A bit of (seeming) trivia from Jeff Passan: before Omar Minaya signed Jason Bay, he traded him for Lou Collier ... and before the Mets signed Jason Bay, they traded him (and Bobby Jones and Josh Reynolds) for Steve Reed (and Jason Middlebrook).
What does it all mean? Well, to Passan it means that Minaya and the Mets, once again, are valuing the wrong end of the talent/salary scale ...
- All of this highlights an endemic problem with the Mets that they try to cover with their payrolls, which provided among the highest cost per win in baseball this past decade: Their player-development system is a mess, and not the kind of mess a toddler makes at dinner. It is whole-cafeteria-food-fight bad, and in that respect, the coupling of Minaya and the Mets seems perfectly matrimonious.
Together, they have spent hundreds of millions to go backward. There was the ill-fated Pedro Martinez deal. And the on-deathbed-ill-fated contract for Oliver Perez. They blew money ($25 million on Luis Castillo. They lavished it ($37 million in a closer-loaded market for Francisco Rodriguez, with an easily attainable $17.5 million option). They spent themselves out of all the good will engendered by the tremendously club-friendly contracts for David Wright and Jose Reyes.
Wright and Reyes represent the only worthwhile thing the Mets can call their own. Since 1985, the Mets have signed and developed five players who later wore their uniforms in an All-Star game. Five. Wright, Reyes, Todd Hundley, Edgardo Alfonzo and Bobby Jones. Even Kansas City can say it has passed eight homegrown All-Stars through its system.
Still, it speaks to the team’s recognition that baseball trades in a new currency -- youth -- and that the Mets always arrive late to the party of the latest trend. New York spent $3.1 million on the amateur draft in 2009. It was the lowest figure in the game. Ramping up their spending in Latin America -- which has netted them their three top prospects, Fernando Martinez(notes), Jenrry Mejia and Wilmer Flores -- doesn’t excuse going skinflint stateside.
To compensate, they dole out dollars in the most inefficient market: free agency. Bay hits for power and he gets on base and he fits into a clubhouse well, and every team desires such a player. He’s also 31. Defensive metrics and scouts agree he’s a massive liability in left field. He was obviously blanching at playing for the Mets and in the massive Citi Field, or he wouldn’t have spent more than two weeks spelunking for another offer before taking New York’s.
The Bay signing is reminiscent, in a way, of the last time the Mets reached these depths. Following a 91-loss season in 2004, the Mets brought in a past-his-prime Martinez for $55 million, then made the splash of the offseason by signing Carlos Beltran to a $119 million contract.
“I call it the New Mets,” Beltran said, “because this organization is going to a different direction, the right direction, the direction of winning.”
The New Mets never arrived. They were on the cusp of the World Series in 2006 and couldn’t capitalize. The Santana trade didn’t reinvigorate them. Scant reinforcements from the farm system arrived. Signings blew up. And ultimately, nothing changed.
They’re just the same old Mets. The same old mess.
In fairness, after bringing in past-his-prime Pedro and signing Carlos Beltran, the Mets did average 89 wins over the next four seasons. There were the best team in the National League in 2006, and were (arguably) the best team in the National League East, on paper anyway, entering each of the next three seasons (yes, even 2009). Thanks to the Phillies and any number of other things, it just didn't work out that way.
Still, it's a bit shocking that the Mets have developed only five All-Stars in the past quarter-century. And that only one of them was a pitcher. And that the pitcher was Bobby Jones. It's also a bit shocking that the Mets, who had the second-highest payroll in the majors in 2009, spent less money than anyone else in the draft.
Granted, they'd given up their first-round pick by signing Francisco Rodriguez. And they really have upped their investment in international talent. But when are the results going to show up in the majors? As Baseball America's Adam Rubin notes, just one of the Mets' domestic minor-league teams finished 2009 with a winning record, and the system's .451 winning percentage was the second-worst in baseball.
Minaya has been the Mets' general manager for five years. Wright and Reyes were in the pipeline before he arrived. He's spent a lot of money, but bought just one playoff appearance. At some point soon, it will be fair to ask some tough questions.