Editor's note: Yahoo! Sports will examine the offseason of every MLB team before spring training begins in mid-February. Our series continues with the New York Mets.
2008 record: 89-73
Finish: Second place in National League East
2008 opening-day payroll: $137.8 million
2009 estimated opening-day payroll: $130 million
As midnight dawned Dec. 10 in Las Vegas, New York Mets general manager Omar Minaya and his lieutenants took up an eight-top at Fix restaurant inside the Bellagio and toasted to their day at the winter meetings. Congratulations were deserved.
Over the previous 24 hours, the Mets had signed Francisco Rodriguez to a reasonable three-year, $37 million to close games and traded for J.J. Putz, another of the best closers in baseball, to pitch the eighth inning. The Mets' bullpen, better known as The Waterboarders, had for two straight seasons blown New York's chance at postseason play, and Minaya would no longer sit around idly as the team wasted the prime years of infielders David Wright and Jose Reyes.
Gone are any excuses, especially if they offer Derek Lowe enough salary to suit his ego. Between $14 million and $15 million a year should do the trick and give the Mets a rotation that includes Johan Santana, John Maine and Mike Pelfrey. To go along with that retooled bullpen. Oh, and it would be wrong to forget a lineup with Reyes and Wright, Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado, and whatever other supporting quartet the Mets throw out to inaugurate Citi Field.
Between the new stadium and the SNY television network, the Mets have built the financial foundation for $125 million-plus payrolls, even with owners Fred and Jeff Wilpon losing tens of millions of dollars invested with their friend Bernie Madoff.
If the Mets can land Lowe, another decent bat and one more reliever in free agency, plus fill the fifth rotation spot with a bargain starter or an improved Jon Niese, this could be their best team since the 1988 squad that won 100 games and had a team ERA of 2.91. Those are plenty of ifs, certainly, but much of what the Mets lacked following their epic 2007 collapse – an ace and a bullpen – are now strengths worthy of a tableful of raised glasses.
This is his team. Over the last four years, Minaya has turned the Mets into his personal chop shop, and all that remains are a few wheels. Of the 53 players who were on the 2004 Mets, three are left: Reyes and Wright, who were 21-year-old rookies, and Pedro Feliciano, who as a left-handed reliever is the baseball equivalent of a Twinkie in nuclear winter.
Fifty players, chewed up and spat out by Minaya, and what does he have to show for it? More folds than a poker room, hundreds of millions of dollars spent on "the New Mets" who happened to be much like the Old Mets, the bungling of Willie Randolph's dismissal and a single, solitary playoff appearance.
The four-year extension handed to Minaya in September, amid the Mets blowing another final-month lead, came off as hasty, if not short-sighted. Yes, Minaya has made good moves: the Johan Santana trade, the club-friendly contracts for Reyes and Wright, plucking Fernando Tatis off the garbage heap and loading the Mets' minor league system with high-talent, big-reward prospects from Latin America.
The other side of the Minaya referendum is equally jarring: $53 million for a broken-down Pedro Martinez, another $25 million for a breaking-down Luis Castillo, the $19 million closer (Billy Wagner, out for the year, will make $10.5 million along with K-Rod's $8.5 million) and nary a player worth a hoot developed by the organization since Reyes and Wright joined the team.
New York's results are Minaya's, and by giving him another four years, the Wilpon family said the last two years were aberrations or the playoffs once every four years is acceptable. Neither is the case, which puts an even heavier onus on Minaya. This is his team, remember, his players, his manager, his farm system – and on paper, it looks great.
Then again, it did in 2007 and 2008, too.
NEXT: Toronto Blue Jays.