How Omar Minaya and Jerry Manuel Have Wasted a Strong Met Core
Contemplate this hypothetical scenario from the perspective of a Major League Baseball franchise:
You have an athletic, switch-hitting shortstop with blazing speed and electric ability.
You have a franchise-type third baseman with Hollywood looks and a knack for wearing out left-handed pitching.
You have a proven, bona fide ace—and he's a lefty.
You have a switch-hitting, Gold Glove, center fielder with flair, grace, and a plus arm.
Sounds like a dream situation for a General Manager and staff, right?
Now, forget the "hypothetical" part...
You are the New York Mets, and not only have you failed to win it all with such a group, you haven't even reached the World Series.
Few organizations can botch a core like SS Jose Reyes, 3B David Wright, SP Johan Santana, and CF Carlos Beltran, but the Mets have done exactly that, and the combination of Minaya and Manuel is to blame.
The 2010 Mets have won three of their first nine games. A recovering Reyes is still feeling his way around, Santana's "stuff" is not quite what it used to be, and Beltran remains out of the lineup on the rehab trail.
But there was a time when that core was completely intact—healthy, confident, and thriving. That year was 2008, and the Mets didn't make the playoffs.
As the truest of their fans know, that's "Mets Baseball" in a nutshell.
In '08, New York's postseason fate hung in the balance of the final regular season game. That was a game in which manager Jerry Manuel had both LF Nick Evans and SS Ramon Martinez in his starting lineup.
Evans, who was known to be a natural corner infielder, was forced into a left field platoon with Daniel Murphy (also a natural infielder). Minaya approved the forced transitions, and Manuel was delighted to keep throwing the youngsters out there in a position to fail.
And let's get real; anyone who really knows baseball knows that Evans is (and never was) going to be a legitimate, full-time major league player. Yet, Manuel batted the lightly-skilled rookie fifth in the biggest game of the season.
He penciled Martinez in right behind Evans. Fifth and sixth, two prime RBI spots, occupied by Bum and Bummer.
Martinez played in parts of 12 big league seasons, and hit .262. He had 29 career homers, good for an average of 2.4 homers per year. That's good stuff.
There I was, sitting in the left field seats at Shea, completely prepared to vomit after seeing Manuel's starting lineup.
But it didn't stop there. Life, or God, or something has a sick and twisted sense of humor.
After Beltran hammered a clutch, game-tying, two-run homer to left center, the game was in Manuel's hands. With the score tied at two, he turned the ball over to LHP Scott Schoeneweis.
Gutless, heartless, crappy, one-pitch Scott Schoeneweis.
Definitely the man you want in there with the season on the line, right?
Of course the rest is history. Marlins' manager Fredi Gonzalez pinch hit with lefty-killer Wes Helms, and he deposited Schoeneweis' one-pitch special about 20 feet away from my bleacher seat.
The Mets lost, the season was over, and all I could think was:
"How could a major league manager not know that Schoeneweis is a one-pitch lefty with no spine? How could he put him into a tie game in the late innings? How could he bat Evans and Martinez back-to-back in two critical spots in the order? How is this guy ever going to keep his job after this?
But Life wasn't done messing with me. It slapped me even harder this time.
After clearly showing that he was incapable of managing a major league team yearning to contend for a World Series (or even just the postseason), Jerry Manuel got a new contract from Omar Minaya.
My blood pressure had never been higher.
Injuries or not, the '09 Mets won 70 games.
Minaya survived it.
Manuel survived it.
And now we're 3-6, with the same, old, crappy John Maine occupying a rotation spot; with dead-armed, wild Ollie Perez in a rotation spot; with awful Mike Jacobs batting cleanup ahead of Jason Bay; with Nelson Figueroa on the division-rival Phillies; with Alex Cora pinch hitting against a lefty over Fernando Tatis and Henry Blanco; with Ike Davis, Chris Carter, Ruben Tejada, and Fernando Martinez in the minors, and baseball's gods shaking their heads.
What a mess.
The saddest part is that we still have the pieces to compete. I know how to use them; you probably know how to use them...
But Omar Minaya and Jerry Manuel certainly don't.
(John Frascella is the author of Theo-logy: How a Boy Wonder Led the Red Sox to the Promised Land, the first and only book centered on Boston's GM Theo Epstein. Check it out on Amazon or follow John's Twitter @RedSoxAuthor).
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