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.
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The Minnesota Twins are Major League Baseball's biggest tease. For the past few months, they have been flaunting their Venezuelan golden boy to anyone who would listen (or afford to listen) inundating sports websites and television programs with a myriad of rumors, most completely worthless. Johan Santana is the prize here friends, and he has been linked to about half the teams in baseball at some point. But for fiscal, need-based and/or cosmetic reasons there have always been only three possible teams that make sense: the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and New York Mets.
Back when the madness that is the "Santana Sweepstakes" began, a buddy of mine Phil, a Yankee fan and a co-contributor over at the Fantasy Sports Experience, told me flatly that the Mets would land Santana. He reasoned that the offers made by the Yankees and Red Sox were merely done for posturing. Essentially, the two teams were (to borrow a great line from season 2 of The Wire) "pissing on each other's leg" as they engaged in a high stakes game of keep-away.
Looking back objectively we all should have seen this coming. Baseball has clearly entered a new age where the prospect has more value than ever and the behaviors of the Yanks and Sox over the past 2 years exemplify this fact. Both teams are actively funneling more money than ever into buidling dominant farm systems rather than blowing money on the free agent market and it is working. Yankee and Red Sox pitching prospects have enjoyed a lot of success at the minor and more importantly major league level. Thus, it would stand to reason that there would be no need for either team to meet the hefty price tag it would take to land Santana from both a prospect or fiscal standpoint.
Naturally, the Twins have waited it out because let's be honest the Yanks and Sox can definately offer the best package of prospects if they wanted to. But amidst all of the smoke screens that were thrown up by the AL East rivals - offers that were nearly completed/reported to be complete, half-hearted deadlines, withdrawals from talks, re-entering talks, lowered interest, raised interest, etc. - the Mets and Omar Minaya always sat with a quiet confidence on the sidelines. They looked on as the media and experts poked holes in all of their prospects and made cases against potential offers knowing their day at the forefront of the sweepstakes lay ahead when the posturing was done.
Following the controversal Ryan Church trade, I wrote that although I liked what the trade did for our current roster, it's overall effect would be marginal unless we landed a frontline starter. As time wore on after that trade with the Nats and no Santana deal had been made, I slowly became a believer that the Mets would bring him to New York.
Overall, the Mets have been the best fit for Santana all along:
- Have the money to sign him long-term for big money (he wants 6 years-150 Million).
- Biggest need coming into the offseason was for an inning-eating front-line stater to slot in front of Pedro, Maine and Perez.
- This need is exasperated by the fact that the Mets have a deceptively old roster. While they have great young players like Reyes and Wright, this team also has many vets and aging stars at several key positions including Delgado (1B), Castillo (2B), Alou (LF) and of course the ever-important Pedro Martinez who is in the last year of his deal. Their best chance to contend for a World Series is this year.
- The Mets play in the National League, which means the Twins don't have to worry about Santana coming back to haunt them a few times a year.
- Santana wants to play in New York.
- Most importantly, despite all of the reports about the Mets not having the prospects of the Yankees or Red Sox, they have what the Twins need: Top-tier corner outfield & center field prospects (Fernando Martinez & Carlos Gomez) with power and speed as well a selection of young pitcher with relief and starting pitching upside (Kevin Mulvey, Deolis Guerra, Phil Humber, Mike Pelfrey)
All of this aside, I did not want to write about Santana until we saw what the Mets would be willing to offer, as I was still concerned about two things. The Mets weren't willing to give Santana the long extension or big money deal and/or although our prospects are good, we were overvaluing them and wouldn't make a legit offer.
After news broke mid-week that Fred Wilpon had publically given Omar Minaya the financial green light to bring Santana on board, my cautious optimism and lingering traces of skepticism melted away and now I firmly believe the Mets will complete a trade for Santana by month's end. The current package reportedly being offered include Deolis Guerra, Carlos Gomez, Kevin Mulvey and Phil Humber. While this is a decent haul for the Twins, I don't think this deal happens unless the mets include their top prospect Fernando Martinez who some claim is the heir apparent at the plate to Juan Gonzalez and could be up by the age of 20.
I am pretty sure the Mets will give in eventually and include Fernando Martinez in order to get Santana and personally I am all for it. While the farm system would be depleted, the Mets would retain Arron Heilman in the bullpen (for better or worse) and keep their top pitching prospect, Mike Pelfrey, who could slot in as a 5th starter or a power bullpen arm depending on how we use El Duque. This provides Willy with added options and some good flexibility throughout the pitching staff. Also, keep in mind we have 3 first round picks this season, so the opportunity is there to begin restocking the farm system.
Most importantly we will be filling our biggest need, getting a pitcher who has dominated the American League for the last 4 seasons, posting a win-loss record of 70-32 with an ERA well under 3.00 during that time. Not to mention he has picked up two Cy Young's in that span. Coming to the lighter-hitting National League, to a great pitcher's park, backed up by a solid defense and good offense, Santana would immediately be the front-runner for the Cy Young award and the Mets instantly become the NL favorite to reach the World Series.
Remember Mets fans, for every Jose Reyes there is a "5-tool prospect" like Alex Escobar and for every Josh Becket, AJ Burnett and Dontrelle Willis a Generation K. Given the makeup of this roster, it is time to surrender to our inhibitions and live in the now. With Johan aboard, the pieces are in place for 2008 to be the year we bring a World Series championship back to Queens.
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Earlier today in the AAA portion of the Rule V draft, the New York Mets selected Garry Bakker, a 24 year old pitching prospect left unprotected by the Chicago White Sox. A fellow graduate of Suffern High School, Bakker will get the opportunity to pitch for the Mets AAA team this upcoming season. If all goes well, hopefully Rick Peterson will be touching his shoulder during a mound visit at Shea Stadium or Citi Field in the near future.
We at Giggin On Ya wish him the best of luck.
For more information on Garry Bakker click here (courtesy of The Baseball Cube).
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Earlier today, many Met fans found themselves up in arms as the team acquired Ryan Church along with Brian Schneider in exchange for the young Lastings Milledge. The outrage could be seen across internet message boards, comment sections, sports talk radio and my company email inbox as Mets fans lashed out at management for dealing one of the organization's more promising young positional players. The deal was not only lambasted by fans but also by respected baseball analysts including the venerable Keith Law, one of the better judges of talent among the experts.
On the surface this deal looks like a "heist" (as Law so bluntly put it) by the Nats. However, upon examining the numbers and considering the New York Mets current situation, this is a potentially beneficial deal in the short-term (next 2-3 years) given the following stipulation: the Mets go out and land a front-line starter such as Erik Bedard, Danny Haren or to a lesser extent Joe Blanton.
Ryan Church is an intriguing player in my eyes. Similar to Xavier Nady when he was acquired prior to the 2006 season, Church hasn't gotten the opportunity to play everyday in his career, but has performed well in a platoon role with limited at-bats. Last season, while playing in cavernous RFK stadium in a poor lineup, Church hit .272 with 15 HRs and 70 RBIs, good for a share of the team lead, in only 470 ABs. His OPS was around .800 where it has stood for most of his career; a good indicator his numbers are not a fluke and he may have room for improvement. While not eye popping, those numbers in regular playing time which is roughly 550 ABs extrapolate out to approximately 18 HRs and 81 RBIs, well above the average production for a #7 in an NL lineup where he will most likely hit with the Mets.
Church is also a solid defensive outfielder with the ability to play all three outfield positions. He will serve as a defensive upgrade in right field and pair with Carlos Beltran to cover a lot of ground. Outfield defense is especially important for the Mets as their pitching staff is comprised of fly ball pitchers that put a lot of balls in play.
The other player acquired in this deal is Brian Schneider, an excellent defensive catcher who provides the Mets with stability at the catcher position. Schneider's ability to throw out baserunners is a big asset in the NL east, a division laden with speedy base stealers. Given the Mets offensive prowess, he is a better fit than Johnny Estrada who is very poor defensively and Ramon Castro who is injury prone.
I believe that given this team's aging key pieces - Pedro, Alou, Castillo, Delgado and Wagner - the window for fielding a championship team falls in a 2-3 year window. The additions of Church and Schneider bring great intangibles in terms of defense and leadership (Schneider is great at handling young pitchers and has worked with Maine in the past) in the short-term. These players are the type of role players that can put a talented roster over the top. However, if the Mets fail to land a frontline starter using their remaining chips - Carlos Gomez, Mike Pelfrey, Phillip Humber and/or Aaron Heilman (on the verge of a total implosion) - then this deal's immediate impact will be marginal and the Lastings impressions may be disastrous.
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Sam Perlozzo was fired yesterday as the manager of the Baltimore Orioles. Although I know little about the Orioles organization or Perlozzo's managing abilities, I do know he was not to blame for the team's poor play. How do I know this? Look no further than Mr. Jim Duquette, the Orioles VP and former GM of my New York Mets.
During his illustrious Mets tenure, Duquette is credited with:
- Signing 0-tool player Kaz Matsui to play shortstop, moving a young player named Jose Reyes to SECOND BASE in the process.
- Bringing in Braden Looper and his awkward "struggling on the toilet bowl" facial expressions to close.
- Low-balling Vlad Guerrero to the tune of 3 years 30 mil, with the explanation that Vlad has back problems. That same year he went on to win the MVP in Anaheim and his 5 year 69 mil contract is a bargain.
- Trading Scott Kazmir for a 29 year old pitcher with a history of elbow problems (refuse to mention his name).
- Overpaying for Kris Benson and single-handedly destroying the starting pitching market as we now know it. Somewhere, Barry Zito is kissing a framed picture of Jim Duquette while lighting up a cigar using a c-note.
This collection of savvy moves with the Mets netted Duquette a front office position with the Orioles in 2006 where he has failed to establish a plan and more than lived up to his reputation as a lousy judge of talent.
Duquette started off his Orioles run the only way he knows how - with a lop-sided trade that serves to weaken his organization while taking on payroll. The acquisition of Kris Benson for Jorge Julio and John Maine provided Baltimore with an overpaid, oft-injured pitcher and his outspoken wife Anna, a woman ready to sleep with the entire locker room at a drop of a hat. While Baltimore added an elite DL candidate and easy ass the Mets turned Julio into El Duque and saw John Maine blossom into a solid starting pitching. Essentially, Duquette has done far more to help the Mets in his tenure with the Orioles than during his stint in Queens.
This off season, with Kris Benson firmly entrenched on the DL for the season, Duquette and his partner in crime, executive VP Mike Flanagan sought out some "veteran" arms to round out the rotation. This effort lead to the acquisitions of the artist formerly known as Jared Wright who peaked in 1997 and the human rain delay Steve Trachsel who has never peaked. With the starting rotation "set", Duquette and Flanagan turned their attention to the bullpen. They proceeded to overpay every aging arm available on the market including Chad Bradford and Jamie Walker - 2 situational relievers who would now be asked to work full innings - and Danys Baez, a shaky fireballer with a homerun problem (brilliant move bringing him to the launching pad in Camden Yards). With over 50 million invested in unreliable pitching, Jay Payton and Aubrey Huff were signed to round out the lineup. In related news, Miguel Tejada was placed on suicide watch.
Point is Sam Perlozzo had no chance to win with this roster. First off, the lineup can’t hit for power in a hitter’s park. Second, the starting pitching staff (sans Erik Bedard) is a collection of guys who are either young and lack control or old, injury-prone and just awful. Finally, the bullpen, the supposed strength, has seen young closer Chris Ray sputter and the new guys Walker and Bradford struggling mightily after fast starts. Wonder if that has to do with the fact they haven’t been anything more than situational relievers for the past couple years??
Frankly, the Orioles did Perlozzo a favor by firing him. Between the dimwitted management team and overbearing owner Peter Angelos calling the shots, the Orioles might be the most depressing team in the Majors right now. Sorry Orioles fans, this might take a while to fix…
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