When Omar Minaya was named Mets general manager following the 2004 campaign, he inherited a 71-91 club with a lackluster roster and low expectations. The prior regime lead by Jim Duquette (whose follies I chronicled in detail in an earlier piece) had set the organization back with a series of blunders headlined by trading pitching phenom Scott Kazmir for Victor Zambrano and stunting the growth of Jose Reyes, playing him out of position at 2B in favor of Kaz Matsui. Additionally, outside of two promising stars - Jose Reyes and David Wright - that had been recently promoted to the Majors, the cupboard was bare in the Mets minor league systems due to poor drafting and the mismanagement of prospects.
The arrival of Minaya ushered in a new era for the Mets. The Wilpons truly believed in Omar from the start and Fred Coupon, as many Mets fans had dubbed him, opened up his checkbook in 2005. The Mets landed two big time free agents in Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran to help sure up the team's starting pitching, lineup and team defense. In addition, young speedster Jose Reyes was moved back to his natural position at SS and flourished stealing 60 bases while his 3B counterpart David Wright enjoyed a breakout season belting 27 homeruns to go along with 102 RBIs and .306 batting average. Overall, the Mets improved 12 games in 2005, going 83-79 and the expectations going into the 2006 season were the highest since 2000.
The 2006 New York Mets were projected to be a serious contender for the NL crown before the season began but the questions lingered regarding the strength of the Mets pitching staff and whether Jose Reyes and David Wright could repeat/build upon their 2005 performances. However, as the season wore on the team's play silenced the critics and the Mets established themselves as the clear favorite to represent the NL in the World Series. The Mets nearly went wire to wire in the NL East, compiling 97 wins and winning the division by 12 games in what was the most dominant regular season performance by the franchise in 20 years.
Much of the credit for the team's 2006 success has to go to Omar Minaya as this was his finest hour as Mets general manager. Minaya pulled off a series of savvy moves in the offseason and during the regular season, improving the team exponentially each time. The most heavily publicized move was the signing of Billy Wagner which finally gave the Mets a bonafide closer and solidified the bullpen.
While the Wagner signing was essential, Minaya's true genius was on full display in his trade acquisitions. Minaya did some extensive shopping at the Marlins fire sale, coming away with first baseman Carlos Delgado and veteran catcher Paul Lo Duca for next to nothing. Then he landed unheralded outfielder Xavier Nady from the Padres in exchange for a disgruntled Mike Cameron. Delgado, Nady and Lo Duca would all enjoy solid 2006 campaigns and help make the Mets lineup one of the more dynamic in baseball.
Minaya's best work on the trading front came in a series of 4 deals between January and the trade deadline which helped to bolster the pitching staff in 2006 and beyond. One of the more under the radar moves was completed on January 4th, 2006 trading Jae Seo at the peak of his value for young reliever Duaner Sanchez. Sanchez would go on to open the season with 21 scoreless innings while Seo struggled mightily in LA and was eventually dealt to Tampa. Sanchez became a key cog in the Mets bullpen and his season ending shoulder injury sustained in a cab accident would hurt the team's chances immensely come playoff time.
On January 21st, the Mets and Orioles completed a deal that sent Kris Benson to Baltimore for Jorge Julio and John Maine. That deal was followed by a trade on May 24th shipping Julio to Arizona for Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez. The final deal came at the trade deadline on July 31st as the Mets landed Oliver Perez and Roberto Hernandez from the Pirates in exchange for Xavier Nady. These moves helped the Mets advance to the 2006 NLCS after a string of injuries ended the seasons of Pedro Martinez, El Duque and Duaner Sanchez. Further, Maine, Perez and Hernandez continue to be fixtures in the Mets' rotation while Sanchez will help bolster the Mets pen with his return in 2008.
2006 ended with a disappointing NLCS loss in 7 games to the St. Louis Cardinals and much of the blame went to the injuries that depleted the staff down the stretch. Entering 2007, the Mets were the odds on favorite to take home the NL. The team returned a similar lineup and pitching staff with the exception of Pedro Martinez who would be out until August and was looked upon as the perfect storm of veterans and youngsters, poised to make a serious championship run.
The Mets did make a few signings, bringing in Moises Alou to bolster then lineup and Scott Schoeneweis as a lefty arm out of the pen. However, Minaya's 2006 trading magic did not carry over in 2007 as deals which included relievers Henry Owens, Matt Lindstrom, Heath Bell and starter Brian Bannister yielded low returns and hurt the team's depth. The deadline deal for Luis Castillo was the lone win for Minaya, as it gave the team a veteran 2B and #2 hitter.
The 2007 Mets also encountered injuries, but this time the team counted on some of their prospects to pick up the slack. Lastings Milledge and Carlos Gomez filled in admirably in the outfield while 2006 draft pick Joe Smith did a great job out of the pen. In addition, 2007 Oliver Perez and John Maine established themselves as solid starters each winning 15 games.
By now, the Mets demise in 2007 have been clearly documented. The team lead the NL East for a majority of the season and entered the final 17 games with a 7 game lead over the Phillies before experiencing a monumental collapse. The Mets fall from grace concluded in emphatic fashion with an 8-1 drubbing at the hands of the Marlins in front of a sellout crowd at Shea.
The wounds inflicted by "The Collapse" are deep and Mets fans have experienced a tumultuous winter. However, the arrival of Venezuela's prodigal son and a clean bill of health for the man who goes by the name of Pedro have revitalized the fan base and more importantly raised the team's spirits. Rather than dwelling on the past, the Mets and their fans are looking forward to 2008 with one of the best clubs they have ever fielded.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of the 2008 New York Mets Team Preview focusing on the upcoming season.