Mining For Gems: Sandy vs. Omar

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.

superbadAfter 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:

valentinIt 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:

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.

dickey as jayNow, 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.


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  1. The other funny thing that Minaya was constantly, perhaps somewhat deservedly so, raked over the coals for was the signing of bad contracts. Essentially over paying for players. Luis Castillo, Oliver Perez though I am having a hard time searching for another one that fans did not clap like seals for as a good addition.

    In hindsight, Beltran’s deal was seen by maybe half the fans as a problem in the end. That was revisionist in a big way. Santana’s is being lamented is terrible, though find me someone – anyone -who when that trade and sign deal went down, complained. Given the term and dollars, Bay was even seemed as a relative risk maybe in the option year, but no one anticipated he would entirely implode as a player.

    On the flip side, the Always Defend Alderson league of slightly sycophant bloggers seem to rest easy knowing that Alderson has not saddled the Mets with any bad long term deals. Just a string of really bad short term ones coupled with as you have pointed out a whole host of nothings in the bargain finds aisle.

    The snarky folk who seem quite content to pin labels on others who might dare question what exactly is going on here keep pointing to the next offseason as the moment when the financial seas will part and apparently all-stars will be found crossing the channel on foot. Presumably they will rush to Queens when this happens.

    But if anyone has been paying attention, there is not exactly going to be a line of talent to throw cash money at next winter. Unless anyone believes the Yankees are really not going to re-sign Robinson Cano, and further that the Mets are going to pay a 2B $200MM for 10 years. That whole Boras thing.

    Meanwhile, Pagan is in CF for the World Champion Giants, and Ramon Ramirez is back fighting for a job in their bullpen. Maybe Andres Torres can become a super scout.

  2. I commented in a post at Metsmerized yesterday that Alderson hasn’t made any big mistakes in this area, solely because he hasn’t signed anyone of note. Some folks see that inactivity as a form of moral rectitude. Overall, Alderson’s small deals have not been successful.

    Even if the Mets have, say, $40 million free to spend next off-season, it could be that a lot of that money goes to retain players already under contract. Ike Davis will be due a significant raise if he plays well; likewise, it might be time to prepare the “rich and famous contract” for Matt Harvey (his agent, Boras, willing).

    I’m saying $40 million isn’t what it used to be — and there’s no way on this earth that the Mets acquire Robinson Cano.

    Again, none of this is to kill Sandy Alderson, but his overall performance record is spotty, at best, and yet he is described in some parts as a GM who can turn water into wine.

    — Agnostically Yours, JP

    • That is exactly it, making no effort is not the same as being free of mistakes. Anyone can not sign a free agent, that is pretty easy. He did it with Jose Reyes and many of the Mets own fans supported it, because surely he would be injured. Unlike David Wright, who surely would just ascend to the Marvel Comics form of a Baseball player. I’d venture to guess that at worst Jose Reyes plays in as many games as David Wright during the next five years.

      The chorus was Reyes game was built solely on his legs, I’d argue that was myopic view. In the meantime, I’d like to see Wright withstand the back injury he sustained two years ago over the course of the next eight years. Intercostal muscles not withstanding.

      But I absolutely agree you are correct, there will be no money thrown at free agents of any consequence anytime soon. Which is why so much is riding on the performance of their minor leaguers this season. They’re almost certainly going to have to go the trade route to get better talent.

    • Michael Geus says:

      One more quick thought on today’s theme, working the margins. At the deadline last year Scott Hairston had some level of value to contending clubs. It could not have been zero value. He had zero value to the Mets. Alderson stood still, and explained that no “top prospects” had been offered.

      So what? Hairston had become completely useless to us. Again, not one person in this front office had the baseball acumen to scan whatever offers existed for Hairston and point to a guy and say, “hey, there is a 1% chance this guy becomes something”? That is very damning.

  3. Eric says:

    MONEY BALL was made into a Movie….. The SITTING AND WAITING by the “Troika” would best fit an Urn, as in ODE TO A GRECIAN URN II.

    “Alderson, Baseball Man” is a Total MYTH. Signing Billy Beane’s Paycheck does not establish you as a Letter Day Branch Rickey! As for his lieutenants…. Charting Pitches and Counting Innings isn’t the CV of a Baseball Savant. Of the 3, they have NOT a shred of baseball success since their association with Billy Beane. My understanding is that THE TROIKA is a 5-8 million dollar yearly Toke—– I’d prefer a Mid Level Right Handed Outfielder!!!!

    There is simply No Reason to make a comparison to Omar or any other GM. They have made two Great Moves…that’s not debatable. They have otherwise come up empty on finding value, and they have virtually bypassed the Trade Deadline deals that usually bring large prospect rewards. They allowed Reyes to walk—-and there is simply NOT a good reason for a Big Market team to allow a Home Grown, Beloved start to walk. Many of their other “moves” were bad(Pagan for Torres…..)

    They have avoided expensive mistakes….. and mid level mistakes….and cheap mistakes. Congratulations—- they are a 90 loss team, but they don’t make mistakes!!!!!

  4. Robb says:

    Omar was and is a disaster. How anyone would let that man anywhere near a checkbook is simply amazing. He overpaid a bunch of malcontents and the organization is still trying to dig out from under his mess. The scary thing is the Padres actually gave him another job. Minaya isn’t capable of running a hot dog stand never mind a baseball team! Lets Go Mets!

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