(Part I: “Is Mets GM Omar Minaya Baseball’s Answer to Soledad O’Brien? From the Mets to Los Mets to Lost Mets.”)
In late January a friend wrote, asking, among other things, “Mets sign Jason Bay?” When I read that, I thought, “He’s gotta be kidding. Bay was signed a month ago!”
After all, I had heard that the Bay signing was a done deal back in December. So, I punched in Bay’s name and “Mets,” and up came up with the January 27 Miami Herald article, “Is Flushing Beirut?”
According to the author, Chris Ruddick, Bay had held off on the signing, hoping that some other team—any other, even Washington or Hanshin!—would give him a reason to sign elsewhere. When no one did, he reportedly signed a four-year, $66M deal with the Mets in late January.
Meanwhile, according to reports supposedly emanating from the Red Sox, Bay’s knees and shoulders may not be long for this world. The Bosox offered Bay a maximum of $60 million for four years, but supposedly reduced their offer to two years and an indeterminate sum, after seeing a pre-signing MRI of Bay’s knees.
Omar Minaya had earlier been a Mets assistant general manager, before serving as general manager in Montreal (now Washington). When Minaya returned to Flushing as Mets GM after the ’04 season, no one wanted to play for the Mets, who were losers, and so he had to overpay for free agents. And now, after over five years of him working his magic… no one wants to play for the Mets, who are losers, and so he has to overpay for free agents! In that time, Minaya has also managed, with the help of his since departed right-hand man, Tony Bernazard, to decimate the Mets’ farm system (see also here and here), leaving the team with nothing to offer, in order to trade for help now. Thus, after an over $600 million spending binge, the team has neither short nor long-term prospects.
Speaking of bad knees, for me, the straw that broke the camel’s back was when Minaya signed second baseman Luis Castillo to a four-year, $25 million contract, after the ’07 season.
Don’t get me wrong. As a player, Castillo has his virtues (game-losing dropped pop-ups, base-running goofs, and idiotic, ejection-provoking arguments with umps, notwithstanding)—can he ever work a walk, and thanks to his quick release, he still turns a nice double play—but…
I asked The Boss last year how old she thought he was. She said, “40.” I laughed, because I agreed with her. Then I told her that he listed as 34. She didn’t believe it, and neither do I. He’s from the Dominican, The Land of Imaginary Jocks’ Ages.
Even Mets announcers—who are employees of the team, and thus constrained in their candor—acknowledged in ’07, before his knee went gimpy, that Castillo had lost a bit of the mobility he’d had in his prime.
At the end of the ’07 season, in which Castillo had come from the Twins, via a mid-season trade, New York’s Daily News recommended signing Castillo, but predicted knee trouble for him: “Just be prepared for him to break down because of gimpy knees.”
And then the club learned, before it had even offered him the contract, that he indeed needed arthroscopic surgery on one knee. (He signed after getting scoped.)
Thus, Minaya went out of his way to pay big bucks to an aging, broken-down player. And sure enough, Castillo missed half of the ’08 campaign with knee problems, and hit only .245, about 50 points below his career average.
Castillo’s value was as an aging star who could still help a team, as long as he was signed really cheaply to a one or, at most, two-year contract. Jose Valentin II, but with good speed on the basepaths, instead of power, at maybe $3 million for one season, $6 million for two, max. (In 2006 and 2007, Valentin earned a combined $4.7 million playing for the Mets.) Instead, Minaya paid a past-his-prime second baseman 30-40 percent more than the man had ever earned in his salad days.
Not only did Minaya waste almost $20 million on Castillo, over what he was worth, but overpaying him made it impossible to move him, and locked up money that was then unavailable to sign a top free-agent second baseman such as Orlando Hudson, who then went to the Dodgers in 2009, and earned either $3.36 million or $7.61 million, depending on the source, via an incentive-laden contract, on a base salary of only $3 million.
As for Castillo’s injury problems, we’d been down the same road with Valentin, and before Valentin played at Shea, it was hardly news that older players who play every day get hurt more often than younger ones. Heck, if the Daily News could predict it, the Mets’ doctors could.
When Minaya signed Castillo to that insane contract, all doubts in my mind about his motives were erased. He wasn’t signing Hispanics because they were quality players, and because it made economic sense. Rather, he simply wanted to transfer all of owner Fred Wilpon’s fortune to Hispanics, the team and the fans be damned.
Granted, his bizarre moments notwithstanding, Castillo bounced back to have a decent if punchless 2009 season offensively, but his defense deteriorated to below the league average (.982 vs. .984), and at what price?
On June 12, Luis Castillo drops a would-be game-ending pop-up against the Yankees, thereby converting an 8-7 Mets victory, into a 9-8 Yankees victory.
Last August, Mets blogger Ed Leyro painted a scenario in which Castillo could potentially run the Mets into a game-ending “quadruple play” (they’d already managed to lose against their arch-rivals, the Phillies, on a game-ending, unassisted triple play), but thankfully, the scenario was not realized…yet.
Meanwhile, in his first year with the Dodgers, wide-ranging Orlando Hudson, an American who looks younger than his official age of 32, went to another All-Star Game and won himself another Gold Glove.
Note too that at .431, Hudson’s career slugging percentage is 77 points higher than Castillo’s.
Hudson was again available this year, and three weeks ago signed a one-year contract to play for the Twins for $5 million, 23.1 percent less than what the Mets are paying Castillo, without even adjusting for inflation.
But it gets worse. My friend reminded me that after The Castillo Fiasco, Minaya outdid himself with The Perez Debacle, which will concern the next installment.