Interesting story by Ken Rosenthal today, subtly blaming Omar Minaya for banking too heavily on the health of Pedro Martinez. I say "interesting" because it's not actually a "good" column; Rosenthal meanders a bit throughout and is clearly wearing his 20-20 Hindsight glasses as he takes Minaya to task. Still, it's a good sign that mainstream media outside of the volatile New York market is beginning to take notice of some of Minaya's roster cosntruction blunders.
From the column: "Forget Scott Kazmir. Mets general manager Omar Minaya isn't the one who traded him for Victor Zambrano. But Brian Bannister, who shut out the mighty Tigers for seven innings on Wednesday? Minaya dealt him for reliever Ambiorix Burgos, who likely will miss the entire season while recovering from elbow-ligament transplant surgery. Kyle Lohse, who shut out the defending NL-champion Rockies for five innings on Tuesday night? The Mets passed as he lingered on the free-agent market, allowing the Cardinals to grab him for $4.25 million. Rich Harden, who has allowed one run in 11 innings in two starts against the defending World Series champion Red Sox? The A's would ask a high-prospect price for either him or Joe Blanton — starting with prized outfielder Fernando Martinez — and the Mets depleted their farm system when they acquired Johan Santana."
It's a bit of a stretch to blame Minaya for not bringing Lohse or Harden into the fold. Lohse was adamant about wanting a multi-year deal well into spring training, at a price not nearly justified by his career record. With Santana, Maine and Perez firmly entrenched in the rotation, the Mets would've had to bank on both Pedro AND El Duque being injured at some point during the year and that their DL stints wouldn't overlap. Otherwise, the odd man out would've been Lohse - and you don't pay a guy $4.25 million (the price the Cardinals eventually paid for one year of his services) to form the best one-two punch in Pacific Coast League with Mike Pelfrey.
The Harden complaint is simply laughable. If Minaya was going to deplete his farm system for a starter, should he have chosen to do so for the consumnate best pitcher in the American League over the last five seasons, or a guy with incredible talent but has spent most of his career on the shelf? Oakland GM Billy Beane was asking a lot for Harden and rightfully so - if the kid ever stays healthy he might be replacing Santana as the best starter in the AL. Look, I was a big fan of Philip Humber, but that deal for Santana was a no-brainer. I'm not going to blame for Minaya for then not having enough prospects to go out and trade for Harden too.
Now Bannister is a different story. In the 2006 off-season, Minaya decided to shuffle young pitchers all over the league, ostensibly in the hopes that he would find a hidden gem. Instead, he gave away Bannister, Heath Bell, Matt Lindstrom and Henry Owens in three separate trades and came away with absolutely nothing of substance in return. Ambiorix Burgos and Jason Vargas are out for the season with injuries, while Ben Johnson and Adam Bostick appear to be career minor leaguers. Imagine a Mets rotation with Bannister instead of Pelfrey (and now Pelfrey instead of Nelson Figueroa). Imagine a bullpen with Heath Bell and Matt Lindstrom instead of Joe Smith and Jorge Sosa. It changes your perspective on this team's future, does it not?
Rosenthal adds three reasons why he believes the Mets are in their current predicament:
"An over-reliance on Martinez: The Mets' signing of Martinez to a four-year, $53 million contract helped transform the team's culture, persuading free agents such as Carlos Beltran and Billy Wagner to follow suit. But Martinez has made only 60 starts in those four seasons, justifying the Red Sox's decision to let him depart after the 2004 season.
Ill-advised trades: The Santana deal was a winner, even if it cost the Mets their Nos. 2, 3, 4 and 7 prospects — three pitchers plus outfielder Carlos Gomez — in Baseball America's rankings. Bannister-for-Burgos, however, looks like a major mistake. And rather than acquire a pitcher for outfielder Lastings Milledge, the Mets settled for catcher Brian Schneider and outfielder Ryan Church.
Questionable draft strategy: The Mets spend heavily in the international market for amateurs, but curiously adhere to Major League Baseball's recommended signing bonuses in the draft. The Yankees, Red Sox and Tigers routinely flex their revenue muscles by exceeding "slot" and signing elite young talent — without fear of reprisal from MLB."
I have to believe that the Mets signed Pedro Martinez knowing full well the injury risks involved. There were whispers that Pedro was pitching with a partially torn labrum for years and my father can tell you that torn labrums don't just heal by themselves. It was a calculated risk, by a team that could not only afford the financial hit, but also needed the credibility boost by signing a pitcher still considered among the very best in baseball. You will never hear me argue against the decision to sign Pedro, no matter how the rest of his Mets career turns out.
That said, the mindset all along is that Pedro was still the titular ace of the staff, relegated only to the #2 spot in the rotation when Santana came along. That's just ridiculous. Here's what we know about shoulder injuries to pitchers - almost NONE of them return to anything resembling their previous form. Before Tommy John surgery was conceived in the 1970s, elbow injuries of that nature were considered career-enders. There is no "Tommy John surgery" for labrum and rotator cuff injuries - and thus are still considered career enders.
Rosenthal's point is correct, though - the Mets have never properly planned for the possibility that Pedro may never give them 30 starts in a season. The reality is that Pedro Martinez (regardless of his salary) was no more than the fourth starter on the Mets going into this season - but by luck, not by design. Minaya absolutely pilfered John Maine and Oliver Perez and in the process stole his true #2 and #3 starters from other hapless teams. I find it hard to believe he could've known both would turn out to be this good, but it is this happy accident that has prevented Pedro's injury from becoming disatrous.
I mentioned some of the ill-advised trades earlier, but suffice it to say I do not believe the Mets received true value for Lastings Milledge. As for the Mets' amateur draft strategy, I wholeheartedly agree with Rosenthal. The slotting system is a joke and any team that adheres to it is simply engaging in collusion for the sake of holding down salaries. Minaya has hinted that the Mets will no longer play along, starting as soon as the June 2008 draft. It remains to be seen if he will be true to his word, but it's an encouraging development.