June 13, 2008

In Defense of Omar...

By David Rubin

There have been a number of cases made against Mets' GM, Omar Minaya lately; three of the most interesting and accurate have come from, ironically enough, three of my favorite baseball writers - Adam Rubin, Joel Sherman and Bob Klapisch.

First, we'll offer some salient points from each writer, followed by my thoughts in defense of Omar. And don't jump down my throat for being such a "homer" for Omar- please read through my thought process first, and then, if you still think I'm an "Omar-Homer" then by all means, let it fly.

From Rubin (all in italics): (NY Daily News, and no relation, I think!)

You are watching the painfully slow demise of The New Mets, the vision Omar Minaya articulated four years ago but built as a house of cards.

Omar took a team that was baren of talent and turned them around in short order. He was tasked with turning the team around immediately, which is what he certainly did, and if not for one game, the team would have been in the World Series in 2006- this was the player's fault, not Omar's.

He built a team that last year was up by 7.5 games, with 17 to play, and they couldn't get it done- again, beyond what anyone could have comprehended and again, not Omar's fault. It may look like a "house of cards" right now, but if Omar is able to pull off another trade before the deadline, and promote at least one minor leaguer to the bigs, all of a sudden he's bought himself some more time and it will look less like a "house of cards."

I can't deny how it looks right now, because I am at least as frustrated with things as anyone else is -possibly moreso, having to write about this as a hobby, without even being paid for it!!

From Rubin:
Minaya used to espouse the idea of having a young and athletic roster, which proved lip service in reality. Like a college student with a credit card, he just spent and spent and spent without considering any consequences. He offered too many years - to Luis Castillo, Orlando Hernandez, Guillermo Mota and Julio Franco, to name a few - perhaps even more frequently than too many dollars. The Mets had the oldest 40-man roster in baseball in a survey conducted in March, at 29.79 years. Their reliance on players in their late 30s and early 40s in a post-steroid era goes against the grain and was up for debate from the start. Minaya, asked in spring training about his club's age, dismissed any concern. Yet who couldn't predict Moises Alou, Pedro Martinez and El Duque landing on the disabled list for significant stretches of the season?

Again, Omar was tasked with winning right away. There was a dearth of minor league talent when he took over the team, and beyond Wright, Reyes and Heilman, also a dearth of any real, young talent on the major league roster, after the unfortunate trade of Scott Kazmir.

The easiest way to win immediately was to import older, proven veteran talent, which Omar did...Omar has fallen into his own trap, however, and to agree with Rubin, he should have worked to import younger, more athletic players this off-season, along with Santana, Church and Schneider, so at the least, our bench would feature younger, more versatile players.

Signing Matt Wise was a mistake, with the bevvy of young relievers available in AA and AAA, especially in light of the fact that Wagner is retiring (supposedly) after 2009.

Relying on Alou was a mistake, in light of his brittleness, and in spite of his great hitting skills when in the line-up. I didn't agree at the start of the spring, hoping, I guess (and there's that false hope that all Mets' fans have), that somehow this season he'd find another fountain of youth and be able to play in 100+ games. If he was able to do so, with Angel Pagan and Endy Chavez in the wings, it wouldn't have been so bad. Now...

From Rubin:
The decline and fragility of veteran players has been compounded by one of the worst farm systems in baseball, which has left no safety net. When Alou and Marlon Anderson landed on the disabled list in rapid succession, Mets brass promoted third catcher Raul Casanova. When they finally dipped to the minors for a young player, they called up Double-A first baseman Nick Evans and asked him to play the outfield, a position he'd manned for only 17 games in his professional career.

There can be no denying that our aged veterans have become brittle, and in light of the drug-testing for greenies and steroids, we are back to the days where a 35 year old player actually plays like a 35 year old player.

The team was caught short by injuries and looked to solve it by promoting catchers, a flawed logic, indeed. Evans was in over his head, and was demoted to AA again, to continue the "power trio" of Evans, Carp and Murphy in AA ( a tact that the Braves have long adhered to- keeping your best players in AA, leaving AAA for quick roster replacements and AAAA players.)However, with those 3 and the players Omar drafted a few days ago, (Davis, Havens, etc.) we are finally looking at some promotable hitters for next season, at the earliest, 2010 at the latest.

Again, when you have to "rob Peter to pay Paul" there will be a natural drop-off between the inflow of young talent while the older talent peters out. It would have been great if we were better prepared for the erosion of our vets, but to be fair, with only under 4 years on the job, Omar did the best he could within that timeframe. Remember, the Yankees stunk for over 8 years before they hit on the right combo of veterans and rookies, and then found a sustainable foundation that includes Jeter, Rivera, Petite and Posada, and used to include Bernie Williams. We are not there yet- but we DID have a quicker rise, and a quicker fall, than that Yankee team did.

From Rubin:
The bungled handling of Church's May 20 concussion exemplifies the lack of leadership and foresight. Even though the right fielder has consistently offered absolution of the front office, the situation was handled questionably at best. Church was allowed to fly from Atlanta, where he suffered the concussion, to Colorado. And even though he told reporters while in Denver that he felt like he was in a boat bobbing on the Bering Sea, Church pinch-hit twice that series. Team brass responded that Church was making his own decisions, but in how many medical settings is the patient the one prescribing the path to well-being and not the doctor? The Mets have a tradition of delaying putting players on the DL, only to play shorthanded for a week and then do what was common sense in the first place, and this case has been perhaps the worst. Indeed, Church went on the DL yesterday.

These points are the hardest to argue, as there's no excuse, at least in my mind, for bungling injuries in this day and age where one can swallow a pill that provides photos of your entire internal organ system! Concussions aren't the "mystery" they were years ago, especially in light of the amount of research that has gone into this injury based off of those suffered in pro football and professional wrestling. It's not like the Mets don't have the finest resources available to them- New York has perhaps the best combo of top hospitals and doctors anywhere in the world, and the Mets have enough money, contacts and cache to have their choice of the "best of the best." Lies, half-truths and mis-direction are expected in the carny-like world of professional wrestling; in baseball, one hopes, at least, that our team will be a bit more forth-coming with the truth. After all, this isn't football where one injury might blow the odds in Vegas out of the water! Omar, take responsibility, do a better job, and review the entire medical process you have been employing. Take the path of least resistance- HONESTY!!!

From Rubin:
Meanwhile, the Shea faithful have grown accustomed to adding a big-ticket item each winter as well as expecting trading-deadline maneuvers to put the Mets in better position to contend. But it's conceivable that the cavalry isn't coming this time.

At this point, I think Rubin is 100% correct. We can't afford to add payroll unless it's for a younger, more athletic player. If you've paid attention at all this season, you know that there are no teams willing to trade their young, athletic players right now- and that, my friends, is parity for you (although it seems more like "parody"...). We're not going to trade for any older players, a la Ken Griffey Jr., or an all-or-nothing type a la Adam Dunn. Too many teams are either in contention or worried about attendance, and therefore even a player like Xavier Nady probably won't be available until the off-season. So no, the cavalry is stuck on the other side of the hill...

From Rubin:
The dependence on free agency coupled with the lack of a farm system also raises the question: Has Minaya failed to recognize a seismic shift in the MLB landscape? Teams, even with large payrolls, may not be able to retool solely through free agency anymore. With even smaller-market teams flush with money, fewer and fewer attractive free agents hit the market each winter, making the upcoming class headlined by Teixeira and C.C. Sabathia a perilous vehicle for restocking.

I don't think it's fair to say Omar hasn't recognized the "seismic shift" in the MLB landscape- I think it's more accurate to say that the die had been cast, for now, in rolling with older players for a few years while building the minor leagues up to the point where they will pay dividends. To turn away from the fact that 4 of those prospects now equal Johan Santana is not fair to Omar's efforts. Omar did NOT sign any free agents in the offseason who would have depleted the team of valuable draft picks, and DID get 2 picks from the Braves' signing of Tom Glavine (the now injured Tom Glavine, I might add). All of a sudden, the Mets have a number of hitting prospects (Murphy, Carp, Evans, Martinez, Davis, Havens, Nieuwenhuis, Ratliff and Doyle) to go with some interesting pitching prospects.

Additionally, Omar has promised that a wave of Latin American players will flood our minor leagues shortly, and in July, there will be a plethora of Latin free agents available for more of the Wilpon's cash. Here is a list of top talent available from ESPN's Enrique Rojas in July- let's hope we end up with at least a handful of top Latin talent, as most of these players will be 4-5 years away.

At the end of the day, 4 years later, the talent level at the major league level, which is ultimately what it is all about, is substantially better under Omar. The minor leagues are beginning to show promise, albeit not as fast as any of us would have expected nor as what's been needed, but the progress is, indeed, there. The team features a number of home-grown players, including Heilman, Maine (although came in a trade via Orioles), Pelfrey, Smith, Feliciano, Wright and Reyes. By the beginning of next season, that list could include Kunz, Carp, Murphy, Martinez, Davis, Havens and Niese. Santana was the result of a trade for draft picks, and Church and Schneider were imported at the cost of another top minor league prospect, Lastings Milledge.

Minor leagues don't exist to be successful in order to stand alone; they are feeders for either producing players to promote to the majors to your own team, or to produce cogs for trades to acquire other teams' star players. Omar has tried to do both, at the same time, in an effort to serve too many "masters" as it were (owners, players, media, fanbase), and has learned that it's too hard to do it all at once, as quickly as he was tasked to do. Okay, mea culpa, now let Omar rebuild the team, again, with a better base to start from then the one he inherited in 2004.

Oh yeah- everyone keeps harping on the fact that Omar has put together a roster that is costing the Wilpons $137 million + this season, up about $24 million from the prior year; has everyone forgotten that in that amazing season of 2003, when our record was a whopping 66-95 (4th worst in the game) and our payroll was a whopping $117 million (and special thanks to Cots MLB Contracts blog).

Adam Rubin, you are an amazing reporter, (even if I don't agree 100% with your Omar critiques), providing great Mets (and baseball) insight on a daily basis via your blog and articles on the New York Daily News; I advise everyone to read his blog, a few times per day, by clicking here.

Bob Klapisch is the author of the book "The Worst Team Money Could Buy" and I'm sure he's having more than a few flashbacks of late. In an article for the The Record, interviewing Mets' announcer Ron Darling, Klapisch offers the following:

From Klapisch:

Is Omar Minaya the right man for a new-millennium business plan? It’s a discussion the Wilpon family will have this winter, but in the meantime, Darling says, “a lot of fans can’t understand how you can spend that much money and not automatically win 95 games. Well, it doesn’t work that way anymore. Look at the Diamondbacks. They’re not a highly paid team, and they’re in first place.”

No, it's not that simple. The mechanisms to create this team were in place long before Omar got here in late 2004. He was, as we previously stated, under pressure to create a winner ASAP, as most felt that fans in New York wouldn't stand for another period of (the dreaded) rebuilding. 4 years ago, most people didn't think the whole "performance enhancing drugs" issue would blow up as quickly and as expansively as it did; that's not to say that Omar relied on players who could extend their careers via PEDs; it IS to say that Omar got to a point where he had to keep robbing from the future to succeed in the "now." It didn't work because utlimately we fell short of the World Series two years in a row and the rebirth of this club has all but been forgotten, throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Darling is as sharp as they come, and he is right to point to the Diamondbacks as the new role model for contending now and in the future. And yet, they traded a TON of prospects for Dan Haren, and traded one of the best young hitters in the AL, the Sox' Carlos Quentin, so let's see how well this team holds together in another 3 years. Omar had a great, if truncated run at the top, and a whiff in '06 and a total meltdown over 17 games in '07 shy of 1, if not 2 trips to the Series - and EVERYONE would be praising Omar's efforts until the cows came home (and where, exactly, HAVE those darn cows been all this time?)

From Klapisch:
Like a surgeon, Darling carefully sliced open the flaws in the Mets’ spring-training formula, specifically in their heavy dependence on superstars in decline. Indeed, critics of Minaya’s structuring of his team — the oldest in the big leagues — wonder how the Mets could’ve really counted on Pedro Martinez, Moises Alou, Carlos Delgado and Orlando Hernandez in the post-steroids, post-amphetamine usage era.

Again, all valid points, but what was Omar supposed to do? He signed Pedro and O-Hern a few years ago; Delgado was a major trade after the '05 season, and is disintegrating at a much higher clip then anyone would have expected; and Alou, well, that one was just wishful thinking, hoping to catch lightning in a bottle one last time (my "cliche button" is officially broken, at least for the rest of this post!) Who would have taken any of the above-mentioned players off of Omar's hands? Who would he replace them with? And, quite frankly, in my opinion, the bigger issue is why he signed Luis Castillo, only in his early 30's, to a 4-year deal when Orlando Hudson, 2B for the D-Backs, was going to be a free agent at the end of the '08 season and would be willing to come to NY at a discount, AND is the type of fiery gamer that the team needs more of? That, my friends, would be the signing that I would call Omar on...not the ones that we reaped at least some major benefit from.

Klapish's articles on the Mets can be accessed by clicking here.

Finally, Joel Sherman of the New York Post offered his perspective on Omar's tenure. Sherman has written some of the best baseball articles of the past 5 years, not just on the Mets but on the game itself, and it's always a pleasure to see his byline in the Post or on Fox Sports.com - even when he takes Omar to task the way he does via the following:

From Sherman:
Minaya came in saying he wanted to mimic the Brave model, creating a farm system that would make the roster self-sustaining. He inherited Jose Reyes and David Wright, and mainly has used the system for his favorite pastime, obtaining older, established players. His initial first-round pick as Met GM, Mike Pelfrey , had his finest pro moment last night (Wednesday) with eight powerhouse innings against Arizona in which he outpitched Brandon Webb, the sinkerball maestro the Mets most hope he emulates.

Everyone conveniently forgets that Pelfrey's stock plummeted before the '05 draft because of his agent and signability issues. The Mets, for what became the last time to date under Omar's guidance, grabbed the best player regardless of "slotting" and big Pelf is finally paying him back for the pick. Pelfrey hasn't been allowed to grow and develop in the minors, and his MLB stats have suffered as a result. He is starting to really come around, and with the group of young relievers picked up in '06 and '07, along with the young hitters already in the system and drafted this season, that Braves'-like team is being assembled as we speak. We have our Chipper in Wright, we have our Smoltz-Glavine-Maddux in Santana-Maine-Pelfrey (not quite as good yet, but on the way), and we will continue to bring in the pieces around them to get to where the Braves were for so many years.

From Sherman:
At his introductory press conference, Minaya said, "The plan is pitching, defense and athleticism." But four years later, you have to wonder if he has lost his way. The only starting pitchers assured to move into Citi Field are Johan Santana, John Maine and likely Pelfrey. The defense has constantly been sacrificed for older offense: Think Paul Lo Duca, Shawn Green, Moises Alou and Carlos Delgado.

When asked about his work here, Minaya said, "I see this more as a turnaround of a franchise. We have been over .500 three years and play an exciting style of speed baseball that has not been seen here before."

I agree with Omar- we haven't seen an extended period of contention in a long time...now notice I didn't say "before" as the 1986-1988 period was the best in our history. However, after 20 years, at least the team was in contention in back to back years for the first time since then, and the combo of the new field and the Wilpons willingness to spend what it takes will end up amounting in exactly what Omar initially promised. More than the whole "PED" thing, the biggest change is actually the addition of revenue-sharing, which has kept also-rans like the Royals and Pirates from trading their young players to teams like the Mets, they way they used to do as recently as 3 years ago. They all want to build around cheaper talent, who won't burn out quickly, they hope, and are willing to sign them long-term now more because they have the money, sometimes for the first time in years, due to the $6 billion dollar plus business that baseball has evolved into (thanks to fans like us) and therefore preventing teams from having to trade their biggest chips away in order to refrain from playing their inflated salaries when free agency and arbitration loom.

If anything, Omar is perhaps guilty of not veering from his original plan as quickly as most of us would have liked; however, due to the success he achieved in rapid fashion, his belief that the organization will continue to produce long-term, high quality prospects (we ARE waiting for that "Latin Wave") and his ability to sign and trade for players that no one gave us a chance of landing (Pedro, Beltran, Santana), I believe Omar should be given at least another 2 years to finish off his plans. If next year at this time, our roster remains laden with old, broken-down players and the minor leaguers don't continue to progress as hoped for, I'm sure my post will take a very different turn...for now, let's give Omar a chance to continue the path that he's got planned for us, recognize (I hope) his areas of opportunity (particularly pertaining to medical situations) and hope that we'll see the continued fruits of his labor, as soon as possible, if not this season.

Special Note: How ironic is it that, for a change, Willie had absolutely NOTHING to do with last night's loss, pulling Santana at the right time, and NOW his job is in true danger?! He called it on the head- the hitters failed to drive in extra runs, as has been the case all season, and we lost because of it. And don't give up on Wagner- he'll right himself pretty quickly, and we'll have one less excuse to lose at that time...Willie just might not be around to see it...


Dan in Texas said...

Very good post!

Keep Omar! said...

Your comments are right on! I wish other bloggers and writers would stop trying to make good "copy" and realize, like you have, that in such a short time, Omar made the Mets 'relevant" again, like no one has since Frank Cashen. He deserves as many years as it takes to right this ship! Long may he reign!

Ballhype Mike said...

Willie's leaving is probably just a matter of time...he is a good man in the wrong job...and Omar being a good man let him be there longer then he should have, and that is my biggest complaint with Omar. How come it's Omar's fault that these players all broke down? The Cardinals, as I remember, offered more money then the Mets for Pedro, and a few other teams wanted Delgado, Wagner and certainly Beltran. He got the players everyone wanted, and now he's to blame for it...and if they got all young players and took 8 years to build it up, like the Rays did, he would have been kicked out of town years ago...give Omar some credit!!

Stop The Madness said...

Fire Willie!
Keep Omar!!

Promote a few players, and trade for a few more, and you'll see how quickly things will change...and maybe with a real manager, we'll see how good this club can be!!

In a NY Minute said...

I met Omar at a Macy's a few years ago, and he could not have been nicer and spent 10 minutes talking Mets and baseball with me. He asked me what I thought of their moves (Delgado, Wagner, etc.) and what I wanted to see from this team- and he listened. He didn't get dumb overnight, folks - his plan will eventually make the organization into a perennial winner- let's hope the Wilpons are smart enough to let him see it through!!!

Bang The Drum Slowly said...

Sad about Tim Russert passing...even if he was a Yankee fan...a great man who will be missed... I won't miss Willie as our manager though, but you watch- we'll sweep Texas and he'll get a stay of execution, then we'll get destroyed in CA and it will look gloomy again and then we'll do well vs Colorado and it's better again...and in the end, Willie will last the season, we'll be 81-81 and the roster will get the overhaul it needs and Omar keeps his job- I pray!

Anonymous said...

Amazing post! You guys don't just publish everyone else's opinion, like some corporate-sponsored blogs...you offer great opinions of your own, and, quite frankly after reading this post, I have changed my mind and am now rooting for Omar to stay at the helm of the Mets for a long time to come! Thanks, David and company, and keep up the great work- always a pleasure to read your blog!

Beattheheat said...

If Willie isn't fired, I'm not watching or going to games anymore- and I've had season tix since 1985. You guys tell it like it is- I hope the Wilpons are reading this and fire Willie and keep Omar!

David Rubin & Jonathan Elfenbein said...

Hi Beattheheat- it's 95 in the San Fernando Valley in CA today, so I hope at least YOU are beating the heat! It's not so much that I want Willie to go and Omar to stay- it's that Omar has created something here, and Willie hasn't been the right leader to execute his gameplan. Omar's been guilty of gambling on older players, moreso lately, it's true, but I believe in him still and I hope that the team turns around. Look- I'd rather win with Willie at the helm, but I know that this is just not going to happen...so I am praying that Omar stays and picks someone who just might win with the team he assembles...and hoping is what being a Mets fan is all about, after all...

PiazzaGirl said...

We have to do something! Robinson Cancel is up again, Alou is on the DL again, and still we don't have any professional hitters to add to the bench. Omar, justify David's faith in you and bring us another hitter somehow! Any chance Mikey P is coming to the announcer's booth soon???

Still an Art Howe Hater said...

Oh my god!!! Art Howe returns to Shea tonite- how weird is THAT going to be! He's the bench coach with the Rangers- that flew under my radar. I hated him with us, but now that he's not with us anymore...I still kinda hate him. At least I'm consistent. So beat the Rangers 3 of 3, let Hamilton hit a one run homer in each game, and then fire Willie when we get to CA!!!

DrOliverHyde said...

I wonder just which Oliver Perez will show up tonite...and how badly he'll be hosed and how quick Willie will be escorted off the premises?!

Stupid about the METS said...

Great post!!! Well thought out, and an excellent rebuttal to Klapisch, Rubin and Sherman (are you two Rubin's related?)

Too bad I can't get your opinions every day on things like theirs- I'd pay for it, too!
Great perspective from a fan, and again, just a great, great post!
Any chance you can add a way to print your posts? I had to cut and paste it into word so I could read it and print it.

David Rubin & Jonathan Elfenbein said...

Stupid About The Mets:
First of all, we'll agree that the "stupid" part means 'crazy" because you sound pretty bright to us!

I will have John Young look into adding a print option- he was working on one, but he's been in the process of changing jobs and moving so it might not happen for a few days, but we'll get there.

Thanks for the great compliments...I'm blushing..and I would pay to read any of the three writers I mention in the post, as they are truly masters of information, great writing and deep knowledge of the game. Thanks for putting me in their hallowed company...if only for one post!