Monday, January 5, 2009


You could say Mets fans literally shmeared General Manager Omar Minaya this off-season for assembling one of baseball’s worst-ever bullpens.
That’s because at bagel shops Minaya frequented, as he revealed at the Winter Meetings after announcing he had come to terms with free-agent closer Francisco Rodriguez, fans interrupted their noshing to push upon the GM their mandate in a three-word mantra:
“Fix the bullpen!”
Of course, observers like me had been screaming those words since late in the 2007 season – albeit with a very colorful, unprintable-in-a-family-blog word inserted between the words “the” and “bullpen.”
Now, 97 days after the (insert your own colorful word here) bullpen turned a 2-2 tie into a crushing 4-2 loss to the Florida Marlins on the last game of last season, costing the Mets a playoff spot, Minaya has nearly pulled off a complete overhaul.
Rodriguez – who last year established a new Major League single-season record with 62 saves – is now in the house, signed to a three-year, $36 million contract. J.J. Putz, a coveted two-time All-Star closer who Minaya acquired in a master-stroke three-team blockbuster is on board to set up Rodriguez. In the same trade which brought Putz, Minaya acquired reliever Sean Green, who scouts have said is a significant groundball machine upgrade over young Joe Smith, who was dealt to Cleveland.
It was Smith who – though fairly reliable last season – coughed up the Marlins’ second run in last season’s last game, with a bases-loaded walk. Minaya also exiled Scott Schoeneweis, who gave up the game’s tie-breaking home run to Wes Helms and let walk into oblivion closer-by-default Luis Ayala, who gave up an insurance run in that game via a solo home run. Minaya also sent Shea boo-birds’ favorite target Aaron Heilman to lowly Seattle – baseball’s answer to the witness protection program – where he can finally fulfill his desire of becoming a starting pitcher. Minaya also acquired journeyman reliever Rocky Cherry and youngster Darren O’Day in the Rule V Draft, and another youngster in Connor Robertson by dealing Schoeneweis to Arizona. By their colorful names alone – one sounds like a new Ben and Jerry’s ice cream flavor and the other is like a character James Joyce conceived, but never used in one of his novels – Cherry and O’Day are vast improvements.
In fact, the only holdovers from last year’s mess of a bullpen are lefty Pedro Feliciano and righty Duaner Sanchez, and if he has an impressive spring, Brian Stokes.
Minaya must need to add a skilled lefty to go along with Feliciano, if he wants to neutralize the powerful left-handed bats of opposing hitters such as Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Raul Ibanez of the World Series Champion Phillies.
Minaya’s bullpen moves this off-season are almost enough to make fans forgive Minaya’s past gaffes in bullpen repair, beginning after the 2006 season with his signing of confessed steroid cheat Guillermo Mota to a two-year extension almost immediately after Mota was caught. The bullpen disrepair continued with Minaya’s foolish overpayment in dollars and years to Schoeneweis, his retention of Jorge Sosa in 2008, whose brief success with the Mets as a starter in 2007 looks like an aberration. Finally, Minaya signed damaged-goods righty Matt Wise, who lasted all of a month before succumbing to injury.
Now is one move away from transforming the bullpen from a leaky, putrid, ramshackle cesspool into an inviting room where Mets fans – and most importantly, starting pitchers – can depend on to provide real relief.
Minaya seems to have finally gotten the message from the fans.
But to get Minaya to make that one final bullpen move, it might be worth just one more trip to his favorite bagel joint for a final kvetching session.

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