The U Files # 80: Management Manipulation Madness

The Mets front office has been under criticism since the firing of Steve Phillips for appearing disorganized. The verbal firebombing of the Mets' brain trust exploded with the announcement of the trades made on Friday, July 30. In the two months since then, the team on the field has suffered a major collapse, manager Art Howe has been fired, the firing to take effect after the end of the last game of the season, and finally the Wilpons, who own the team, have shaken up the front office.

The Mets have demoted former general manager Jim Duquette and hired former assistant GM to Phillips, Omar Minaya, as executive vice president of baseball operations and general manager. Duquette remains in the organization as senior vice president of baseball operations and now reports to Minaya.

Clearly this move is intended to shore up the image of the Mets, who had come to been seen as something of a madhouse. The choice of Minaya was predictable, as he grew up in the Mets organization. Principal owner Fred Wilpon has stated, "Omar will have the authority and the autonomy in the baseball department. He will make the final decisions."

This is what should have applied without it having to be stated to Duquette when he was named general manager in place of Phillips, particularly when the appointment of Duquette was made official last October and the "interim" tag removed. However, Duquette was given a staff including head scouts Al Goldis and Bill Livesy to serve as "advisors", and he was closely observed by COO Jeff Wilpon, the son of the owner. Though the actual details of the inner workings of the Mets will never be known with certainty by the general public, it has been commonly speculated that the Wilpons had taken too much of a direct role in running the team and that the head of the baseball department, supposedly Duquette, was not allowed to act in the usual role of a general manager.

Though the Mets are certainly now paying lip service to the notion that a "baseball man" will have autonomy and authority, whether the Mets will actually be run this way (as far as the public knows) remains to be seen. Given the recent history of the Mets, a fan has reasonable cause to doubt the Wilpons, at least until he starts to see some results. It was the Fred Wilpon who stated at the beginning of the season that Scott Kazmir, specifically, would be considered "untouchable."

Even if Minaya is given power that Duquette did not have and the structure of the Mets becomes more like what is expected of a major league team, it remains to be seen whether the man made (supposedly) accountable is the right man. Omar Minaya came up through the ranks in baseball as a scout. In fact, this strength is a main reason why he was chosen by Wilpon. While Minaya has an excellent reputation as a scout and may in fact be quite valuable in that role, a good scouting eye does not immediately make one ideal for the job of general manager. One could wonder whether Minaya has the range of skills needed to run the baseball department of a major league team or if he will end up a scout in over his head.

As far as Minaya's ideology, it is certain that I personally do not agree with it and one can wonder whether his strict traditionalist ways will be a weakness. When he took the job of running the Montreal Expos (which one can doubt constitutes a legitimate MLB general managership) he was quoted as saying, "I don't talk about on-base percentage. I'm old school. I'm not a stat guy. I'm a talent evaluator. The guys who taught me the game of baseball never talked about on-base percentage. Give me talent and I'll give you on-base percentage."

One can spin this positively as stating that it is not that Minaya doesn't recognize the value of OBP, but that he simply has a different approach to cultivating it; he believes in finding players with athletic talent over selecting players based on their past on base percentage. As he said, "Give me talent and I'll give you on-base percentage." The problem is that Minaya is wrong in this statement. Athletic skill does not correlate with OBP. On base percentage has an entirely separate skill associated with it, a certain mental discipline. Plus, players with weak on-base skills rarely transform their OBP with coaching. As far as how much Minaya actually recognizes the value of OBP, while in this quote he does not specifically devalue it the quote is not the quote of a person who fully appreciates the significance of it.

While on-base percentage is but one single aspect (albeit an important one) of the game, his stance speaks of a larger issue. In particular, it is a microcosm of a distaste of the statistical approach in general. More broadly, it paints him as a man with a limited view of baseball who is resistant to learning new, different concepts. Beyond the specific case of OBP, his approach can lead him to make faulty judgments in player moves when there is sabermetric wisdom that could inform him.

The Mets have been reactionary more than visionary in the recent past, and this move only cements this notion. The real needs are to make definite changes to the management and to rethink the "plan", formulate one and stick to it. It is not clear that Duquette was the problem, but he was made a scapegoat. Changing GM's twice in two years and demoting Duquette less than a year after his appointment was made official and he was signed to a five year contract, shows indecisiveness.

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