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K-Rod: A Tale of Two GMs

Jon Bois, one of the genii behind The Dugout and now a fellow SB Nation scribe, frequently conducts online chats in search of the answer to the question: Who is the most [BLANK] player ever? The [BLANK] is usually filled in with a team name, but he's also written posts on such puzzlers such as, Who is the most Diamond Kings baseball player ever? (If you don't know or can't recall what Diamond Kings were, suffice to say they exemplified the bloated "these idiots will buy anything" era of baseball card collectibles; kind of like the sports memorabilia equivalent of prog rock.) The idea is that, for each of these questions, the answer is someone who completely, totally, and utterly exemplifies something, often in an unquantifiable way. For instance, I'd say Kent Hrbek is the most Twins player ever because, I mean, c'mon.

I thought of Bois immediately upon hearing the news of K-Rod's departure for Milwaukee, for he may be the most Omar Minaya player ever--or rather, the most Omar Minaya acquisition ever (as opposed to guys like David Wright and Jose Reyes, who came with the frame of his administration). Newsday's Ken Davidoff must have thought the same thing, since his column on the trade posits the same theory. I'd like to go into more detail as to why this is, with some parallel examination as to why him being shipped off to Wisconsin is the most Sandy Alderson trade ever (for the Mets, anyway).

First off, we need to determine what characterizes the Omar administration's moves. I would say the following:

  • Bidding against yourself
  • Little to no regard for loss of draft picks (for free agents) or prospects (for trades)
  • Little to no attention paid to market trends or any type of advanced analysis
  • Reactionary (rather than proactive) moves
  • Pursuing "names" over needs as a means of pacifying fans hungry for moves
  • Issuing (or acquiring) contracts with incentives and options that are punitively onerous for the team in fear that otherwise the target will sign elsewhere

Now we need to determine who doesn't fit the bill. I think you have to immediately remove Minayar's more prominent acquisitions--Pedro Martinez, Carlos Delgado, and Carlos Beltran--from contention. You can argue that each one was overpaid (Carlos Beltran less so than the others, I think), but you also have to remember that each one of these players was coveted by other teams. If the Mets overpaid for any of them, it was not crazy (at the time) to do so. They were all really good players as well, the kind that could have helped any team, so I don't think it's fair to say they were reactionary moves or constitute the pursuit of a free agent for pursuit's sake.

The Luis Castillo and Oliver Perez contracts are much closer to Typical Minaya, but I don't think they qualify for the top spots. Omar almost definitely bid against himself for both, in complete and total ignorance of market trends. However, neither player qualified as a "name," even before their already middling abilities fell off a cliff. Their contracts did not smack of desperation to satisfy fans, but rather seem to reflect Minaya's fear of having to look elsewhere to fill either hole, a combination of lack of imagination and laziness. I suppose that is also an Minaya-esque move, but I don't think it's the most Minaya move, if that makes sense. (And even if it doesn't, lets move on.)

With Jeff Francoeur and Alex Cora, we inch a little closer to the ideal. Both were grossly overpaid, as if they were hot commodities pursued by many other teams (newsflash from Duh Aficionado Magazine: they weren't). Their contracts ate up a ton of money that could have been better spent elsewhere. Both were acquired to shore up perceived Mets weaknesses--their bench and outfield--long after said weaknesses had been exposed. Both were, in their own way, "names"--guys who seemed suited for their jobs more on reputation than ability.

Worthy contenders, but I think the nod goes to K-Rod. Let us count the ways, shall we?

In 2008, Frankie Rodriguez set the new single-season saves record. To some fans and other people who believe in saves, this meant a great deal. For baseball people--you know, the kind of people who run baseball teams?--this should have meant little, especially when coupled with K-Rod's clearly diminishing velocity, and the questionable value of a closer to begin with. In a game that is so hidebound and married to tradition, never has a myth taken hold so quickly that the last three outs of a game are a sacred thing that only those magical creatures dubbed Closers can handle, regardless of the batters who represent those last three outs.

It was a typical Minaya move to not only believe in this voodoo, but to grossly overpay for it. Because while K-Rod was setting this record, the Mets were missing out on a playoff spot by one game yet again, and the post-Billy-Wagner-injury bullpen was seen as the main culprit. Relief pitching was undoubtedly a major factor, but that begs the question why it was not ably addressed during the season instead of throwing Luis Ayala to the lions every night. Regardless, the offseason brought angry WFAN calls about how the Mets HAD to get a big-time closer. The pursuit of K-Rod was clearly motivated as much by fan unrest as it was by the team's needs, which is not a great way to build a ballclub. There are many aspects to running a sports team in which the wants and desires of fans should be considered. Roster construction is not one.

Even so, the signing of K-Rod in and of itself was not terrible or even very Minaya-ish. Frankie was a proven commodity in the arbitrary field of closing, and with Wagner lost to the knife of Dr. James Andrews, the Mets had an opening at the position. Where things got really Minaya'ed is in the contract.

Once he became a free agent, K-Rod made noise about wanting a five-year, $75 million deal. What Minaya should have done is look around, seen how many other teams were in the market for a closer and could afford him (zero, after the Angels quickly abandoned their efforts to keep him), and offered K-Rod a sane contract. What Minaya did is give him a deal that could have been penned by the Marquis de Sade. It was a four-year deal masquerading as a three-year deal, containing an easily obtainable fourth-year option that could only be avoided by severe injury or Apocalypse.

On top of all this, the K-Rod signing displayed Minaya regime's total disregard for the value of draft picks. By signing K-Rod, a type-A free agent, the Mets lost their first round draft pick in 2009. That was bad enough, but K-Rod's presence on the roster made him trade Billy Wagner to the Red Sox once he rebounded from Tommy John surgery in August of 2009. Minaya could have hung on to Wagner and recouped a compensation and a sandwich pick when he inevitably signed elsewhere (assuming he rejected arbitration, which he surely would have). Instead, Minaya opted for a few months of salary relief that was minimal at best, plus Chris "The Animal" Carter. So in essence, K-Rod's acquisition was responsible for the loss of three draft picks.

Conversely, the trade of K-Rod to Milwaukee might be the most Sandy Alderson move of his young regime. First of all, he managed an extremely delicate situation (fear of K-Rod's option vesting vs. the wrath of the players' union) adroitly. Of perhaps he simply told Terry Collins "Do what you gotta do," confident he'd figure something out. In either case, it's hard to imagine Minaya being able to do the same.

Secondly, Alderson pounced when K-Rod changed agents. Literally within hours of Scott Boras making waves about how K-Rod HAD to be a closer, Alderson pulled the trigger on the trade. The previous GM seemed mesmerized by the mere mention of Boras's name. Not so with Sandy.

He also took advantage of a team in Win Now mode, as the Mets were so often taken advantage of in similar circumstances. The Brewers are playing all in this season, emptying the farm system for Zack Greinke and Shawn Marcum, and knowing this could be their last year of Prince Fielder. Alderson realized he could get such a team to take the risk of allowing K-Rod's option to vest, because if he helps them win it all, hey, tragedy tomorrow, comedy tonight. Minaya was, more often than not, on the losing end of such propositions.

The difference K-Rod makes on a team like this year's Mets is minimal. In pure on-the-field terms, he is not the person who will put this team over the top, if such a thing as possible. In salary terms, he could cripple the team next season and dash any hope they have of resigning Jose Reyes. Recognizing all of this, Alderson clearly decided it was worth it to himself of K-Rod by any means necessary, including eating salary and getting little of value in return, in order to save the Mets' future. And he did so while not caring that this would cause many fans (and reporters who should really know better) to think the Mets are "backing up the truck." If his actions at the 2009 and 2010 deadlines are any indication, Omar would have been terrified to do this.

But perhaps the most Alderson aspect of the whole thing is that it happened without a whisper of a ghost of a rumor hitting the press. There were virtually no indications whatsoever that a deal involving K-Rod was imminent. I did not suspect anything until seeing a few tweets from SNY folks moments after the All Star Game ended. With no leaks, there was no chance for people on either side of the deal to receive flak from the press and get cold feet. Contrast that with Minaya, who telegraphed every one of his moves to the media, usually to his detriment.

Frankie Rodriguez owns the unique distinction of arriving in Queens in the most Omar way possible and departing in the most Sandy way possible. Perhaps he is owed some kind of commemorative plaque for this. Thank goodness we'll have to send it to Milwaukee.