Tag Archives: Omar Minaya

Three Strikes: Joba Chamberlain, Omar Minaya, and the Mets’ Offensive History

It’s an all-New York edition of “Three Strikes,” as I cover Joba Chamberlain’s season-ending injury, Omar Minaya’s stamp on the 2011 New York Mets, and the Mets’ lackluster offensive history.

Joba Rules, Not Meant to be Broken

Joba Chamberlain never felt a “pop;” he didn’t leave the pitcher’s mound in pain fearing his season was over. But the 25-year-old New York Yankees relief pitcher will undergo Tommy John surgery today for a torn ligament in his right elbow. The news broke last week and came as a shock to Chamberlain and many baseball fans aware of the “Joba Rules.”

“Joba Rules” were restrictions put in place to prevent Chamberlain from getting injured or wearing out his arm early in his career. As a promising prospect, the Yankees were extra cautious with Chamberlain, initially not allowing him to pitch on consecutive days (and making him rest an extra day for every extra inning he pitched).

The Yanks could never make up their minds on whether they viewed Chamberlain as a starter or reliever, but they certainly valued him as an important piece of their pitching staff for years to come.

Of course all of that extra care didn’t do much good, unless you believe that Chamberlain would’ve been injured earlier had the Yanks not coddled him. The point is: injuries can happen at any time. The Washington Nationals tried to protect Stephen Strasburg but it didn’t work, as Strasburg needed Tommy John surgery after just 12 starts last season.

In football or basketball, whenever a player gets hurt in the final minutes of a lopsided contest the fans cry that he shouldn’t have been in the game. This is true to a certain extent—more so in football—but a player could get hurt in the first quarter, or in practice, also.

Teams should not be reckless with their usage of players, particularly young pitchers, but a baseball diamond can’t be baby-proofed. Once a player steps on the field you just have to hope for the best.

Omar Minaya’s 2011 New York Mets

Andy Martino of the New York Daily News recently pointed out the influence of former Mets’ general manager Omar Minaya on this year’s Mets team. Minaya was in charge from 2005-2010, when the Mets acquired Justin Turner, a potential Rookie of the Year candidate; Daniel Murphy (hitting .300); Ruben Tejada, who is hitting .310 and playing an excellent second base; Dillon Gee, who is 7-0; promising young left-handed starter Jonathon Niese; injured slugger Ike Davis; and R.A. Dickey, a steadying force in the rotation. There are others of course, but those are some of the unheralded signings Minaya was responsible for.

I know from experience that Omar Minaya did not like to be looked at while he was the Mets’ GM. (Credit: Wknight94)

Acquiring under-the-radar players was never Minaya’s problem. While in Montreal and later with New York, Minaya had an eye for talent. He was great at signing the Endy Chavezes and Jose Valentins of the world. It was when he was given a blank check by Mets ownership that he showed his weaknesses.

The Red Sox and Yankees spend a lot, but they still aim to spend wisely. Minaya was like a kid in a candy store once he was given seemingly unlimited financial resources, signing one high-priced free agent after another.

Obviously this was never going to happen, but it’s too bad Minaya couldn’t be kept on as a scout of some sort. This is how I felt when Michigan fired Rich Rodriguez as its football coach—it was too bad he couldn’t stay on as the offensive coordinator.

Mets Lackluster Offensive History

Among the all-time Mets offensive records, shortstop Jose Reyes ranks fifth in plate appearances, second in hits, and first in runs scored, triples, and stolen bases. It’s very impressive considering Reyes just celebrated his 28th birthday and hasn’t even played 1,000 games yet.

Reyes’s partner on the left side of the infield, David Wright, is also 28. He ranks seventh in plate appearances, sixth in stolen bases, fourth in home runs and hits, second in runs, and first in doubles.

This speaks to the amazing production of these young stars, but also the unimpressive offensive history of the franchise. Of the seven franchises that started closest to the Mets (all within seven years), all except the San Diego Padres have had more offensive production (the Mets and Padres are also the only two franchises without a no-hitter).

The chart below shows seven franchises, the year of their inaugural season, their career leader in plate appearances (and, in parentheses, the number of players with at least 6,000 plate appearances), their career leader in hits (in parentheses, players with at least 1,000 hits), and their leader in home runs (in parentheses, players with at least 200 home runs).

Team* Inaugural Season Plate Appearances         Hits Home Runs
Angels 1961 8,480 (3) 2,368 (8) 299 (3)
Rangers 1961 6,992 (3) 1,928 (10) 372 (4)
Astros 1962 12,503 (6) 3,060 (12) 449 (4)
Mets 1962 5,997 1,418 (9) 252 (2)
Brewers 1969 12,249 (4) 3,142 (10) 251 (5)
Nationals 1969 7,174 (4) 1,694 (7) 234 (4)
Padres 1969 10,232 3,141 (3) 163
Royals 1969 11,624 (5) 3,154 (8) 317

*Texas Rangers formerly Washington Senators; Houston Astros formerly Houston Colt .45’s; Milwaukee Brewers formerly Seattle Pilots; Washington Nationals formerly Montreal Expos

Until recently, with the emergence of Reyes and Wright, the Mets have not had star hitters in their primes. Mike Piazza, Carlos Beltran, and Carlos Delgado, to name three, had great seasons in New York but had already established themselves as All Stars for other teams. Darryl Strawberry, near the top of the leaderboard in many of the franchise’s offensive categories, had his Mets career cut short. Roberto Alomar and even Willie Mays once called Shea Stadium home but neither wears a Mets hat on their Hall of Fame plaques.

If the Mets re-sign Reyes and Wright, as they certainly should, and these two continue to produce as expected, the Mets’ history books will look a lot better in 10 years.

New York Mets 2010 Season Review

The New York Mets had a forgettable 2010. Not since the 2006 Mets have fans felt good about the team at season’s end, and even that year ended in heartbreak. The key difference in ’06, of course, was that there was hope.

The organization continues to preach that it won’t accept mediocrity, but actions speak louder than words. Ownership needs to commit to this winning culture it keeps talking about. It needs a plan. The Yankees have a plan, the Red Sox have one, the Rays have one, and that’s just the American League East. The Mets need not model themselves after any other team, but they sure better come up with a model and stick to it.

It was not all bad for this year’s team, however. In order from best to not quite as awesome, the five good things that came out of this disappointing season:

1. Angel Pagan
Pagan was this season’s most valuable Met if you like the Wins Above Replacement (WAR) stat. Many everyday observers, even those who don’t subscribe to advanced metrics, would say the same. David Wright is the only other Met you could make an argument for, but I think Pagan gets the edge because of his defense and perhaps because less was expected of him.

With Carlos Beltran missing the entire first half, Pagan was relied upon to fill the void. Through September 28, Pagan had appeared in 145 of New York’s 156 games, nearly all as a starter. He played mostly in center field, but when Beltran returned he moved to either of the corners, playing Gold Glove-caliber defense no matter where he was positioned.

He probably caught this. (Credit: eviltomthai)

Pagan hit in the first or second spot in the batting order the majority of the season but also hit third and sixth at times. When Jose Reyes was injured at various points, Pagan was counted on to jump start the offense. He is hitting .289 with 11 home runs, 69 RBI, and a .341 OBP.

The fact that Gary Matthews Jr., not Pagan, was the Opening Day center fielder is Exhibit A in the case against Jerry Manuel managing this team in 2011.

2. R.A. Dickey
The pitching of Robert Allen Dickey was nothing short of unbelievable this season. I say that because hardly anyone could believe it. Dickey was 6-0 in his first seven starts with the Mets but fans, media, and anyone else paying attention called it a mirage. They waited for him to fall apart. Except he never did.

Like the rest of the Mets staff this season, Dickey didn’t get much run support, so while he wasn’t piling up the wins he did carry a 2.32 ERA (through 14 starts) into August. I’ll admit, I didn’t believe it was real. His career stats screamed “Triple-A stud,” someone whose knuckleball clearly fooled minor leaguers but was futile against the big boys. But when Dickey pitched a complete game one-hit shutout against the Phillies on August 13, everyone took notice.

He has struggled a bit in September, but his ERA still has him in the top-10 in the league, ahead of Ubaldo Jimenez, Chris Carpenter, Tim Linecum, and teammate Johan Santana. The terrifying look on his face when he releases a pitch, his 12 hits and five RBI in 50 at-bats, and his eloquent post-game quotes are a few of the things I’ll pleasantly remember from this disappointing season.

3. The Kids
Whether it was done out of necessity or with an eye towards the future is debatable, but one thing is certain: The 2010 Mets season was a bonafide youth movement. Jon Niese (23 years old) will make 30 starts this year. Ike Davis took over first base in late April and has started there ever since. Baby-faced middle infielder Ruben Tejada (21) has appeared in 71 games. Left-handed hitting Josh Thole (23) became the everyday catcher in July. Pitchers Jennry Mejia (20) and Dillon Gee (24) and outfielder Lucas Duda (24) have also seen action with the big league club.

I remember watching the first game that featured Niese pitching to Thole with Davis, Tejada, Wright, and Reyes behind him in the infield—an entire infield of homegrown players. It was refreshing to see. Davis has gone through slumps (but has 18 homers). Tejada has hovered around the Mendoza Line but has shown promise of late, hitting nearly .300 in September. Niese has struggled recently (his ERA has risen to 3.95 and he sports a 1.41 WHIP), but generally speaking the results have been very encouraging.

4. Mike Pelfrey
A 3.75 ERA and 1.40 WHIP are nothing to celebrate, but Pelfrey was a legitimate ace in the first half. He was 9-1 with a 2.39 ERA at one point, but pitched to a 10 ERA in July. He has turned it around down the stretch and has won 15 games, the most of his career.

After the great start, many thought Big Pelf had taken the next step towards becoming a stud. The poor stretch was reminiscent of old Pelfrey, as his body language was terrible and he seemed clueless on the mound. But I’ve been impressed with his resiliency in 2010 and think 2011 will be a true breakout season for the Mets’ 2005 first round draft pick.

5. The Winning Streaks
If you were being honest with yourself, it was clear from Opening Day that this year’s Mets team was a .500 club. That opinion, again, if you were being honest with yourself, should not have changed at any point this season. But it was hard not to get caught up in the two eight-game winning streaks.

The Mets closed out April by winning eight in a row against the Cubs, Braves, and Dodgers, all at home (if the Mets could play every game at Citi Field, they’d be a playoff team). Sweeping Atlanta and taking both games of a double header against LA was exciting.

The next big streak came in mid-June. The Mets took the rubber game against San Diego at home, then travelled to Baltimore and Cleveland and swept both lowly American League clubs. Their eighth consecutive victory came via a shutout at Yankee Stadium, finishing a stretch in which the Mets won 12 of 13.

Meaningful July games, that’s all you can ask for, right?

And now for the five bad things that happened during the 2010 season. Yes, this started as a much longer list and had to be cut considerably. Once again, starting with the really bad and moving to the regular bad:

1. Oliver Perez
I can’t remember which, but one Mets blog I have visited has a countdown clock to when Perez’s contract expires. Sadly, that doesn’t sum up why Perez is No. 1 on this list, because that clock was in place last season. It has only gotten worse.

Despite beginning the season as part of the starting rotation, he only lasted seven starts. Unable to retire hitters—in short, those that didn’t walk got hits—the Mets were essentially forced to remove Perez from the rotation. Refusing a trip to the minor leagues, Perez has rotted away in the bullpen ever since. He has made five appearances since May and has not pitched since September 6 despite the Mets being long out of the playoff race.

The worst part? Perez is still on the books for next season, when he’ll make another $12 million.

2. Luis Castillo
Castillo is to the lineup what Perez is to the pitching staff: a useless financial drain. Castillo only makes half as much, but I think it’s fair to say that $6 million is a tad much for a second baseman with no range or hitting ability.

Castillo turned it on last year and actually finished with a batting average over .300, but has regressed to his 2008 production levels this season, batting .234. Somehow he still draws a decent amount of walks despite slugging .266.

Whoever the Mets’ General Manager is this offseason will have his work cut out for him as he tries to find takers for Castillo and/or Perez.

3. Francisco Rodriguez
I recall when the Mets signed K-Rod (I don’t even like typing that anymore; he has lost the right to have a complimentary nickname), my older brother said how non-Mets fans would hate the Mets even more. His thinking was that people already disliked the celebratory antics displayed by Reyes, and now we were bringing in the biggest showboat on the mound.

What my brother didn’t figure was that the fans who would hate Rodriguez the most would be Mets fans. But after an embarrassing 2010, Rodriguez is right up there with Perez and Castillo, and it doesn’t even have much to do with his on-field performance.

Rodriguez pitched to a 2.20 ERA and 1.15 WHIP, and while he blew the save in New York’s epic 20-inning game with the Cardinals, the Mets eventually won that game. Only twice did the Mets lose a game that Rodriguez blew, none more crushing than his July 3 collapse in Washington.

But again, it was not Rodriguez’s pitching that made him a hated man in his own city. The closer was arrested following an August 11 game for an altercation with his father-in-law, throwing a punch that led to season-ending surgery. He appeared in court earlier this month for violating an order of protection by sending dozens of text messages to his estranged girlfriend.

The Mets suspended Rodriguez without pay. It is unclear how the organization will proceed this offseason. They could try to void the remainder of his lucrative deal or explore a trade. Either way, Rodriguez has been an embarrassment to the organization this season.

4. Carlos Beltran’s Surgery
I was in Ann Arbor in January and thought it was a joke when my friend John texted me to say that Beltran had undergone knee surgery. This sparked a public feud that included the Mets, Beltran, Scott Boras, and several doctors over whether Beltran had been given the green light for the surgery.

Either way, delaying the surgery until 2010 meant Beltran would miss the entire first half. He has not been the same player this season, batting .255 and looking like one of the worst center fielders in baseball. Veteran Torii Hunter made the move to right field this season; will Beltran be willing to do the same in 2011?

5. Johan Santana’s Surgery
This was Santana’s third season with the Mets and the third one that ended with a surgery. In 2008, he pitched on a severely injured left knee in an attempt to carry the Mets into the postseason. He had surgery as soon as the season ended. His 2009 campaign was cut short in late August because of surgery to remove bone chips in his elbow.

This season’s injury was perhaps the most troubling, as this time it was his shoulder that required surgery. He last pitched on September 2. The numbers have been stellar all three seasons (2.85 ERA over that span), but you have to wonder whether the Mets will get a full return on their six-year, $137.5 million investment. Will Santana hold up for three more seasons? Mets fans and management can only hope.

Consider that I didn’t include Jason Bay (.259 BA, six home runs before being shut down in late July due to a concussion) on this list, or directly mention Omar Minaya, Manuel, or the Wilpons and you’ll get a feel for how bad this season really was.

The worst part is that while the bright spots return next season, so do the headaches. How Beltran and Santana recover from their surgeries will be critical, as will whether the Mets can find a trade partner for Perez or Castillo. My feeling is that come mid-October, someone other than Minaya and Manuel will be making these decisions.

New York Mets 2006-2010

For me, the reminders are everywhere. Some are subtle, like the background picture on my laptop. It’s a photo of my golden retriever and me celebrating my 21st birthday in August of 2007. We’re both so happy, because the Mets were marching towards their second straight divisional title.

Then there’s the 2007 Mets media guide that is in my bathroom. Every time I use the toilet, shower, or brush my teeth I see it. The 3 x 2 photo grid on the cover is saddening. There’s Carlos Beltran, holding his pointer finger in the air. There’s Tom Glavine, wearing a 2006 NL East Division Champs shirt and cap, with a smile that says, “Yeah, I’ve done this 15 times before but it never gets old.” There’s Carlos Delgado, wearing the same attire, though looking even happier since he was in his 14th season and about to play in his first playoff series.

There’s Billy Wagner and Paul Lo Duca, the spokesmen of the team, embracing near the mound with the unbridled joy of a couple of little leaguers. There’s David Wright and Jose Reyes, looking a bit more serious as they perform a choreographed handshake. And there’s Willie Randolph, displaying the biggest smile of them all, most likely after one of the Mets’ 103 total victories that season.

Oh, how I miss the joy of 2006 and the optimism that lasted through August of 2007. The joy and optimism that beams from the media guide. The joy and optimism that, like many of the characters on the guide’s cover, are no longer associated with the Mets organization.

It’s hard to imagine how far the franchise has fallen since that magical year, a year which could’ve been even sweeter. The Mets were one game away from a trip to the World Series. It’s pointless to play this game, but given how poorly the Detroit Tigers played against the St. Louis Cardinals, the Mets would have likely won the franchise’s third World Series title.1

While the starters were nothing spectacular that year, the Mets rarely blew leads. Unlike more recent seasons, the ’06 team had a tremendous bullpen. Of the five relievers used most often, only Aaron Heilman (it still annoys me just to type his name) had an ERA over 3. Wagner was awesome, converting 40/45 save opportunities, but it was the bridge to him that defined this bullpen.

(Here are some numbers to prove my point: In 2006, when the Mets were leading entering the sixth inning, they lost a total of 18 games. In 2007, this number jumped to 31. In 2008, the year in which the Mets operated with the worst bullpen I have ever seen, they blew 52 of these leads. In fact, they blew 20 leads just from the eighth inning on.)

Chad Bradford was the submarining righty specialist who, get this, could actually pitch to lefties as well. Pedro Feliciano, the only reliever still with the team, was the phenomenal lefty specialist. Darren Oliver was the long man, and the best in baseball that season in my opinion. And of course there was Duaner Sanchez, who kept getting more and more responsibility until Willie realized he was the second best arm in the ’pen and made him the set-up guy.

Duaner was a fan favorite in ’06. People loved his energy, his throwing motion, his glasses, and of course, his excellent performance. My older brother went as far as requesting Duaner’s #50 jersey as a gift that summer.

The jersey wasn’t a hot commodity for very long. On a Sunday night in Florida, less than 24 hours before the trade deadline, the cab Sanchez was riding in was hit by a drunk driver. Sanchez’s shoulder was injured and it was apparent to the Mets he wasn’t going to be returning that season. Forced to replace a key component of the bullpen, Omar Minaya traded useful outfielder Xavier Nady to the Pirates for reliever Roberto Hernandez and, as a throw-in, Oliver Perez.

Hernandez was decent, pitching to a 3.48 ERA in 22 appearances for the Mets, but he was not as trusted as Sanchez, unable to lock down the eighth-inning role and appearing in only three postseason games, never in an important situation.

The effect of Sanchez’s unfortunate injury was two-fold. One, I honestly believe it cost the Mets the 2006 World Series. The bullpen was perfect with Sanchez, but without him it forced Heilman into a more important role, one he couldn’t handle.

Secondly, while the trade also brought Perez—who made two critical starts for the Mets in the NLCS and won 15 games the following year—it also, well, brought Perez, who was really bad in 2008, atrocious in 2009, and a financial drain this year and next. Someone else could’ve started those playoff games. Someone else could’ve helped the Mets not make the playoffs in ’07 and ’08. Ask anybody who follows the Mets and they’ll tell you know that the franchise would be far better off had Perez never joined the team.2

Even without words, Mr. Met says so much. Shown here during the Mets’ 70-win 2009 season. (Credit: Andrew Kahn)

Perez alone was not responsible for the Mets’ collapses in ’07 and ’08. Remember, the offense and bullpen were so good during that incredible ’06 season. So what happened? To make a long story short, many of the hitters simply had a worse season.3

One player who was a pleasant surprise, though, was 37-year-old Jose Valentin. Valentin took over the starting job at second base in the summer of ’06 and never looked back, providing more offense than anyone expected from the position. He was also said to be a clubhouse leader. I don’t doubt this, because another turning point of the Mets franchise—and this one is not mentioned nearly enough—is Valentin’s injury in late July.

The similarities between Valentin’s and Sanchez’s injuries are apparent. Much like after Sanchez got hurt, Minaya was forced to act shortly before the deadline to acquire a replacement for the inevitable playoff push. He traded two minor leaguers for Minnesota’s Luis Castillo.

In the short term, Castillo was a great pick-up, bringing stability to the middle of the infield in place of Valentin. In his 50 games with the Mets that season, he hit nearly .300, scored 37 runs, stole 10 bases, and hardly ever struck out. Much like the Sanchez deal, this was a savvy move by Minaya. Castillo played well and, as a bonus, the prospects the Mets parted with turned out to be low-impact players.

The problem, of course, was the contract Minaya offered at season’s end. Castillo was a player who had always relied on speed and scrappiness, but he was 32 at the end of the ’07 season. This didn’t stop Minaya from overbidding for Castillo, giving him a four-year, $25 million deal. That is unconscionable, given that Castillo would be 36 at the end of the contract. His speed (and defensive range) faded, and for whatever reason (the big contract, maybe?) his scrappiness was gone, too.

Watching the 2008 version of Castillo induced Little League flashbacks. Castillo was like the worst kid on your team, the kid who knows he can’t get a hit so he enters the batter’s box praying for a walk. That’s what Castillo did for 87 games in 2008. His batting average was a career low .245. He still managed to walk 50 times despite showing an inability to hit the ball out of the infield. He was overweight, out of shape, and useless both offensively and defensively.

In his defense, Castillo did have a bounce-back year in ’09. In a season where seemingly every other Met missed considerable time, Castillo played in over 140 games and hit over .300. Of course by July nobody was watching. We were watching at the start of this season, only to discover Castillo had returned to 2008 form.

Perez, as I mentioned before, seemed to carry the momentum from that memorable NLCS Game 7 start into the following season. He struck out a batter per inning and reduced his walks. His 15 wins and 3.56 ERA were very respectable for someone the Mets anticipated to be a back-of-the-rotation pitcher.

Perez won arbitration in the offseason and raked in $6.5 million for a season in which he had a 4.22 ERA and walked over 100 batters. By midseason, Mets fans were very uncomfortable when Perez took the mound. They never knew whether “good Ollie” or “bad Ollie” would show up. His middle name was Inconsistent.

How did Minaya reward this erraticism? With a multi-year mega-deal. The exact numbers: three years, $36 million.

Perez rewarded the Mets faith by showing up to Spring Training in terrible shape, then not using that period to get in shape. He was overweight and had lost considerable velocity on his fastball. His control had somehow gotten even worse.4

In 14 starts in 2008, Perez’s ERA was 6.82. He walked nearly eight batters per nine innings, though he never made it anywhere close to the ninth inning of a game. Only twice did he pitch into the seventh. In eight starts he did not make it past the fifth. Keep in mind that like ’07, the Mets missed the playoffs by one game this season. A minor league starter chosen at random from the Mets’ farm system could have helped the team more in 14 starts than Perez did.

The light at the end of the tunnel is that these two unfathomable contracts expire after next season. If the Mets can somehow find a taker for either one (I actually think a team might bite on Castillo this winter; no chance Perez gets dealt), then 2010 could be the last time they appear in a Mets uniform.

The fact that either was allowed to don the orange and blue for this long should ensure that the man who made it happen is sent packing at season’s end.

1(2006) The consolation prize was not too shabby: The Mets ended the Atlanta Braves’ 14-year run atop the division, winning their first title since 1988, and advancing to the NLCS before losing that epic seventh game to St. Louis.

The offense that season was off the charts: Beltran hit 41 home runs; Delgado blasted 38. Three players accumulated at least 100 RBI. Two Mets finished in the top 10 in the league in batting (Lo Duca and Wright). Reyes led all of baseball in triples and stolen bases. The core—Beltran, Wright, and Reyes—and the only three hitters who are still with the team today, all finished in the top 10 for the league MVP.

The pitching was not excellent, but it was good enough. Steve Trachsel (with an ERA just a hair under 5) and Tom Glavine each won 15 games. Pedro Martinez started 5-0 but injuries derailed his season. He wasn’t the same after matching Arizona ace Brandon Webb pitch for pitch in a late May game the Mets ended up winning 1-0 in 13 innings.

Pedro was absolutely masterful that night. He pitched eight scoreless, striking out just as many and only allowing five baserunners. Webb was equally dominant, showing why he won the Cy Young that season. It was Endy Chavez, a name Mets fans will never forget, who finally won the game with a single.

I attended this game with some friends for $5. That’s right, upper deck seats for select “value” games at Shea Stadium were $5, even if the Mets were in first and it was Pedro vs. Webb. I wrote an article about this game for a very local paper, though it was never published. My dad came up with the clever headline: “38 Cents Per Inning.”

Orlando Hernandez joined the Mets from Arizona shortly before that game, and was serviceable in 20 starts, baffling hitters by drastically changing speeds. “El Duque” was stellar in September, and thus was named the starter for the Mets’ first playoff game since 2000. He tore a muscle doing some light running the day before the game, though, and was scratched from the postseason roster.

Replacing Hernandez was John Maine, who helped the Mets win the opener against the Dodgers and earned the win in Game Six of the NLCS. Oliver Perez, of course, was called on to pitch the most important (and, as it would turn out, the last) game of the season, and performed admirably, aided by Chavez’s miracle catch.

2(2010) In fact, I conducted a casual poll on Twitter asking Mets fans and bloggers which current Mets player they disliked the most. Jeff Francoeur, Luis Castillo, and Francisco Rodriguez were mentioned, but the overwhelming “winner” was Perez. Responses noted that he is selfish, unmotivated, and of course, overpaid. Interestingly, several people noted that they had wished the question included any Met employee because they disliked Minaya more than any player.

3(2007) To keep a long story long, let’s take a deeper look. The future had become the present as Reyes and Wright once again had monster years. Reyes saw drop-offs in his average (20 points), RBI, and power, but his OBP remained the same due to added plate discipline and he actually stole 14 more bases (a whopping 78). I believe it was during this season that a Sports Illustrated poll of GMs listed Reyes as the guy most likely to be taken No. 1 if all players were thrown into a draft.

Wright improved across the board as well. He hit for more power (reaching the 30-HR plateau for the first time), stole more bases (34, up 14 from ’06), and won his first Gold Glove (although people who watched Wright on a daily basis, like I did, will tell you it probably wasn’t deserved).

The homegrown boys were challenging their cross-town counterparts—Jeter and A-Rod—for the best left side of the infield in baseball.

Even at the time, at the height of his awesomeness, I remember thinking this was a bit ridiculous. Were they forgetting a certain Cardinals slugger? Through 2006 (six seasons), Albert Pujols averaged 40 homers, 123 RBI, and .332 batting average. He had already won an MVP and turned himself into a Gold Glove first baseman.

If the poll was in fact taken during that ’07 season, Pujols was only 27 years old at the time. Reyes had turned 24 that summer and had established himself as a five-tool player. Scouts thought he could hit 20 homers a season and steal 60 bases. These optimistic projections were a reality for Pujols, so it was, to say the least, premature for GMs to vote for Reyes. Even so, it shows exactly how high Reyes’ stock was at the time.

As for the rest of the lineup? Well, the term “career year” exists for a reason, and the Mets had an abundance of them in ’06. Lo Doca’s batting average and on-base percentage each dropped about 40 points in 2007. Delgado’s 38 homers and 114 RBI became 24 and 87, respectively. Beltran regressed towards his career average—his batting average remained the same but his slugging and OBP dropped significantly.

The corner outfielders were Shawn Green (acquired late in the ’06 season) and Moises Alou, an off-season acquisition. Their best years were certainly behind them, and while Alou was productive when he was in the lineup, injuries prevented him from reaching even the 90-game mark. Endy Chavez was a suitable replacement but not someone you want playing everyday.

4(2010) In case you don’t know about how Perez has fared this season, go ahead and look it up. It was hard enough writing about his ’09 campaign—I couldn’t bring myself to waste time on his seven starts in 2010.

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Should the New York Mets Trade for Cliff Lee?

I’ve always liked playing the role of manager more than the role of general manager, and this week has been no different. I’d much prefer to be in Jerry Manuel’s cleats than Omar Minaya’s shoes. The reason? Cliff Lee.

Lee is Seattle’s ace, a pitcher who won the Cy Young for Cleveland in 2008, got traded to the Phillies in July of last year and led them to the World Series, and was traded again this past offseason after Philadelphia acquired Roy Halladay. He is a free agent after this season.

I am having a difficult time deciding whether or not I want the Mets to trade for Lee, though. Here’s why:

They’re only prospects…
Reports are saying that a package of minor leaguers will likely be enough to get Lee. If that’s the case, then the Mets could significantly upgrade their team without giving up anyone whose absence will hurt the team in 2010.

And they may never help the team, as prospects often don’t pan out. If you have the opportunity to trade players who might amount to something for a player who’s already a star, you do it, right?

…but they are prospects.
To recognize the value of holding onto prospects, the Mets can look at their very own infield. Ike Davis (23 years old) and Ruben Tejada (20) made their major league debuts this season and have been instrumental in the team’s success, while Jose Reyes and David Wright (both 27) are also home-grown. That’s without even mentioning starting pitcher Mike Pelfrey.

Youngsters such as Jenrry Mejia, Wilmer Flores, and Josh Thole could be the next wave of players to come up through the minor leagues and excel with the Mets. It would be a shame to see promising young players traded, especially since watching home-grown players perform well is more satisfying (at least to me) than signing a free agent star.

Lee is very, very good…
After starting the season on the disabled list, Lee is 7-3 with a 2.45 ERA for a last-place Seattle team. In his 12 starts, he has the same number of walks as complete games (five). Five walks is a good outing for Oliver Perez.

Mets fans who want Lee think he can do the same thing for New York that he did for Philadelphia last season. The Mets are right in the thick of the race, but there are still questions about the rotation: Is Hisanori Takahashi better suited for the bullpen? Can R.A. Dickey maintain his impressive start? My gut tells me “yes” and “probably not,” so adding a quality starter, especially one as awesome as Lee, would be a great thing for the Mets.

…but nothing is guaranteed.
Contrary to what some fans seem to believe, adding Lee doesn’t automatically earn the Mets World Series rings. Putting Lee at the top of the rotation with Pelfrey and Johan Santana looks great on paper, but dealing away top prospects to get him puts even more pressure on the team.

What are the expectations for a Mets team that includes Lee? A playoff berth? A World Series appearance? A championship? If the Mets mortgage some of their future to acquire Lee and fail to meet these expectations, the season will be a big disappointment.

He may not be worth a rental…
World Series titles don’t grow on trees (at least not for this New York team), so say the Mets trade for Lee and win it all, but he walks after the season — would it be worth it? Probably, but that is of course the best case scenario. A more likely result is that the Mets don’t win it all, in which case they would have dealt prospects for nothing.

…but he’s probably not worth re-signing either.
Lee will turn 32 at the end of August. He’s clearly in his prime right now, as he’s been dominating batters since the 2008 season. But unless Lee is unlike all the other star pitchers who have hit the free agent market over the last 10 years, he is going to want a very large, multi-year contract.

He may be worth the money for the first couple of years of that deal, but by the end of that fourth year, when he’s 36, it’s unlikely Lee will be performing at the level of his salary. No, it’s not my money, but no team has an unlimited budget, so cash tied up with an underperforming is money that could have been used to get someone else.

This is why I’m glad I’m not Minaya. It’s unclear what the right decision is, and even after he makes up his mind, it may take a few years before we learn whether it was the smart move.

Do you think the Mets should trade for Cliff Lee? What are your feelings about dealing prospects in general? Let me know in the comments section or via e-mail at andrew@thesportsjournalists.com.

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Are New York Mets Fans Apathetic?

Worse than an upset, angry, or depressed sports fan is an apathetic sports fan. If a team angers its fanbase, well, at least the fans are feeling something. A buzz surrounding a team — even if it’s mostly negative — is still a buzz, and players, coaches, and especially owners will take that over an apathetic fanbase any day.

The New York Mets fans, I fear, are becoming apathetic. I would know; I’m one of them.

There’s no sense in rehashing the past few seasons in too much detail. The 2006 team was the most talented Mets squad in decades and reached the National League Championship Series. The 2007 and 2008 teams, however, became infamous for their poor play in September, blowing leads in both the divisional standings and in late-inning situations. Words like “collapse,” “chokers,” and arguably the worst of all, “laughingstock,” were used to describe the franchise.

Last season was the worst the team had performed, as far as won-loss record, since 2003, finishing 23 games behind the Phillies. But that was 22 games more than they had trailed at the end of the previous two seasons, so it didn’t sting nearly as much. Jose Reyes, Carlos Delgado, Carlos Beltran, David Wright, and Johan Santana all landed on the disabled list, some for very long stretches, so hope was lost by the All Star Break.

By my barometer, the excitement level entering this season was relatively low. Even after a six-month offseason, Mets fans were exhausted. The team’s play had taken a toll on us and it didn’t help that, despite the Mets not even participating, we were tormented during the playoffs, too: The hated Phillies won the World Series in 2008 and returned last season, only to lose to the damn Yankees.

No, life as a Mets fan couldn’t get much worse. Even if you wanted to play the old “everyone’s in first place on Opening Day” card, you had to know the Mets wouldn’t be there for long, not with Reyes and Beltran starting the season on the DL and a starting rotation with one exclamation point but four question marks.

The lack of talent extends beyond the playing field, though. Ask people in the know which team has the worst front office and I’d be shocked if a large percentage didn’t name the Mets, or least put them in their worst three. I’m afraid that Omar Minaya, the general manager who fumbled the firing of a manger in ’08 and embarrassed the organization at a press conference last season, is better suited as a talent scout or at the very most a GM for a small-market team.

Minaya has — or at least had — a knack for uncovering some diamonds in the rough. And while it’s hard to say that signing superstars like Santana, Beltran, and Francisco Rodriguez, even at huge costs, were bad ideas, as far as payrolls go, no team has done less with more than the Mets.

This begs the question: Were the Mets easier to root for when they had a smaller payroll? In 1995 the Mets had the fifth lowest payroll in baseball, according to the USA Today Salary Database. They began a steady climb from there, moving near the middle of the pack in ’97 and into the top 10 in ’98. The 2002 season was the last time the Mets were outside the top five as far as payroll.

When money is spent unwisely — as it was in the early part of the 2000’s — it’s frustrating. Players like Robbie Alomar and Mo Vaughn proved to be horrible additions. While the Mets current crop of highly-paid paid players have provided far more bang for their buck, the fact remains that since going to the World Series in 2000, the Mets have only reached the postseason once.

Having a losing team when you don’t have the big stars — as was the case in the ’90’s — is one thing, but with the way the Mets have spent the last few years, losing is far more painful. I’m not suggesting that the Mets sit on their money. But the big spending raised expectations, and since the Mets have not won, the disappointment level has been extremely high.

Citi Field, in its inaugural season, was a nice attraction for Mets fans last year, despite the dismal product on the field. But the shine of the new stadium has likely already worn off. No big name signings are going to rejuvenate this fanbase, a la the Pedro Martinez signing after the 2004 season. The same can be said for bringing in a well-known manager. Mets fans don’t want to hear any promises from the owners or any more corny slogans from the marketing department either.

We want the one thing every fanbase wants, and it’s something this current roster may not be capable of doing consistently: winning.