Omar Minaya, the strip miner

DMZ · October 6, 2003 at 9:58 pm · Filed Under Mariners 


“The Strip Miner”

Over 1,000 Words of Goodness

Because you demanded it!

Omar’s in a difficult situation, and this is what people will point to when they excuse his faults: “What else is he going to do, given that his team is owned by MLB?”

And I agree, a little, in that I’ll give him some sympathy. Beyond that, his record in Montreal and his general outlook offer little evidence that Minaya would be a good general manager in Seattle.

One thing we agree on here at the U.S.S. Mariner is that when you look for a GM candidate, you should look for someone adaptable, willing to learn. Minaya will not learn, and seems to have a great deal of disdain for those who do. One of my favorite Minaya quotes is ““I don’t talk about on-base percentage. I’m old school. I’m not a stat guy. I’m a talent evaluator. The guys who taught me the game of baseball never talked about on-base percentage. Give me talent and I’ll give you on-base percentage.”

He’s got a ton of gems like that. Two years as Montreal’s GM, the team went 83-79 twice. The problem is that Minaya knew he wasn’t going to be around for a while and essentially has left the Expos minor league system in a state that (were it in the US, anyway) might qualify it as a Superfund cleanup project.

Now part of that is MLB’s fault: the wholesale looting of the Expos by Jeff Loria as he left for the Marlins resulted in the team losing institutional ability (for lack of a better term): they lost scouting guys, coaches, whoever — it seemed like almost everyone in the organization known for their good work in player development went to the Marlins or found employment on another team. Knowing that’s true, you can look at the strip-mining in one of two ways (whether or not you think the deals were good)

– Why not? Without a minor league system, the Expos are going to suck in a couple years anyway, and they might not be around at all. They’re close to competing, go for it

– No way. This last crop of minor leaguers is going to be the only source of cheap, good talent the team will have to build around while under severe budget constraints for the next couple years until the farm system can be rebuilt

Neither of those is right, or wrong. But Minaya was given a chance to run a major-league team with some crazy caveats, and he thought about it and decided to make a splash, and it worked. He’s a leading candidate for the Reds job, or so we read, and is mentioned constantly here in Seattle over better candidates like Kim Ng.

What about what he did to make that splash?

In the 2003 off-season, when Minaya had to make some deals to cut salary, he did nothing, and teams found other solutions, chopping his leverage out from under him (is leverage choppable? Does it support one? Onwards!) $15m isn’t easy to cut, but Minaya had no plan and it hurt him badly.

Take Bartolo Colon and the Indians who (by way of contrast) were trying to chop salary quickly. Colon went to the Expos for a prize package that (to me, anyway) is the last great prospect trade MLB has seen: Colon and Tim Drew went to the Expos, and the Indians got Cliff Lee, Grady Sizemore, and Brandon Phillips (and took on a year of Lee Stevens to even the contracts out). Then when it came time to move Colon, they got… nothing. A free Orlando Hernandez, damaged rotator cuff and all, and a turkey sandwitch. In defense of Minaya, we hear the turkey sandwitch was delicious. It did not, however, come with cheese.

Minaya seems to flit from opportunity to opportunity. Chance to pick up some starting pitchers from teams looking to create a roster spot and willing to pay most or all of the salary? Hey, we’ll take him — bing! Livan Hernandez, who weirdly puts up an amazing season.

Minaya’s also got a scout’s background, which will make him appealing to Gillick (who is “a scout’s scout”, someone probably said once). On the positive side, Minaya does some of the things we razz Gillick for: he put together cheap, effective bullpens, he took his chances on waiver-type talent and roster pasting by acquiring guys like Tomo Ohka who were at one time highly regarded. Frank Robinson and their coaches then got great work out of them, and the team prospered. But this was essentially Jim Bowden’s style, and it never got him to the playoffs or built a prosperous franchise there, either (interestingly, Bowden worked under many of the same type of financial/ownership constraints that Minaya has in Montreal).

Even there, there’s no plan: when they picked up Cliff Floyd, they gave up Carl Pavano, Graeme Lloyd, Mike Mordecai, and Justin Wayne, along with a PTBNL that turned out to be Don Levinski. Not a huge loss, only Pavano is particularly talented out of that group (and this year started well for the Marlins and then struggled badly). When they discovered that Floyd and his bad legs didn’t like the turf, and the team fell further out of contention, three weeks later Minaya ended up dumping him on the Red Sox for Seung Song and Sun-Woo Kim.

That’s the kind of thing Dan Duquette used to do with the Red Sox: if he didn’t make three, four moves in a week, he’d go home thinking he’d failed to earn his GM check. But patience and an ability to stick to a plan is one of the greatest qualities of any executive.

What would Omar do here? He was an assistant GM for the Mets as that franchise floundered, spending wildly on the veteran-of-the-week trying to stay at 85 wins, and then in Montreal he’s blown up the remnants of a farm system in an attempt to generate some ink. The M’s have one of the strangest mixes of veteran talent and young prospects, an intriguing off-season challenge that will require someone who can swing both ways, patch some roster spots, maybe work a trade, and see if they can’t get 90, 95 wins out of the team.

This can be done. Teams can reload on the fly as they compete, working new players into the lineup, finding stars and role players to complete the roster, while maintaining a fertile farm system. But when you look at Omar’s history, there’s two ways he might go with the 2004 Mariners:

– spend wildly on a bad, old outfielder, other players

– spend prospects wildly on a bad, old outfielder, other players

Now, that might allow the team to tread water, win 80-85 games next year.

I say screw 85 wins. This team can win 85 games with Minaya using hundred-dollar bills to light other hundred-dollar bills while Rafael Soriano goes 16-7 with Toronto and maybe compete next year, or they can get someone smart, creative adaptable, without the press, and finally reach for the World Series this year, and the next, and the year after. It can happen. All we need is the right leadership.

Kim Ng for GM.


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