Santana Deal (*Patent Pending) Exemplifies The Need For An Experienced GM
This is not going to be another polemic directed towards the likes of Andrew Friedman, Jon Daniels or Paul DePodesta as to why they shouldn’t have been handed the reins of an entire major league organization given their college transcript, flimsy qualifications or reliance on trendy theories; it is intended to put into perspective why it’s so important to have a general manager who has the experience and social skills to be able to make the deal that Mets GM Omar Minaya made to (just about) put Johan Santana in a Mets uniform.
The skills that it takes to be a major league GM aren’t simply knowing stats and being able to calculate how much money a player is worth or how many "win shares" he’s going to add to a team; it’s about:
- Having the thick skin required to ignore fans and media entreaties to "do something" even when that something would be done in an unnecessary panic.
- Reading between the lines of what is being asked for and what would be acceptable in a trade and using the other team’s mandate against them.
- Understanding talent and having the scouting skills to determine what the best possible scenario is for each player.
- Being well-liked among one’s brethren.
Omar Minaya has been a player; he’s been a scout; an assistant GM and a GM. He’s affable enough that people like him whether they’re directly competing with him or not. He’s able to resist the pressure inherent with being a GM in New York City, where a crisis a day is the norm.
Minaya, as much as he played up the potential of Carlos Gomez, had to know that the player is just as likely to fail as he is to succeed because of the obvious holes in his game. The other players in the deal, while talented, are replaceable parts who can be found at reasonable prices. All through the winter, Minaya insisted that he was neither going to panic into making a stupid deal (Jose Reyes or David Wright going in any deal for either Santana or Dan Haren), nor did he ever believe that the Mets were out of the competition for Santana even with the industry-wide belief that the Mets didn’t have the horses in their system to get him. With a team that underwent such an epic collapse in September, essentially wiping out much of the good will he’d accumulated since his arrival back with the Mets in late 2004, that Minaya was able to stick to the plan of not dealing any of the cornerstones and getting an ace starter without even giving up the top outfield prospect in Fernando Martinez is a stunning show in patience and knowing how the game is played. This type of experience cannot be purchased or acquired by studying statistics and playing rotisserie baseball.
Because I give such a hard time to guys like Friedman, Daniels and DePodesta doesn’t mean I don’t think they’re intelligent people; it’s because they are not qualified to have the jobs that they have or had because of situations like this. Minaya holding out on Martinez could very easily have exploded in his face had Santana ended up anywhere else as Mets fans would have looked at an April starting rotation of Pedro Martinez, John Maine, Oliver Perez, Orlando and Livan Hernandez and asked why the team was so adamant about refusing to give up a 19-year-old Double A outfielder and forfeit a chance to win a pennant in 2008 with Santana. Would Friedman, Daniels or DePodesta have had the confidence to hold out on their organization’s top prospect with everyone and everything collapsing down on them? I know that I wouldn’t have hesitated if the Twins had said, "No Martinez, no deal." It’s a difficult thing to do to stick one’s neck so far out and hope that everything falls into place; but Minaya did it and it worked.
Another thing that cannot be discounted is all of the relationships one builds when working his (or her) way up through an organization. There must be some vitriol in the industry directed at guys like Friedman, Daniels and DePodesta as many veteran GMs spent their formative baseball years riding from one small town to another, scouting players, making little money as they work their way up in a contest of survival of the fittest and these guys, armed with stats and degrees, suddenly find themselves running the whole show. To the scouts, Minaya is one of "them"; a guy who’s been in the trenches and clawed his way up. And don’t discount how charming Minaya is. Who’s to say that while all of this was going down that both Theo Epstein and Brian Cashman didn’t call Minaya and say, "Listen, we’re not in this thing; don’t give up Martinez if you don’t have to." This too is part of being a successful executive.
Whatever the machinations, Minaya got his man and all that remains is the signing on the dotted line. Even if the Mets don’t do another deal for the rest of the year, this one move alone makes Omar Minaya executive of the year because he stuck to his guns and got his player without panicking or gutting his entire farm system. It’s all part of being a successful big league GM and it’s more to do with experience than anything else.