As you’ve likely heard, the Yankees hired Omar Minaya as a “Senior Advisor to Baseball Operations” along with Brian Sabean in a similar capacity. This started a storm of comments from the media and fans about how this, given Sabean’s and Minaya’s reputations as scouts, was a sign the Yankees had become too analytically driven and fell short in the old-school scouting department.
Minaya, for his part, mentioned that there’s a human element to the game that’s slipped into the background. Jack Curry of Yankees State TV later tweeted that “both Minaya and Sabean are known for their scouting and talent evaluation abilities. Both executives will now be added to the other voices in the decision room. Important to mix analytics info and scouting info.”
That giant straw man that Curry has constructed aside, let’s talk about Omar Minaya a little bit because it seems many folks in Yankees Universe are listening to the noise and ignoring the signal.
Obviously, Minaya was in a tough position in the early aughts as the GM of the Expos when Bud Selig, John Henry, and Jeffrey Loria were conspiring to get the Lerner family into baseball and move the Expos to Washington DC, even though fan attendance had been rising in Montreal. (I wrote about that part HERE.)
Yet regardless of circumstances, Minaya orchestrated what is in the discussion of worst trades of all time: Omar acquired Bartolo Colon for Montreal in exchange for prospects Cliff Lee, Grady Sizemore, and Brandon Phillips midway through 2002. Colon pitched for Montreal for two months – Lee, Sizemore, and Phillips went on to produce 99.4 WAR*, 10 All-Star appearances, two Silver Slugger awards, six Gold Glove awards, and a Cy Young award.
(*99.4 WAR is the approximate equivalent of the career of Albert Pujols – for two months of Bartolo Colon.)
That trade was so bad it overshadowed what may be the second-worst trade of this century. Earlier that year, Minaya acquired Lou Collier for the Expos. You can be forgiven if you forget who Lou Collier is, as he played in MLB for eight seasons and ended with a career WAR of -0.5 (and yes, a negative WAR over eight years is really hard to “accomplish”). In exchange for Collier, Minaya traded Jason Bay who went on to win the Rookie of the Year award, a Silver Slugger award, make three All-Star teams and produce 24.8 WAR in a career shortened by concussion issues.
Somehow off that performance Minaya still got a gig as the Mets GM heading into 2005. Under Minaya and manager Willie Randolph, the Mets were 40 games over .500 from ’05 through ’07 and appeared in an NLCS – which we’ll come back to in a minute. Then June of ’08, with the Mets three games out of a Wild Card spot, Minaya fired Randolph in his hotel room and issued a press statement at 3am to notify…only the people who were awake at 3am…most of the players were unaware of the move until the press told them in the locker room the next day. Arguably the second-best manager in Mets history was out and Minaya replaced him with Jerry Manuel, who proceeded to guide the amazins’ to 70 and 79-win campaigns in his two full seasons in Queens.
But let’s look more closely at how the Mets became good initially under Minaya. The Mets led the NL in payroll each year from ’05 through ’08 as it increased from $102 million in ’05 to $151 heading into ’09. This was in no small part due to big-name signings such as Pedro Martínez, Carlos Beltrán, and Billy Wagner, among others*. To be clear, that’s not a knock on Minaya – but if you think knowing those players were good is indicative of some sort of high-level scouting acumen, I’ve got news for you…
(*Another Minaya signing who performed great for the Mets was Chad Bradford. You know, the Chad Bradford who nobody knew until the nerds on the Moneyball A’s said “this guy is good!”. I absolutely love irony)
Other notable contributors to the Mets’ success over that time frame – David Wright, Jose Reyes, Cliff Floyd, and Tom Glavine, among others – were already on the roster Minaya inherited.
To be fair, acquiring Carlos Delgado and Johan Santana via trade were great acquisitions as well. But again, you don’t need to be a baseball expert to have known that Delgado and Santana were both borderline Hall of Famers.
Does this mean that the hiring of Minaya was a poor decision on the Yankees’ part? Not necessarily. As much as we are reticent to admit it, none of us really knows what goes on behind the scenes and Minaya may be able to bring some positives to the table that we won’t see.
But it does mean that if your position is that he’s a high-level, old-school scout, who can counterbalance the quantifiable, your position is a weak one because the evidence just isn’t there.
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