When Sandy Alderson was hired and Omar Minaya was ousted, it was suggested that Alderson would be able to offset some of the money issues facing the team with a world-class ability to find hidden gems. The Madoff situation was in full bloom, and despite the Wilpons denials to the contrary, it was fairly obvious where the payroll was going. Sure enough, from the day Sandy came onboard the major league payroll began a decline that has not yet ended. In contrast to that — and other cost-cutting measures that included the elimination of minor league franchises — there was one area where the Mets invested heavily. And that was in Alderson himself, and especially his surrounding staff. One theory given for this contradictory move was that a world-class front office would find a trove of untapped, inexpensive talent to help keep the franchise afloat.
After Alderson was hired, his first moves were to bring in J.P. Ricciardi and Paul DePodesta, two men who had already been GMs and who had also been with the Oakland A’s. Yes, those Oakland A’s, the famous geniuses that could run players through Excel pivot tables and find talent where no one else could. If you saw the movie Moneyball, the DePodesta character was played by that fat kid who was in Superbad. How smart was DePodesta? Basically, the A’s were the Bad News Bears. Beane went down the hall one day, and the guy based on Paul handed him a spreadsheet with a bunch of guys listed on it and bam –- nineteen straight wins. That’s a guy I want on my side! So when we put our executive dream team together, I wasn’t expecting any World Series Championships any time soon, but I was looking forward to surprising other teams a little with new, inexpensive talent.
Only it didn’t come. I guess the computer crashed. As Joel Sherman pointed out in his article last week, since Sandy has become GM he has not done anything on this front to resemble his supposed protégé Billy Beane. That got me to thinking. Forget Beane, I always have that Mets point of view. How is the dream team doing versus Omar Minaya? Now, understand, this is not a full point-by-point Sandy versus Omar discussion. One, I cannot defend many moves made by Omar. For example, he is not someone who I would have manage my finances. Also, though, these two men were GMs at different times in Mets history with different marching orders from the owners. But in the area of low-risk, high-reward acquisitions I thought a comparison could be done. Any team would always like a bargain player, a great signing. And for a team with a limited budget it is huge.
I scanned the rosters that Minaya put together in 2005 and 2006, his first two years, and the last two under Alderson. For Omar in 2005, nothing much popped out at me. In 2006, the following players were acquired as bargain basement signings by Minaya:
- Endy Chavez – free agent signing, $500,000;
- Jose Valentin – free agent signing, $912,500;
- Pedro Feliciano – free agent signing, amount unlisted but it was well under $1,000,000.
It wasn’t just the catch; Chavez had big moments all year for the 2006 team. Feliciano was a fabulous shutdown reliever that year. And Valentin had a .820 OPS in 384 at bats while playing a very solid second base. How good is that? Daniel Murphy had an OPS almost 100 points lower while playing an, um, interesting second base. Valentin was fantastic in 2006.
On the Alderson side of the ledger, using the same criterion, I came up with this list of good-low dollar moves:
- 2011 – Nobody;
- 2012 – Scott Hairston – $1,100,000.
It might be fair to say Scott Hairston was Chavez-like (in a very different way) in 2012. Tim Byrdak was nothing more than average in both 2011 and 2012. After that there is nothing but filler and players who failed. Not one true gem in the bunch.
Now, two years is not a long time, and a few hits in this department go a long way. My tongue-in-cheek comments aside, if Collin Cowgill, Andrew Brown and Greg Burke were all to become the next big thing, this pendulum starts to swing. But as the Alderson regime continues to work the margins over more off-seasons, two other Minaya bargain acquisitions would appear in any comparison: Angel Pagan, and R.A. Dickey. When you consider that, you begin to realize how hard it will be for this to ever become an even contest.
With the 2013 offseason coming to a final close, we are close to three years in with the new management team and the biggest thing that pops out to me is the scarcity of Latin American signings. Omar worked that market heavily for diamonds in the rough. Chavez, Valentin, Feliciano, Tatis (2007), and Pagan all jump out. Given all of the success Minaya had in this region, it is strange that the new administration has been as reticent as they have been in signing low-level Latin American free agents. One thing the WBC reminds us of is how many great players reside in this part of the world.
As we can see from the example of 2006, even a star-laden team needs surprise players to fully succeed. It will be hard for the Mets to ever become a serious playoff contender without improvement from the front office in this area. For now the movie is still in development, but if the Mets are “Moneyball II,” the sequel is not off to a riveting start. Let’s hope Fred and Jeff turn the electricity back on and upgrade to Windows 8.