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Minaya's Bias

Following a full year and most of a second offseason on the job, I think I have detected a bias to Omar Minaya's player procurement. It's not about where you're from — it's about how far you've come, how much farther you're likely to go and how much you're due.

We've seen the man has no problem doling out megabucks to megastars or those players who are the closest available to that level. He expects them to perform at a high plane, so he doesn't mind the high prices they command and, as we've seen, he isn't shy about letting go of unproven youngsters (Mike Jacobs among them) in whom he's not fully invested.

It's the guys who have likely maxed out for whom he seems to have little use, particularly if he has to pay them for what they have done rather than what he believes they will actually do.

That may sound like GM 101, but think about how Minaya's predecessors let various bundles of, to use an unkind term, dead wood lie around and gather dust. A Lenny Harris here, a Joe McEwing there, that kind of player. They both did lovely things in 2000 but were rewarded beyond their usefulness in the coming year or years with contracts that were longer than necessary. Omar seems to understand that certain cogs are more replaceable than others and he isn't shy about replacing them.

It's not exactly Moneyball, but it's at least a second cousin.

The roster decisions that have been made in the Minaya regime reflect a fairly cool (you might say cold) approach in such matters, particularly if the players in question weren't acquired on his watch.

Mike Cameron? Several factors (recovery and position most prominently) at work, but the bottom line was he was overpriced at $7 million-plus owed for '06. Omar decided he could make right field work much cheaper and not all that much less efficiently between Xavier Nady, Victor Diaz and whoever else he might pick up along the way.

Kris Benson? Ditto on there being extenuating circumstances, but double-ditto on the price tag. Yes, Benson was one of Omar's first pieces of business in the fall of 2004, but think about the corner the Mets were in. They were still taking flak for Kazmir, sent away the same day Kris showed up. To be left with nothing but Victor Zambrano following what some think of as the July 30 Massacre wasn't going to cut it. Benson had the Mets over a barrel and got a moderately ridiculous $22.5 million three-year deal. One so-so year in, he wasn't showing scads of progress. Omar cut his losses, not to mention a spousal headache. Benson was by no means worthless (I certainly didn't think so when this trade was made [1]), but I doubt he's the difference-maker for 2006.

Roberto Hernandez and Marlon Anderson? Two very pleasant surprises from spring training 2005. Also two journeymen who aren't getting any younger and could be judged to have peaked. Based on what they did last year, they were within their rights to seek multiple years and nice increases. Omar was within his rights to think if you can pull a middle relief lifesaver and a utility wiz out of your cap in '05, why not try it again in '06?

Miguel Cairo? He didn't rate a return, but when did that stop the Mets in the past? We would've heard about his versatility and his good character and he'd have been signed for two more years for more than a million per. Omar saw through that. Same for all those other not-offered-arbitration fringies who dare not speak their names.

Jae Seo? The money thing doesn't work here. Seo's been up and down between here and Norfolk since 2002, accumulating only one full MLB season in '03. The fact that Seo was as down as up in '05 is the tipoff that Omar didn't trust him from start to start. The GM certainly knew of him from his first stint in the Met front office and from his time with Montreal (I recall an abominable meltdown [2] versus the Expos on Fireworks Night three years ago). Remember that Seo had a beautiful start in May [3] and couldn't displace Kaz Ishii until August. There's an obvious disconnect between this general manager and this pitcher. The Mets have fallen head over heels for marginal players who have impressed for a spell only to take the fall themselves when those players were penciled in the following spring. Jason Phillips, anyone?

Mike Piazza? Perfect world, he finishes here and gets an authentic sendoff, not the juryrigged “yeah, he's leaving, but…” halfassery [4] to which we were party last October 2. But this isn't the A.L. where a deteriorating Bernie Williams can bat four times a game and stand around in the outfield once a week while praying no one hits it to him. Mike Piazza's downslide was too apparent to pretend he's a force at or behind the plate and Mike Piazza's presence is too heavy to imagine he could just recede into the woodwork as a part-time catcher/pinch-hitter deluxe and that everybody concerned would be happy. If he really wanted to stay a Met, a way (a relatively inexpensive one) would've been found. I don't think he did. Let him go, as Omar did.

What's the net on all these deletions?

• A realpolitik worldview that says starters who were (in his estimation) never going to break through beyond their current state are worth the price of a fortified bullpen. Duaner Sanchez every other day is hence judged more valuable than Jae Seo every fifth.

• A bench that will reflect the disposability of bench players (save for Chris Woodward and Ramon Castro who earned their raises) and the idea that there are bargains (perhaps Bret Boone) to be had and even kids (perhaps Jeff Keppinger) to be played. Roberto Hernandez exits, Chad Bradford enters. It could work.

• A budget that digs out the change between the proverbial couch cushions to put toward big-ticket items like Delgado, Wagner and Lo Duca, buying quality in the quest to win now, his fairly obvious charge from the Wilpons.

• A healthy impatience that doesn't cross its fingers that a Cameron or Benson or Cairo will perform at his best instead of his more likely mediocre.

• An unsentimental manner of building a ballclub.

Not everything fits the model. Omar liked the cut of Julio Franco's jib enough to give him two years that will leave the ageful wonder one year shy of his 50th birthday. It was probably excessive, but let's allow the general manager one or two whims. Rules need exceptions.

Matsui's still here, but that's the market at work. Zambrano's still here, but there's talent there and it's worth another shot at tapping. Jorge Julio bears some definite scars, but those are what they pay Rick Peterson to remove.

Meanwhile, until further notice, Aaron Heilman remains. Lastings Milledge remains. Mike Pelfrey is in the fold. Jose Reyes wasn't packaged for Miguel Tejada. Sammy Sosa's nowhere in sight.

Putting aside the downright silly Hispanic Quotient stuff (yes, it's a bummer having a GM who might see in certain players what other GMs may be prone to overlook), what I think we have working on our behalf is a very confident baseball executive. He has put himself on the line and he doesn't mind operating out there.

Omar has seemed bent on quickly remaking the Mets to his own specifications in the best tradition of Leo Durocher when he took over the Giants and Whitey Herzog after gaining control of the Cardinals. Everybody wants to bring in his own guys, but Omar's been particularly diligent about purging every non-core Met — and a few who were core — brought in by Steve Phillips or Jim Duquette. Even with MLB turnover being what it is, Minaya's Mets have run through existing personnel like Reyes sprints from home to third.

Granted, the pre-Omar regime wasn't in the midst of a dynasty, but his actions indicate to me a GM who is sure of what it will take to compete and win. He doesn't seem to have much use for the vast swath of players who play at a level between useful part and star attraction. Benson, Cameron and Seo (taken as a whole) had revealed themselves to be, at best, pretty good, and Omar has no patience for pretty good players who make very good money. I sense he'd rather get by with those who project a notch below, like Nady, until he can do something more (the elusive Manny, et al) rather than hope that he'll get an abnormally good year from a Cameron, a guy who wasn't his signing.

Omar, I'm thinking, doesn't trust anybody's judgment other than Omar's. That's a good thing if you don't like management by committee and particularly if Omar has spectacular judgment.

We shall see.

On the off chance anybody out there is thinking about the Super Bowl, evidence that football isn't that big a deal is offered at Gotham Baseball [5].