Omar’s Next Move

The signing that seemingly came out of nowhere — for Scott “The Show” Schoeneweis — is likely more of a stepping stone than a final piece of the puzzle.

Last year at this time, the Jae Seo deal was one week old, Kris Benson was still on the roster, and the Mets were about to announce that they finally came to terms with first-round draft pick Mike Pelfrey. In other words, Omar Minaya was just getting warmed up.

This is the down and dirty time for Omar.

After seeing Seo shipped off to the Left Coast , Mets fans were ready to rip Omar’s head off. What was he doing, sending away a young, up-and-coming starter in return for a couple of unknown relievers? The deal seemed to solidify the idea of Kris Benson remaining the #3 starter, despite his wife’s Santa costume. There had been speculation that Benson would be the one to go, and the Mets would count on their youthful arms — Seo and Aaron Heilman — to fill out the rotation. Sending away Seo also meant that Victor Zambrano was more or less guaranteed a rotation spot — an even worse thought.

This year, Omar is a little off schedule, but nonetheless is still on course to make some moves that may significantly alter spring training. Compare the Schoeneweis signing to the pickup of Chad Bradford, which occurred right at the end of December 2005. We didn’t realize it at the time, but the Bradford deal — coupled with the equally “minor” signings of Pedro Feliciano, Jose Parra, and Darren Oliver the week before — was the catalyst for the Seo and Benson deals. By getting Bradford and the others, Omar had depth in the pen, creating flexibility.

Bradford provided the insurance against the Duaner Sanchez acquisition that was about to take place. The Mets knew Sanchez had great talent, and would someday be a fine setup reliever or possibly closer. He might be ready to slide into the setup role Heilman would vacate, if Heilman won the #5 starter job. In case Heilman did make the move, and Sanchez wasn’t ready to shut the door every 8th inning, the Mets now had Bradford — who despite coming off a so-so season, had plenty of experience getting out the tougher batters of the American League, and was highly recommended by Rick Peterson. Getting Bradford meant the Mets could seriously consider moving Heilman to the rotation, and therefore made Seo expendable.

With Seo’s departure — and the arrival of Sanchez — the Mets still had six starters for five spots in the rotation: Pedro, Glavine, Benson, Trachsel, Zambrano, and Heilman. The Mets and Orioles had been chatting up a Benson-for-Jorge Julio deal for months — long before the notorious Christmas party. But the deal didn’t happen for two reasons: first, the Mets wanted more than just Jorge Julio in return, and second, the Mets needed to add more depth to the bullpen before moving Heilman into the rotation. They liked Julio, but knew he was a project and might not be ready for the stress of 8th innings for a New York team. After acquiring Parra, Feliciano, Bradford, and Sanchez, and thinking that Juan Padilla would be back, the Mets were now comfortable shifting Heilman and trading Benson — if the O’s would include another young arm who could compete with Heilman and Darren Oliver for the fifth spot.

Of course, that arm turned out to be John Maine, and a year ago the deal made no sense to anyone. Why give up a solid #3 starter for a failed prospect and a ticking bomb like Julio? It was all part of the grand plan.

Looking back, things didn’t quite turn out the way Omar planned. Most noticeably, Heilman never made it into the rotation. Neither did Oliver. In fact, Maine was in AAA for half the year, coming back from an injury. It was Brian Bannister who came out of nowhere to fill in the peg that was earmarked for Heilman, and in the end the Mets had one of the deepest and strongest bullpens in the NL.

Based on the flurry of events from the end of December 2005 to January 21, 2006, I’m guessing that Omar’s signing of Scott Schoeneweis is a prelude and catalyst to a shrewd deal or two — it’s the calm before the storm.

Maybe Lastings Milledge is finally going to be packaged with an arm (Heilman?) for someone big. Remember last year the Benson rumors began in November, before coming to fruition in late January. So perhaps Jake Peavy will soon be a Met, or Alex Rios, or one of the Haren – Harden – Blanton triumvirate. We’ve been waiting for Omar to make a move all winter, and it seems like he’s been sitting on his hands. In reality, he’s been a duck on a pond — you see the duck effortlessly gliding across the water, but you don’t see the feverish kicking of his legs underneath.

In my opinion, the Barry Zito signing was not as big a deal to Omar Minaya as it was to Mets fans, because Zito was “Plan C” on Omar’s list. I think his real #1 target — based on the amount of money the Mets were willing to commit — was Daisuke Matsuzaka, and failing at that, was figuring to get Kei Igawa. This is why Omar is “behind schedule” — he’d hoped to have at least one of the Japanese imports by now, and was only interested in Zito on his terms. Playing the waiting game with Zito would have worked, too, if it had not been for the insanity pill Scott Boras slipped into Peter Magowan’s drink one night. As it is, he’s missed out on all three, but the legs have been moving underwater the entire time — so he’s still only about a week or two behind last year’s plan.

Watch and wait patiently … Omar’s biggest move is coming soon.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.