If the Mets don't make significant improvements over the next couple of weeks -- they're 5-5, and can charitably be described as playing "flat" -- manage Willie Randolph will take a fair share of the blame. But I want the Mets to take a good look at Omar Minaya as well.
Minaya has had a good run of signing big-money, grade-A free agents, and he made the Johan Santana trade happen. But I want to look at two other areas -- the farm system, and lower-end trades. I'm beginning to think the Mets are having a very hard time judging talent on the field.
The Mets, as a franchise, have had a long, awful history of trading young players for that last veteran who'll push them over the top -- only to have the veteran become an old man the second he enters the clubhouse at Shea. Toward that end, I give you the following, all before Minaya came along:
1969 – Amos Otis for Joe Foy.
1971 – Nolan Ryan and three others for Jim Fregosi.
1981 – Jeff Reardon for Ellis Valentine.
1989 – Len Dykstra, Roger McDowell, and Tom Edens for Juan Samuel.
1989 – Rick Aguilera, Kevin Tapani and three others for Frank Viola.
1996 – Jeff Kent and Jose Vizcaino for Carlos Baerga and Alvaro Espinoza.
1999 – Jason Isringhausen and Greg McMichael for Billy Taylor.
2000 – Melvin Mora and three others for Mike Bordick.
2004 – Scott Kazmir for Victor Zambrano.
Lately, these trades include trading young guys for other young guys -- and watching the players the Mets had become stars. Here are two:
- Jeff Keppinger for Ruben Gotay. Keppinger was dealt to the Mets along with Kris Benson, and could have made that deal a win -- except he was sent to Kansas City two years later for Gotay in an exchange of fringe infielders. Keppinger had shown a little in 2004, batting .284 in 112 ABs. Gotay had been given a chance at the Kansas City second base job in 2005, but hit .227 (.632 OPS), so the exchange was made. Today, Keppinger is a Cincinnati Red -- and hit .332 with an .877 OPS last year, improving this season to a .928 OPS. For the time being, he's the starting shortstop, but he's capable of playing any infield position. Gotay was waived at the end of spring training. He's now a bench player in Atlanta.
- Brian Bannister for Ambiorix Burgos. Bannister's an extremely bright guy (member of Lambda Chi Alpha), and had a few decent starts for the Mets in 2006 before an arm injury, going 2-1. Last year, he finished third in the Rookie of the Year voting as a Kansas City Royal, going 12-9. Burgos had saved 18 games for the Royals in 2006, but was dumped out of the closer role after logging a 5.52 ERA. After 18 games with the Mets in 2007, he was sent back to Triple-A, and has since undergone elbow ligament replacement surgery. As far as I know, he's still out.
As for the farm system, the best way to judge a team's system overall is by their won-loss record. In 2004, before Minaya took over, they had a winning percentage of .547. That's dropped steadily in the past three years, hitting .442 last year. That's also the lowest percentage the teams' affiliates have posted in the last 15 years.
Neither of these problems are thing Willie Randolph can control. This is a system-wide problem, and must be corrected if the Mets want to achieve long-term success.