Inside Pitch: Minaya may be next to go
General manager could be on hot seat as Mets underachieve
Willie Randolph's run as New York Mets manager came to an end this week after 3 1/2 years on the job.
General manager Omar Minaya might follow Randolph out of town if the Mets don't turn things around.
Like Randolph, Minaya was named to his current position in the fall of 2004. Like Randolph, Minaya has drawn increasing criticism in recent years, especially when the Mets failed to repeat as NL East champions last season after blowing a seven-game lead with 17 to play.
Randolph, however, didn't build this underachieving team with the $139 million payroll.
Minaya did, and unless the Mets get going -- they began play Thursday one game under .500 and 5 1/2 games behind the Phillies -- there are those who expect Minaya's New York run to come to an end, too.
For now he is clearly on the hot seat.
"They've relied too much on old players and it's cost them," a veteran NL scout said. "They've had a lot of injuries, sure, but that's what happens when you have a lot of older players."
New York's Opening Day 40-man roster was the oldest in baseball, with an average age of 29.8 years.
Age and injuries haven't been the only culprits. The Mets haven't gotten value from some of their moves during Minaya's reign.
Minaya signed Pedro Martinez to a four-year, $53 million contract in 2005. Martinez went 15-8 with a 2.82 ERA the first year of the deal, but has made only 32 starts in two-plus years since.
Last year Minaya traded pitcher Brian Bannister to Kansas City for reliever Ambiorix Burgos. Burgos won one game and lasted just 23 innings with the Mets. Bannister won 12 games for the Royals last year and finished third in the Rookie of the Year voting. He's won five games for the last-place Royals this season.
Minaya sent reliever Heath Bell to San Diego last year for Ben Johnson and Jon Adkins. Bell went 6-4 with two saves and a 2.02 ERA in 81 appearances for the Padres, and his workhorse qualities would have come in handy when the Mets were going through their late-season collapse. Johnson hit .185 in nine games for the Mets. Adkins pitched just one inning.
Two other pitchers, Matt Lindstrom and Henry Owens, were dealt to the Marlins for Jason Vargas and Adam Bostick. Owens is hurt this season but pitched well for Florida last year. Lindstrom is 4-5 with a 3.50 ERA in 100 appearances with Florida. Vargas went 0-1 with a 12.19 ERA in two starts for the Mets this season before getting sent down and Bostick is pitching for Triple-A New Orleans.
Several other acquisitions haven't delivered the kind of production expected for the contracts they received.
Consider first baseman Carlos Delgado and the four-year, $52 million contract that came with him from the Marlins. Or Carlos Beltran, who hasn't been the $119 million talent the Mets thought they were getting when they signed him to a seven-year deal in 2005. Whether due to injury or declining production, Luis Castillo (four years, $25 million), 41-year-old Moises Alou ($7.5 million for 2008) and Orlando Hernandez (two years, $12 million) haven't delivered as hoped.
That's not to say all of Minaya's moves have been ill-advised. The acquisitions of John Maine, Johan Santana, Brian Schneider and Ryan Church have to be scored on the plus side.
But overall this is simply an expensive, aging team that hasn't done much in 2008 except perhaps prove last season's fade was not a fluke. And cost Randolph his job.
Ken Oberkfell, added to Jerry Manuel's Mets staff on Tuesday after Manuel took over for Randolph, did a great job managing in the Minor Leagues, most recently for New Orleans. Look for Oberkfell to be a candidate for a Major League managerial job soon.
Oberkfell wasn't a superstar during his 16-year playing career, but his teammates praised him. He was a winner, a gamer who played the game the right way, knew how the game should be played and commanded respect in the clubhouse.
Here's one example. In 1991, Oberkfell, then 35 years old, was a backup on the Astros. The 20-somethings on that team, which included future All-Stars like Craig Biggio, Steve Finley, Jeff Bagwell, Ken Caminiti and Luis Gonzalez, often looked to Oberkfell for guidance. And when a 24-year-old reliever on that team needed a pep talk following a rough game, it was Oberkfell who set him straight. That reliever, a guy named Curt Schilling, listened and learned.
Oberkfell also has an outstanding memory, capable of remembering at-bats against various pitchers. Once, when a manager decided not to use Oberkfell as a pinch-hitter with a runner on third and less than two outs after seeing Oberkfell was 0-for-7 against that pitcher, Oberkfell informed the manager that the numbers didn't show that he'd hit the ball hard each time.
For the record, Obie's 0-for-7 included two line outs, four drives to the warning track and one to deep center.
The bet here is the team that hires Oberkfell as manager won't regret the decision.
The Rangers' bullpen is struggling, posting a 7.69 ERA in its first 14 games in June. One problem is Joaquin Benoit, who won the club's Pitcher of the Year award in 2007 as a setup reliever. He has had shoulder problems all year. He has yet to go on the disabled list but he has experienced some inflammation and needed a cortisone shot. He hasn't pitched since June 7.
But the Rangers insist that Benoit is close to being ready and won't put him on the disabled list, though Benoit continues to make it clear that he is still not ready to pitch in a Major League game. Eddie Guardado has taken over as the Rangers eighth-inning setup reliever but not having Benoit available has been a big missing piece for the Rangers. The question is how badly Benoit is hurt and nobody seems to know.
He's not on the trade block but that's not stopping other teams from keeping an eye on Roy Oswalt. In his most recent start against the Yankees on Sunday, scouts from the Angels, Braves, Mets and Phillies were at Minute Maid Park watching the Houston right-hander pitch.
Oswalt has a full no-trade clause and is signed through 2011 with a club option for 2012. And the Astros aren't selling.
Other teams are watching just in case Houston's current slide convinces the Astros to become sellers and Oswalt to waive his no-trade clause.
Astros GM Ed Wade said it's too early to tell whether it will be an active trade market this year.
"I've had some conversations with clubs -- just general lay of the land," Wade said. "And you really can't get the lay of the land yet because people don't know whether they're in it or out of it, whether they're buyers or sellers. So there's really no way of determining it, and some of it will come down to what teams view as their needs."
Early indications are most teams will be looking to add pitching, just like the past offseason. And just like then, there isn't much available at the moment.
"If there's a whole bunch of teams out there viewing starting pitching as their needs, then there's going to be a lot of disappointed clubs, because I just don't think there's going to be a lot of it available," Wade said. "But it's way too early at this point [to gauge]."
They were already looking for pitching, and now the injury to Chien-Ming Wang has the Yankees even more interested in adding an arm or two before the trade deadline.
They've scouted Cleveland's C.C. Sabathia, Houston's Oswalt and Cincinnati's Bronson Arroyo, among others, but aren't believed to be close on making any offers.
Boston's 45 errors are among the five most in the AL, but one scout likes Boston's defense.
"They're fine on the corners with Youkilis, Lowell, Casey, and in the middle infield with Pedroia and Lugo," he said. "The outfield is good enough. Overall not the best, certainly, but good enough to get the job done."
The Phillies continue to look for a lefty reliever. At the moment J.C. Romero is the only southpaw in the bullpen though Philadelphia has two lefties in the rotation.
One option, Steve Kline, is no longer a possibility after the Phillies released him last week after he went 0-2 with a 5.16 ERA in 20 games for Lehigh Valley.
One pitcher who figures to draw attention between now and the deadline is Washington's Tim Redding.
The 30-year-old right-hander is enjoying the best season of his career (6-3, 4.10 ERA through 15 starts) and has emerged as a bargain ace for the Nationals. Redding signed a one-year contract last winter worth a base salary of $1 million plus another possible $50,000 in performance incentives.
With the Nationals in last place in the NL East and demand exceeding supply on starting pitchers, Redding figures to be an attractive target for a number of teams next month.
Jim Molony is a reporter for MLB.com. MLB.com reporters contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.