend to have a 'wise old baseball man' figure hanging close by, advising the gifted non-scout executive.

Sam's prediction is proving to be spot-on. If it seems like Omar Minaya's performance in 2010 includes some of the most inscrutable and pointless moves of his tenure (if not necessarily the worst) I would bet much of it has to do with the shifting atmosphere of the league, where Omar can no longer tread water with fellow mediocrities like Dave Littlefield, but is now one of a few chumps swimming amidst shark-infested waters. I would bet that Omar fields several calls per day from a drunk Andrew Friedman fresh from making a bet with Billy Beane as to how badly he could fleece Omar. A situation in which professional teams controlling millions of dollars in resources ignore data available to enthusiastic teenagers and consequently make mistakes even those teenagers would have avoided cannot last. Eventually, the GM will have to specialize in his proper role, which is to place a dollar value on players' talents through an analysis of the market and to thereby maximize his resources. It will be a contest played on the margin, with the embarrassing discrepancies between organizational skills of teams like the Astros and Red Sox eventually disappearing.

But once this transition is complete, a guy like Omar becomes far more valuable, not as a GM, but as a set of eyes and ears that can give that edge necessary to an organization that is pushed to seeking more and more marginal advantages.

It is not Omar Minaya’s fault that the Peter Principle (and the Wilpons) pushed him into a position for which he was (and is) manifestly unqualified. Omar Minaya is highly adept at accurately assessing the potential and possibilities of prospects and players. He is good at spotting those few amongst several thousands who have what it takes to play in the majors. He is not good at reading the market for a precise assessment of how much these skills are worth in dollar terms. He is not good at translating these skills into wins and accurately assessing the marginal win impact (and thus, the marginal dollar value) of Endy Chavez’s defense and just-barely-adequate bat (or Ryan Church’s for that matter). He is not good at correctly discounting rates of return for future wins (almost always overvaluing current wins). And he is not good at putting a roster together that will accumulate as many marginal wins as the budget will allow in a given time frame.

But this is never what Omar was about anyway. It is not fair to criticize the man for not being who he is not, particularly when he is good at being what he is and should be allowed to be what he is. This is particularly evident when one realizes that many of Omar’s faults as a GM are really misplaced virtues. Omar, like most of us, possesses a core of sentimentality that the GM has to eschew completely in order to be successful. He wants Oliver Perez and John Maine to succeed. He does get moved by generally moving stories of lunchpail guys like Dan Murphy exceeding all reasonable expectation by sheer wits and determination. He wants to see his guys do well. A GM, on the other hand, must always be fully conscious that facts care nothing about anyone’s feelings, that a Victorino is more likely to contribute to his team than a Daniel Murphy, regardless of who the better man is; that Jose Valentin’s contributions to a ball club in 2006 have no bearing whatsoever in resigning him for 2007; and all that matters is what he does in 2007. He has to keep his focus ruthlessly on what could be expected from these players in the future. If we all know that Dan Murphy is due for a major regression, then the fact remains that he would probably be most valuable as trade-bait, despite how much we all wish him to do well here. And if a player is more useful (i.e. can yield more marginal wins) as trade-bait, the GM has no choice but to ignore almost all other considerations. Omar’s other misplaced virtue as GM is his excessive loyalty and deference. A GM must recognize an incompetent like Jerry Manuel when he sees one and have the courage to fire him immediately. He must overrule the manager’s short-term considerations whenever it conflicts with the greater good of sustained success, and do so without apology.

Omar is by far, in my view, the most sympathetic figure in the debacle of the David Wright Era. Compare him to Jeff Wilpon, who as this brilliant lampoon illustrates, seems concerned with the Mets only as a vehicle to extract money from the fan base and local government. To this venal scion of filthy lucre, the dismal performance of the Mets is little more than a public relations problem. It’s a crisis of the brand that perhaps requires different slogans and logos. Or compare Omar to Jerry, who is incompetent at every facet of the game, who cannot even recognize the talent in front of his own eyes, who cannot put together a lineup significantly better than an average 7-year-old, and who trashes his players behind their back.

But then again, somebody had to hire him. And whoever hired Jerry Manuel cannot be trusted with running an multi-million dollar franchise.

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