Omar Minaya: Myth vs. Reality

Does Omar Minaya deserve all the blame for the Mets current rebuilding? Does he deserve any credit for anything in this process that can be described as positive?

In a recent Q&A over at the Mets’ official blog, Matt Cerrone said the following:

It’s worth noting that Minaya kept David Wright and Jose Reyes, despite several opportunities to trade them. He is also responsible for drafting Harvey, Dillon Gee, Ike Davis, Lucas Duda, Jon Niese, Ruben Tejada, Juan Lagares, Bobby Parnell, Daniel Murphy and Josh Satin, as well as acquiring minor leaguers Jeurys Familia, Jenrry Mejia, Wilmer Flores, Cesar Puello, Jacob deGrom, Josh Edgin, Steven Matz, Jeff Walters and Kirk Nieuwenhuis.

Minaya spent wildly and created a concentration in payroll that tipped the franchise over when people got hurt or turned unproductive. That said, Mets fans got a few pennant races (some falling one game short), an NLCS, Harvey and some pretty good memories. It wasn’t a total waste by any stretch of the imagination.

That said, he left the big-league roster in shambles. Alderson was tasked with the monumental effort of sifting through and building up the farm, while restructuring future payrolls, which has made for a really long five years.

Let’s examine each of the above points. But first, let me make clear that I’m not beating up on Matt here — he’s echoing the sentiments that have been stated and published by the majority of Mets beat writers and bloggers through various outlets, social media channels, on TV, and on sports talk radio. And it’s about time we look at these myths, before we get too far away from when they happened, and further warp reality.

First:

It’s worth noting that Minaya kept David Wright and Jose Reyes, despite several opportunities to trade them. He is also responsible for drafting Harvey, Dillon Gee, Ike Davis, Lucas Duda, Jon Niese, Ruben Tejada, Juan Lagares, Bobby Parnell, Daniel Murphy and Josh Satin, as well as acquiring minor leaguers Jeurys Familia, Jenrry Mejia, Wilmer Flores, Cesar Puello, Jacob deGrom, Josh Edgin, Steven Matz, Jeff Walters and Kirk Nieuwenhuis.

Well done, Matt. It’s amazing how many Mets pundits take every opportunity to bash Omar Minaya, while completely ignoring the fact that it was Minaya who locked up D-Wright and Reyes through their arbitration years, it was Minaya who drafted Harvey, Niese, Murphy, Parnell, and many others, and, if not for Minaya, Alderson would not have the chips to trade for Travis d’Arnaud, Noah Syndergaard, and Zack Wheeler, among others.

Second:

Minaya spent wildly and created a concentration in payroll that tipped the franchise over when people got hurt or turned unproductive. That said, Mets fans got a few pennant races (some falling one game short), an NLCS, Harvey and some pretty good memories. It wasn’t a total waste by any stretch of the imagination.

Not quite right. Minaya spent what Jeff and Fred Wilpon gave him to spend. In some cases, Minaya was INSTRUCTED by Jeff to spend on specific free agents — Jason Bay is a prime example. Further, what was Minaya supposed to do? As is the complaint now, Minaya came into a situation where the Mets had a very minor league organization — one that didn’t have many MLB-ready assets. Minaya did what he could to start the process of building a productive farm system, leveraging his contacts, knowledge, and salesmanship to acquire young talent in Latin America. He also took gambles on high-reward amateurs in the draft, such as Mike Pelfrey. Sure, hindsight is 20/20, and you can say what you want about Pelfrey today. But when Pelfrey finished his Wichita State career, he was hands-down, the #1 pitching prospect in America, as well as the most polished — he fell down to the Mets pick because Scott Boras was his agent and was expected to demand a king’s ransom to sign. Minaya drafted him, signed him, and had him in the bigs within a year and a half. Considering that the Mets were on the fast-track, it was the right move at the right time — a no-brainer, since the one thing the Mets had that other teams didn’t, was cash.

Did Minaya really “spend wildly”? He spent plenty, to be sure — because again, that was what the Mets had as an advantage over other teams. He had no trade chips in the upper minors, but he did have cash, and he used it to sign players to fill holes at the MLB level that the farm system wasn’t able to produce quickly enough. And looking at Minaya’s record of signings, it really wasn’t all that bad — it was pretty good, overall. Everyone loves to point out the stupidity of the Mets bidding against themselves for Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo, but selectively forget the brilliance of picking up R.A. Dickey, Jose Valentin, Fernando Tatis, Damion Easley, Chad Bradford, Darren Oliver, and Pedro Feliciano (among others) from the scrap heap. In terms of on-field performance, the Pedro Martinez signing wasn’t great, but there’s no denying that it was more of a symbol of the Mets’ intent to win, and it led to the team’s ability to also sign Carlos Beltran and a host of other players (both MLBers and amateurs).

Minaya also spent on significant free agents who produced as expected, such as Moises Alou, Billy Wagner, and Francisco Rodriguez, and he — along with the Wilpons — was part of the decision to hand over a big chunk of money to Johan Santana. At the time, how many people were against the idea of acquiring Santana and giving him that huge contract? It’s amazing to me how many people also selectively forget that when Minaya was “spending wildly,” the Mets were a perennial playoff contender with deep pockets. Should they have held back on spending for what appeared at the time to be the “final piece”? There’s no doubt that the spending didn’t make sense after the 2009 season, but prior? Let’s just say that hindsight is 20/20.

Third:

Which brings me to the other half of that first statement — “Minaya spent wildly and created a concentration in payroll that tipped the franchise over when people got hurt or turned unproductive..

NO. NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO. Can I say it any louder in a blog? This is easily the most overused line of bovine feces in Metsville. The Mets didn’t fall apart because the Oliver Perez, Luis Castillo, and Jason Bay contracts were busts — the franchise “tipped over” because Bernie Madoff’s pyramid scheme tipped over. You can’t tell me that the Mets suffered through any bad luck / bad decisions that was more debilitating than nearly every other team in baseball that took risks. The San Francisco Giants were able to get to the World Series in spite of enormous free-agent busts such as Aaron Rowand and Barry Zito; that the Angels were able to win while suffering through expensive mistakes like Gary Matthews, Jr.; and the Red Sox made annual playoff runs despite having big chunks of payroll dedicated to under-performing or injured players such as John Lackey, Jason Varitek, J.D. Drew, and Daisuke Matsuzaka. As a team based in New York, the Mets should have had the financial wherewithal to weather the occasional storms, and spend through the mistakes. And they would have, if their “investments” were more stable than a deck of cards. In 2008, the last year the Mets played at Shea Stadium, attendance was over 4 million and SNY was in its third broadcast season. You’re telling me that a few bad contracts are what crippled the franchise? No way. The Madoff money tree had fallen over, and the owners had put a shit-ton of debt into Fred Wilpon’s 21st-century version of Ebbets Field. The contracts of Bay, Santana, Perez, and Castillo were a pimple on the butt of those two financial catastrophes.

Fourth:

Mets fans got a few pennant races (some falling one game short), an NLCS, Harvey and some pretty good memories. It wasn’t a total waste by any stretch of the imagination.

Yes, Mets fans did get a few pennant races. More than they’ve experienced in the past four years. Also a few more than they experienced between 2001 and 2004 — the four years previous to Minaya’s regime. Despite being handed what was similarly seen as a barren farm system, and a roster that was filled with over-priced, under performing veterans, Minaya’s 2005 club went 83-79. The 2006 club went to the final game of the NLCS, and the team finished in second in both 2007 and 2008. We can all agree that the September collapses of ’07 and ’08 were heartbreaking, and that ’09 and ’10 were terrible years from start to finish. Overall, though, the Mets won more than they lost from 2005 to 2010 (40 games over .500, in fact — a 506-466 record), made the playoffs once, and played “meaningful games in September” in four of those six years. In contrast, through the past three years since Minaya exited, the Mets have a record of 225-261 (36 games below .500), and have not been close to being a postseason contender. But, the Sandy Alderson regime is only halfway through, so it’s not fair to compare just yet. Rather, my point is that the Minaya era wasn’t as awful as some people would like you to believe.

Fifth:

And now, the final part of the diatribe:

That said, he left the big-league roster in shambles. Alderson was tasked with the monumental effort of sifting through and building up the farm, while restructuring future payrolls, which has made for a really long five years.

A shambles? Was three years really so long ago that we’ve forgotten how close the Mets were to being relevant?

When Sandy Alderson took over as GM of the Mets, the roster included cornerstones David Wright and Jose Reyes, as well as Angel Pagan coming off a career year. It also had a 23-year-old Ike Davis coming off a very strong rookie season — one that suggested future stardom. I know how everyone is down on Ike now, but let’s not let selective memory change the way everyone felt about Ike Davis at the end of 2010 — he was a stud.

Another 23-year-old on that 25-man roster was Jonathon Niese, who didn’t have quite as big a splash as Davis that year, but who appeared to be an “up and comer.” Wouldn’t you love to have a 23-year-old Niese right now?

Also on that pitching staff was Mike Pelfrey coming off a career year — 15 wins, 3.66 ERA, and a period of first-half dominance that was similar to what we saw of Matt Harvey last year. But again, hindsight is 20/20, and it’s easy to forget just how good “Big Pelf” was from April to July of 2010, and many were thinking that he’d finally “figured it out.” Next to Pelfrey in the rotation was Johan Santana, who made 29 starts, threw 199 innings, posted a 2.98 ERA and 1.17 WHIP, and had not yet suffered his shoulder tear. It was clear that he was no longer a Cy Young candidate, but he was a solid #2. And then there was the miracle emergence of R.A. Dickey, who Minaya pulled from bottom of the barrel — his 10 wins and 2.84 ERA that year were the makings of a Disney movie, and as it turned out, he was only scratching the surface of what was to come. In the bullpen, there was the despicable Francisco Rodriguez. We all hated how he ended the 2010 season by punching his father-in-law, but looking purely at his performance, he was still one of the elite closers in the game — 25 saves in 30 opportunities, 2.20 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 0.5 HR/9 IP, 10.5 K/9. Also in the ‘pen were Manny Acosta, Hisanori Takashi, and Elmer Dessens all coming off of remarkable career years. Finally, there were encouraging cups of coffee from Dillon Gee and Jennry Mejia, and Daniel Murphy had spent the entire year on the DL.

So was the roster really in “shambles” when Alderson took over? Far from it. I’d argue that it had more solid pieces in place than the current one.

And as for the “monumental effort of sifting through and building up the farm,” I again wonder if this is more about selective memory than anything else — and it’s a point we’ve seen in many other places, by many other people, and I don’t get it. I don’t see the current Mets minor league system being remarkably better than it was during Minaya’s time, and I don’t understand why Minaya gets so much heat for what was, and continues to be, a mediocre to average organization. For those who can remember where the Mets were in the winter between 2004 and 2005, allow me to quote Baseball America, in J.J. Cooper’s report on the Mets’ top ten prospects, December 30, 2004:

… Rather than wait for some of its best prospects — lefthander Scott Kazmir, righty Matt Peterson and catcher Justin Huber — to mature and join David Wright and Jose Reyes in the majors, New York dealt them away to make a playoff run.

Before the season began, owner Fred Wilpon proclaimed he wouldn’t trade away the team’s future. Four months later, the Mets did exactly that. They gutted their minor league depth for no short-term benefit. They also overpaid Benson (three years, $22.5 million) on the free-agent market rather than face the stigma of dealing away prospects for a rental.

There still was plenty of embarrassment. As the industry wondered why the Mets would trade Kazmir to get Zambrano, the club offered a variety of excuses. One was that Kazmir wasn’t nearly ready to contribute at the major league level. But then he looked like a future ace at times after the Devil Rays called him up in late August.

Worse, the Mets’ front office turned out to be in chaos, with members jockeying to get the ear of Wilpon’s son Jeff, the club’s chief operating officer, and undermining general manager Jim Duquette. After the season, the Mets hired Expos GM Omar Minaya for the same role in New York, where he previously had been a senior assistant GM.

The two best prospects the Mets had when Minaya took over were a 19-year-old Lastings Milledge, and a recently drafted but still-unsigned Philip Humber. Most of the “prospects” identified in the Mets system were at the very low levels of the minors — people like Ambiorix Concepcion, Yusmeiro Petit, Ian Bladergoen, Gaby Hernandez, and Jesus Flores (who I’m sure someone will remember was stolen by the Nationals after hitting 21 HRs as a 21-year-old in A ball in 2006). Sound familiar?

Since the system was barren, Omar Minaya tried like heck to create MLB-ready prospects as quickly as he could, whether it was pushing youngsters like Carlos Gomez, Milledge, and Fernando Martinez to levels they might not have been quite ready for, or drafting advanced college players such as Pelfrey, Joe Smith, and Ike Davis. At the same time, and mentioned earlier in this long-winded post, Minaya was aggressive in signing teenagers from Latin America. F-Mart, Gomez, Jeurys Familia, Jenrry Mejia, Ruben Tejada, Jordany Valdespin, Elvin Ramirez, Juan Lagares, Wilmer Flores, Cesar Puello, Gonzalez Germen, Wilfredo Tovar, and Francisco Pena are just some of the signings that came under Minaya’s watch. They’re not all great players, but all other than Puello have played in MLB. Similarly, Minaya’s drafts may not have produced too many superstars beyond Matt Harvey, but they did result in a decent number of Major Leaguers. Again, my point is not to compare what Minaya did in six years and what’s been done in half that time by the Alderson regime. Rather, before being so quick to pooh-pooh Minaya’s time as Mets GM, first consider the circumstances in which he entered; the decisions made based on the Mets’ place in the standings and their perceived wealth; and the fact that he absolutely, positively, left the franchise in a better position than it was when he found it. Those who believe otherwise clearly don’t remember how far, and how fast, the franchise sunk from that dark period between the 2000 World Series and that day in September 2004 that Art Howe‘s smile no longer lit up a room.

Bottom line: I’m tired of revisionist history, and frightened of a society where if enough people re-quote a popular opinion repeatedly over time, it becomes reality. Fact-checking is a lost art, for example. Memories are short and not always reliable, which our saber-minded friends remind us regularly. This is baseball, and relatively innocuous in the grand scheme of things — but I’m seeing it elsewhere, thanks to the miracle of the internet. In any case, it was time to set the record straight.

OK, that’s over 2700 words from me. How about a few hundred in response? Blast away in the comments.

Mets Item of the Day

Since we’re talking about the past, I think the New York Mets 50th Anniversary Collector’s DVD set, is fitting. Follow the link or click on the below image to purchase from Amazon.

mets-dvd-50-set

13-14 Offseason

About the Author

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.

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