July 30, 2004 is a day that lives in infamy for Mets fans of my generation.
The Mets were six games out of a playoff spot, not exactly contenders, but not exactly out of it. So, they decided to become buyers at the deadline.
That’s when arguably the worst trade since the Nolan Ryan deal came about. The Mets traded stud pitching prospect Scott Kazmir to Tampa Bay for Victor Zambrano.
Unlike most fans, I was a Zambrano supporter, believe it or not. At least he tried.
Zambrano was already injured when New York acquired him, with a messed up elbow that the Mets soon-to-be-former medical staff approved, despite insufficient medical reports.
It wasn’t Zambrano’s fault the Mets higher-ups traded their best pitching prospect for a run-of-the-mill starter. It also wasn’t his fault that New York traded their best pitching prospect for damaged goods.
Zambrano pitched parts of three seasons with the Mets. He'll likely be remembered for his bizarre final appearance in Queens, when Zambrano's screwed up elbow finally gave way. If you recall, he struck out Andruw Jones. Then, without warning, the pitcher ran off of the mound, and into the clubhouse, never to be seen again.
The Mets, of course, would go on to finish the 2004 season with a 71-91 record. Art Howe was fired, and Omar Minaya was hired to fix the mess.
I hate to rehash the memories of that fateful year, but I bring it up for good reason.
It’s starting to feel, to me at least, like this 2010 season is playing out like 2004.
Like 2004, the Mets have a lame-duck manager. It’s one of the worst kept secrets in baseball.
Like 2004, the roster is littered with young talent, in Mike Pelfrey, Ike Davis, and Angel Pagan, that is showing signs of stardom.
Like in 2004, the Mets have a top pitching prospect in Jenrry Mejia, who is being mishandled by people who shouldn't be in charge of such decisions.
And, like 2004, the Mets are pseudo-contenders, middle-of-the-pack, and in prime position to sell if they don’t improve by the trading deadline.
That is, of course, as long as a stupid trade isn’t made in a desperate attempt to save someone’s job.
Why, I ask you fellow members of the Shea Faithful, does it feel as though Omar Minaya’s leadership hasn't brought this franchise anywhere in his six years with the club, but back to square one, right back where the franchise was in September of 2004 when he got the job?
Wasn't he hired to make this team relevant again?
Instead of fixing the Mets by being an intelligent, thrifty baseball mind (such as Rays general manager Andrew Friedman, for example) Minaya tried to rebuild the Mets by aimlessly throwing money at good players. He showed them the money to make them come to Queens, and make the Mets a contender again.
To his credit, the Carlos Beltran deal was a success in my book. As was the Billy Wagner signing and the Carlos Delgado trade, among others. Pedro Martinez, Manaya's first big splash as Mets GM, was great for the first two years. Unfortunately, there were too many years in Martinez's contract.
But, that’s what Omar Minaya did. He got his man, no matter how recklessly he had to spend to do it.
For every Beltran, Johan Santana and Endy Chavez acquisition, there was a Heath Bell-for-scraps, the J.J. Putz deal, and the Luis Castillo contract, etc.
Here we are, in 2010, with the fifth-highest payroll in Major League Baseball , behind only the Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs and Phillies. Yet, the Mets are six games back of the Phillies in the division, 4.5 games back in the Wild Card, with a whole lot of teams in front of them. Their manager’s job is on the line in every series.
Will anyone be shocked if Minaya gets the boot after this season? Is there someone out there, maybe a Kevin Towers, or maybe even a John Ricco, who can oversee this franchise without running it into the ground?
I’m inclined to say yes, because I’m the optimistic Mets fan. But, it’s clear that something has to change.
2006 should not have been the peak of the Minaya era, but it's obvious in retrospect that it was.
The Mets have gone in a circle over these past six seasons. From upstarts in 2005, to runaway kings of the National League to 2006, to chokers in 2007, to near-misses in 2008, and to rock bottom in 2009.
Yet, the same people are still in charge.
Some people have criticized the Mets for having a weak off-season, signing only Jason Bay and wasting money on Chris Coste and Alex Cora.
But, I think the off-season was actually one of Omar Minaya’s best.
He didn’t give Bay too much money, all things considered. Most importantly, Minaya didn't trade away our top prospects. Ike Davis, Fernando Martinez, Jenrry Mejia, Jon Niese, Josh Thole, Wilmer Flores, and Kirk Nieuwenhuis are still here.
The Mets are going in the right direction, especially since they hired Terry Collins to run the farm system. They’ve got bright managers in the minors in Ken Oberkfell, Wally Backman and Tim Teufel. If they hire a guy to run the big league team, they need to find the right man for the job.
They need a 21st-century general manager to run the show. Someone who understands the value of pitching and defense, unlike the man in charge currently who talks about pitching and defense, but doesn’t walk the walk.
I want a general manager who can understand UZR and BABIP. I want a general manager who can talk the finer points of FIP and wOBA.
In other words, I want a general manager who can get us to the promised land. And keep us there. And that guy is not Omar Minaya. Not anymore.
The man who’s responsible needs to get his walking papers after this season.
Thankfully, there is nowhere to go but up. This roster is too talented to fail.
They’ve shown the ability to play up to competition, like they did this weekend against the defending World Champions.
With the right leadership in place, from the General Manager on down, this team can be contenders in the near future. It’s only a matter of time.
Ya gotta believe.
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