Omar Minaya Suddenly Most-Wanted Man In Baseball

Omar Minaya has often been the punch line, but whoever signs him as a front office piece is going to look smart.

Omar Minaya's tenure as the Mets' general manager isn't that difficult to analyze. He spent a lot of money, a tactic that was successful when it was used on great players, and not as successful when it was lavished on lesser ones. You don't need to go much deeper into it than that as a writer, just as you don't need to have a professorship in general managing to know signing Carlos Beltran is a good idea.

There are aspects of his game that don't get nearly as much mention, though, because when it's time to make jokes, you mostly want to focus on the bad. There was plenty of bad with Minaya, and plenty of jokes, too, so the good he was capable of tends to get lost in the laugh track. But just because someone is a bad fit in one job doesn't make them a terrible idea overall.

Minaya has his strengths -- you don't get to be general manager if you aren't good at something, even if it doesn't turn out to be the right something -- and just because he shouldn't have access to the team's credit card at the winter meetings doesn't mean he isn't useful. The Red Sox, Blue Jays, Padres, and others know this, hence the sudden demand for Minaya to join those teams in various roles that involve scouting or as an assistant to the GM. 

Minaya started out working with the Texas Rangers in the 1980s, as part of their scouting department. The joke during his time as GM of the Mets was that if a player were Hispanic, Minaya was all over him. It just so happens that the Hispanic players Minaya targeted were also good at baseball. Beltran, Pedro Martinez, Carlos Delgado -- it didn't matter so much where that trio was from, they could either hit the ball very far, or throw it very fast, and with excellent results stemming from both. Minaya has known this for a long time, of course, as he was part of the scouting team that brought Juan Gonzalez and Sammy Sosa to the Rangers. Remember, the proliferation of Hispanics in baseball is a more recent historical development, and Minaya helped to bring along two of the 1990s more famous examples of quality Hispanic ballplayers thanks to his involvement and interest in Latin American baseball. 

Another criticism of Minaya's was Oliver Perez. Perez is one of baseball's bigger jokes of the last few years (a personal favorite, really), thanks to a combination of being unhealthy and noteworthy levels of terrible when he did take the mound. But the original thought behind Perez was sound: Minaya gave up Xavier Nady and received both Perez and Roberto Hernandez on the trade deadline in 2006. Perez had been terrible that half-season for Pittsburgh, as well as the year prior, but was just barely removed from a 2004 in which he struck out a league-leading 11 batters per nine, and posted an ERA of 2.98. (The number of pitchers who struck out 11 per nine in baseball this year, minimum 100 innings pitched? Zero.)

Perez was no guarantee to succeed, but he had been productive before, and his stuff was excellent -- even if he didn't always know where it was going. The Mets scooped him up during his arbitration years on a buy-low trade. The only real mistake -- and it was a significant one -- was signing Perez to an extension that paid him handsomely and kept him around through 2011 after the 2008 season.

Picking up players on the rebound was something of a Minaya specialty. Perez was one such player, but so was Jose Valentin (.271/.330/.490 with the Mets after a 2005 with the Dodgers that resulted in a .591 OPS), Fernando Tatis (.279/.343/.447 over three seasons with the Mets after being out of the majors, and at a grand total of $2.55 million), and R.A. Dickey, the Mets' top pitcher the last two years after a career full of scrap heap-dom. 

Minaya had both the stars and scrubs down, a necessary trait for someone who is going to spend a lot of money on a few players. It was always the middle that confounded him, though, like spending three years and $37 million plus a $17.5 million vesting option for a fourth year on Francisco Rodriguez, the $36 million Perez extension, the four-year, $25 million Luis Castillo deal, or a failure to add the depth necessary for a roster with as many fragile older players like Martinez, Moises Alou, and the guy with bad knees they threw all that money at, Castillo.

Minaya would be an excellent fit for a team looking to expand or improve its Latin America scouting, or as an assistant to the GM whose job is to identify useful players for the team, like the ones he discovered over and over again while with the Mets. Just keep the team's ATM PIN away from him, and whoever signs him will be pleased with the hire.

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