Omar Minaya’s Backward Plan

For several years, many pundits (including myself) have criticized Omar Minaya for his lack of a “Plan B”, or “backup plan”.

It turns out that we simply didn’t understand Minaya’s genius. He never had a “backup plan” because from the beginning he’s been working with a “backward plan”.

Huh?

We have to go back far in time to explain — specifically, to June 12, 2003, when Steve Phillips was fired.

It was on that day that Jeff and Fred Wilpon announced a new direction for the organization. From The New York Times:

Mets fans are shouting hallelujah. If they’re not, they should be.

Wilpon made the call he should have made two years ago.

This ship has been off course for three seasons, not because of a lack of resources, but because of a lack of judgment. The Mets began the year with a payroll of about $120 million, which is second only to the Yankees’ roughly $180 million. They have nothing to show for it but a clubhouse of aging stars with big names, big contracts and big injuries. It’s all Steve Phillips’s fault.

He sold Wilpon on the notion that you had to win with big names in New York, that the fans weren’t patient enough to wait for rebuilding, that you had to do it now. Forget the farm system.

But Wilpon apparently came to the conclusion that the Mets’ salvation was not exclusively found in high-priced stars. Yesterday, he made an intriguing observation. He said he knows now that a hefty payroll does not ensure success. ”We’ve learned that painfully.”

More than once yesterday he said, ”We’re going to get younger and more athletic.”

And from ESPN (link is dead):

Wilpon said all the money he’s spent on the team doesn’t ensure success. “We’ve learned that painfully,” he said.

The Mets (28-35) got off to a bad start and never recovered, hurt by injuries and inconsistent play by their stars.

“This has been a very disappointing season,” Wilpon said. “We will attempt to energize the team … by getting younger and more athletic.”

Sounds vaguely familiar, doesn’t it?

This “younger and more athletic” became a mantra when Jim Duquette took over for Phillips, and remained “the plan” when Omar Minaya was hired after the 2004 season. The Wilpons made it very clear in that Minaya was chosen because of his ability as a “talent evaluator” – pointing specifically to his discovery of Sammy Sosa and development of Juan Gonzalez. As a result of his being hired, everyone expected the Mets to “build from within” and create an organization that would constantly supply top-notch prospects. It might take some time, but the Mets were going to finally do the right thing.

Minaya immediately made moves that reflected that philosophy, starting with the hiring of Willie Randolph as manager. Randolph was hired partially — if not mainly — because he was seen as a valuable tutor to Derek Jeter, Alfonso Soriano, and other Yankees youngsters who turned into stars. Randolph’s lack of managerial experience was not an issue, because his greater value would be in developing all the youngsters that the farm system would be sending to the big club. There would be flocks of energetic, youthful, and athletic players coming up — much like the Mets of the 1980s — because Minaya’s next moves were in overhauling the scouting staff, from the directors all the way down to the part-time area scouts. And the team would not only be finding the best young talent in America, but they’d also be aggressive in Latin America.

Suddenly, though, the plan changed. Less than 90 days after all that talk about talent evaluation and building from within with youth, Minaya signed the aging superstar Pedro Martinez to a 4-year, $53M deal. It was spun as a way to “legitimize” the Mets, to show the world that they were “serious about winning”, and that Pedro’s presence would influence talented Latin American youths to sign with the Mets as well. Less than a month after the Pedro signing, Omar opened up the Wilpons’ wallet again and granted Carlos Beltran an outrageous 7-year, $119M deal. Immediately thereafter, Minaya went hard after Carlos Delgado — so hard that Delgado was turned off and signed with the Marlins. How exactly was this “building from within”?

Wallace Matthews summed it up thusly: http://www.nysun.com/sports/mets-finally-learn-how-to-play-the-money-game/7601/

With the signing in December of Pedro Martinez, and this week’s signing of Beltran, that portion of Mets history concerned with the development and display of a home-grown baseball team appears to be over.

Now, the strategy is to handle problems the way the Yankees always have, by throwing money at them.

So here we are, almost six years after Minaya was hired, and the Mets are now — right now — committed playing home-grown, energetic, and athletic youngsters such as Ruben Tejada, Josh Thole, Ike Davis, and Fernando Martinez.

While some GMs start the rebuilding process at the beginning of their helm (Bobby Cox, Pat Gillick, Frank Cashen to name a few), and then add the high-priced free agents after the organization has turned around and is on the verge of winning, Minaya has chosen to do the opposite — he spent the big bucks right away, then turned toward youth toward the end of his tenure.

In other words, a backward plan.

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.
  1. Andy August 9, 2010 at 1:42 pm
    I’m not sure I agree that Beltran’s deal was “outrageous”. Through 2008 at least his performance was worth the cost. But you’re right it was a waste given the overall results for the team and the general top-heaviness of the Mets roster.
    • Nick August 9, 2010 at 1:58 pm
      Precisely what I was thinking. Outrageous is probably overdoing it for a player who had a pretty good four years with us.
      But great post cuz it does seem like deja vu all over again. Still, how many people (it couldn’t of just been me) who waved their Mets banners strong and proud even after the bitter defeat in 2006, about an organization that seemed to be on the right track. Solid farm system that spit out two superstars (or near superstars). Solid free agent signings, pedro and beltran. Great bullpen. Overachieving starters picked up in some crafty trades.
      I don’t know what you were saying back then Joe, but I hope people don’t forget what a blessing Omar Minaya was when he first got here. I’m sorry its come to this, but even though it’s time to reboot again, let’s not act like Minaya was another Philips disaster, at least Minaya gave us a run for one year and hope for many more.
      • Joe Janish August 9, 2010 at 2:59 pm
        Nick, what the heck are you talking about re: Phillips and the farm system?

        The two superstars you refer to, I assume, are Wright and Reyes? If so they were drafted/signed during the Phillips era — Omar gets ZERO credit for that.

        And you think “one good run” — which fell short of an NL pennant — is better than Phillips’ zenith of reaching the World Series?

        Phillips’ farm system actually produced far more legit MLBers — several of whom Minaya traded away within the first two years of his hiring (Angel Pagan was one of them!).

        In six years under Minaya, the Mets farm system has gone BACKWARD since “the Phillips disaster”.

        I’m not saying Steve Phillips was some kind of genius — only pointing out that Minaya hasn’t done much better, at all.

        • metsie August 9, 2010 at 3:58 pm
          Hey Joe,
          Maybe you should look at History of the team before you try to use it to justify your comments…

          Who was the guy in charge of scouting during Phillips tenure here?

          Answer: Omar Minaya! That is until he went to the Expos to be the GM where he developed a ton of talent he couldn’t keep because MLB controlled the pursestrings of that team and he could not resign them so traded them!

          The only real knock you can make on Minaya is he has made some truly awful trades. Got rid of some great young players with the expos for crap and only because the crap was affordable under the system he was working under. And neither Phillips or his replacement was any better at that (Can you say Kazmir?)

          As for guys like Wright and Reyes while Phillips was the GM, Minaya was the guy who was in charge of scouting and finding those guys.

          He is good at finding Talent you have to give him that. You can say he is bad judgement of managers and coaches. You can knock him for not being able to make the good trade deal. You can even criticize him for overvaluing what he has and undervaluing what others have but you can’t fault the guy for finding talent.

          Personally I think the hitting problems of the current team stems from the coaching at the minor league level! With all the youth we have up here now the knock on all of them is their bats! If we are to promote Wally I suggest we start him off at AAA and see if he can’t get the youth to hit! Then maybe we won’t have to go buy guys like Bay and play guys like Beltran when they are clearly not ready.

        • Joe Janish August 9, 2010 at 6:18 pm
          Hey Metsie, I think you have things a little confused. For example, it is you who needs to “look at the team’s history”, because Omar Minaya was not the Mets scouting director when Jose Reyes and David Wright were brought on board (if ever). Gary Larocque was scouting director from 1998 to 2003. Larocque and Jack Bowen were the men in charge of finding amateur talent from the mid- to late-1990s, and Eddie Toledo was their “superscout” in Latin America until Minaya took over as GM and reassigned or let go all three of them.

          It was Larocque / Bowen / Toledo who found Reyes, Wright, Carlos Gomez, Scott Kazmir, Aaron Heilman, Angel Pagan, Ty Wigginton, Matt Lindstrom, Heath Bell, Brian Bannister, Lastings Milledge, and a number of other players who made it to the bigs and still producing at the MLB level.

          The interesting thing is that those players weren’t even enough to prevent the Mets from being constantly brown-beaten by the pundits for having a shallow farm system and poor scouting — and that was BEFORE Minaya took over and cleaned house. Six years later, the organization is in the same place it was the day he took over — though many would argue it’s in even worse shape now.

          As for MInaya’s purported ability as a “talent evaluator”, his two claims to fame were PEDheads — Sammy Sosa and Juan Gonzalez. And he’s also the Mets GM who traded away Heath Bell, Jason Vargas, and Matt Lindstrom, among others, and while a GM of the Expos, traded away Brandon Phillips, Cliff Lee, Grady Sizemore, Jason Bay, Carl Pavano, and Chris Young. I understand missing here and there on youngsters, but that’s a lot of mis-evaluated talent from this perspective.

          But hey, one day Jon Niese is going to win a Cy Young, Bobby Parnell will be a lights-out closer, F-Mart will be an HOFer, and Dan Murphy will win a batting crown, and Omar will look like a genius again.

    • Joe Janish August 9, 2010 at 2:53 pm
      7 years and $119M is not outrageous? I’ll have to talk to my boss about that.

      Seriously though, Beltran has been a very good all-around player. When he was healthy, he was probably the best CF in MLB.

      At the time he signed the contract, he was one of the top 5 highest-paid players in MLB. You think he was worth that?

      I guess it’s subjective. Me, I don’t see Beltran at a pay rate similar to A-Rod, Pujols, Manny, Bonds. To me he is a slight notch below that level.

      • Nick August 9, 2010 at 4:17 pm
        Yeah, I think that’s what we meant when we didn’t like the word outrageous. It was a high price but for a really good player who just so happened to have flaws, like health concerns late in the contract, plus lack of leadership ability. I’ll never forget how he thought he could sound off the fans and not take curtain calls and get away with it. haha

        I guess my memory is foggy and I was only a teenager back in Philip’s era, so I’ll concede to you (a far wiser source on the matter). But my point remains, at the time of ’05 and ’06, the Mets were the cream of the National Leauge (specifically ’06) and Omar seemed to not be able to make a wrong move. I don’t like how people are wiping away the good feelings from that time in our history, maybe they’re bitter because our team sucks now….

  2. NormE August 9, 2010 at 4:58 pm
    There comes a time when a new pair of eyes and a mind not
    tied to the past is needed to revitalize an organization. This
    can be done as long as the Wilpons are receptive and their
    budget will allow it.
    Ownership has to realize that the real competition is not the Braves or the Phillies or other NL clubs. The real competition for the hearts, minds and wallets of the fans is
    in the Bronx.
    The Mets once owned NYC (1980′s).
  3. Rich Morey August 9, 2010 at 7:39 pm
    As a long time Mets fan I like that the Mets brought up Ike Davis and Fernandez in left, etc. I’d like the Mets to continue to move in that direction. Get rid of Beltran, Perez, Castillio, etc. any way they can and STOP trying to compete with the Yankees for the headlines. The teams of the mid 80′s had all those home grown guys and I loved that team. I want to root for a team of METS not a team of high priced free agents!
  4. A different Nick August 9, 2010 at 10:25 pm
    Other Nick;

    While yes, the Mets form 2005-8 were very good teams, they still generally involved an excellent core and questionable complementary players. Omar’s answers, aside from the first couple of months, have been Shawn Green, Luis Castillo, Moises Alou, Jose Valentin, Glavine, –you see where I’m going with this.

    Basically the difference between the 2006 team and the later two were better years from the peak players and an amazing bullpen (which is of course subject to heavy variation). The point of the article is that he hasn’t shown any ability to build a robust organization, and the fact that he’s wasted peak years of Reyes, Wright, and even Beltran (and now Santana too) by surrounding them with expensive, declining players, is why he needs to go. And I couldn’t agree more.

    • Rich Morey August 10, 2010 at 10:53 am
      Good point about tasting peak years of guys like Reyes, Wright, etc. I think the Mets always thought they were “one piece” away from a World Series win – first they got Santana, that wasn’t it, then they got K-Rod, that wasn’t it, etc. etc. They really need to blow up the team and build a solid young team and then add a few pieces where needed.
    • Nick August 10, 2010 at 11:08 am
      I guess you guys are right. When you think about it, it was really an overachieving rotation (Maine, Perez, et al) and a superb bullpen, with an offense that was firing on all cylinders, that did it in ’06. The overall construction as evidenced by the preceding year (2005) and the years after, proves that this wasn’t a well built team at all. Minaya charmed me thats all, I really wanted to believe we could have a professional organization in Flushing so that we’re not forced to watch America’s All Stars in the Bronx…. Shame on me… =P
  5. Mic August 10, 2010 at 7:07 pm
    ????

    1. Steve Phillips was fired after he became a Las vegas gambler who had hustled his last favor. He fleeced the Marlins everytime they had a fire sale and that was it. In doing so he decimated the farm completely and utterly to the point it is only just recovering.

    2. Duquette alas was also Wilponed. He was told of a ‘rebuilding plan’ with Kazmir, Millz, Reyes and Wright. brought in Matsui Cliffy and Looper as cut price -mid tier FA…But the Wilpons saw playoffs and bye-bye went Kazmir. …sidenote the other trade that day is getting press too….suppose Pitt renigged and we were stuck with JOSE BAUTISTA.

    3. Omar’s plan was to make the Mets relevant again. And he did. BUT- if I fault him it is because he is too cautious….Yes heath bell (for?) went,…but Parnall stayed (rumored for Street?). I think things could have been different if he HAD gone for it and gotten Street or Ibanez when were were in the race(s).

    4. But now the Mets ARE rebuilding/re-tooling and taking the lumps. But I think Omar is missing some good oppurtunities and relying too much on the farm. GMs are ALL smart now. To get you have to give. To get a salary dump you have to take on $$$.

    5. The bottom line is named Wilpon. He could have blessed a ‘Carlos Zambrano trade’ if it meant extra $$$ but i think the Mets/Omar are constrained.