Monday, October 4, 2010

Omar Minaya and the search for the next Jose Valentin

Omar Minaya started the season with a roster that included Gary Matthews Jr., Mike Jacobs, Frank Catalanotto, Fernando Tatis and Alex Cora. No wonder he ended the season out of a job.

Much has been written about Minaya's big-ticket acquisitions, but the small ones are just as important. You can't win a pennant with a few stars and a bunch of scrubs. Yet that's what Minaya increasingly seemed to try to be doing.

It's one thing to have one or two such players. Tatis was a valuable complementary piece in '08 and Cora held down shortstop for a good part of '09. But when you are hoping to squeeze one more year out of a full one-fifth of your 25-man roster, you are asking for trouble.

Minaya learned the wrong lessons from one of his best moves, signing 36-year-old Jose Valentin for the '06 season. In 2005, Valentin hit .170 for the Dodgers with two homers in 147 at bats. But in 2006, Valentin took over the Mets' second base job, hitting .271 with 18 homers and 62 RBI.

It was a great move by Minaya that helped build the powerhouse 2006 team. And it made sense to bring Valentin back in 2007 at age 37, so long as you didn't expect the good times to last forever. But Valentin couldn't make it out of April without getting hurt, and 2007 turned out to be his last season.

Minaya's first replacement for Valentin was another 37-year-old, Damion Easley. Once again, Minaya's move worked in the short run, with Easley rebounding from batting .233 in '06 with Arizona to hit .280 with the Mets in'07 with 10 homers in 193 at bats before declining in 2008.

Later in 2007, Minaya acquired another second baseman from the Twins, and this move also worked out at first. Luis Castillo hit .296 with 10 steals in 199 at bats.

At the time, Minaya's moves seemed to be working, so it was mainly seen as quirky when he gave 47-year-old Julio Franco a two-year contract in '06. Franco was able to contribute primarily off the bench in '06, but ending up getting released in July of '07.

But Minaya was raising the stakes in his pursuit of players near the end of their careers.

Before the 2007 season, Minaya signed 40-year-old Moises Alou to play left field. This move cost the Mets a first-round draft pick for someone who would probably play just one year.

In fact, Alou only played half a year, missing the other half with a torn quad. But that didn't stop Minaya from picking up the '08 option for Alou, now 41 and coming off a serious injury.

In 2008, Alou only played in 15 games due to a hernia and torn hamstring.

Also in the 2007 offseason, Minaya signed Luis Castillo to a four-year deal. Minaya had put so much faith in much older players that perhaps Castillo, 31 at the time, seemed like a youngster. A two-year deal might have been reasonable. Giving Castillo a four-year deal helped get Minaya fired.

By 2010, Minaya was filling out his roster with players who made Alou and Castillo look like the All-Stars they used to be. Jacobs had been cut by the Royals. The Angels were so eager to get rid of Matthews that they were willing to eat $20 million.

Tatis spent most of the year on the DL. Cora was picked up by Texas in August and released three weeks later. Matthews was briefly in the Reds' organization and is now a free agent. Catalanotto is also a free agent. Only Jacobs is currently active - in the Blue Jays' farm system.

So at the end of the season, one-fifth of Minaya's Opening Day roster was not on any MLB roster as an active player, and it was likely that some or even all of them might never play in the big leagues again.

Jerry Manuel deserved to be let go, but he did start with a disadvantage having to work with such a roster, which was only made worse by the Mets' refusal to eat the contracts of Castillo and Oliver Perez.

Minaya's strategy of desperately seeking the next Jose Valentin could work as long as the roster was already filled with quality ballplayers and there were only one or two open spots. But in his sixth year of being the general manager, Minaya didn't have enough quality players in his system and had to roll the dice with one-fifth of his roster.

Even Minaya admitted today that the Mets needed to make a change at GM.


Squawker Lisa, my condolences on the loss of C.C. the Squawker Cat.

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