Minaya's deals provide no relief for Mets

John Harper
Yahoo! Sports

The final indignity came in the person of Matt Lindstrom, the Marlins righthander who got the final three outs to close down the Mets' season and Shea Stadium in one painful wallop. Yes, a team whose dreadful bullpen ultimately cost them a playoff berth this time around had to watch an ex-Met farmhand finish them off.

In November 2006, Omar Minaya traded Lindstrom and Henry Owens for a couple of marginal starters, Jason Vargas and Adam Bostick, neither of whom has helped the Mets even a little bit, while Lindstrom has blossomed as a late-inning flame-thrower.

The point is not so much that it was a bad trade as a bad idea. In October of that same year, when the Mets came oh so close to a World Series with mediocre starting pitching, Minaya was telling everyone that championships are won with great bullpens.

Then that winter he traded Lindstrom and Heath Bell, who has blossomed as well as a late-inning reliever for the Padres, and essentially exchanged Chad Bradford for Scott Schoeneweis on the free-agent market.

Schoeneweis has been a disaster, right down to the decisive home run he gave up to Wes Helms on Sunday in the 4-2 loss to the Marlins.

Not that you can blame all of the bullpen problems on Minaya. He put too much faith in Duaner Sanchez's comeback from a shoulder injury, but he couldn't have foreseen Aaron Heilman's shockingly bad season or Billy Wagner's elbow injury.

As Minaya said, "Bullpens are things that run hot and cold from one year to the next. Look what happened to Cleveland. They had a great bullpen last year and it didn't happen for them this year."

True enough, but Minaya still has to take a hit here. He got no return for arms such as Lindstrom and Bell and failed to find any help for a pen when it was obvious early this season that Heilman and Sanchez were having problems.

He made the point Sunday that there was very little in the way of quality relief help available at the trading deadline. However, even Arthur Rhodes, the veteran lefty acquired by the Marlins at the deadline who came in to get a big out Sunday, would have been an upgrade for the Mets.

Perhaps more significantly, it may be that Minaya should have sized up the bullpen issues and acted sooner, perhaps made an early move for a reliever the way Brewers GM Doug Melvin went for starter CC Sabathia in early July.

Minaya said that Rockies lefthander Brian Fuentes wasn't available at the deadline, but maybe that all depended on how much someone was willing to offer.

Minaya did come up with Luis Ayala on waivers after Wagner went down, and that helped some, but in the end, his words from 2006 about how championships are won came back to haunt him.

Put simply, the 2008 Mets were doomed at some point, whether it was now or later this week, by the bullpen problems that practically consumed them over the last several weeks of the season.

On the choking scale, then, this collapse didn't come close to last year. This time the Mets were essentially a wounded fighter in the ring down the stretch, just trying to hang on until the bell in each round.

As a team, they buckled at the end from the pressure, no doubt, failing to hit in the clutch when it mattered most the last week of the season. Still, pitching wins at this time of year, and bullpens are vital, especially for a team like the Mets that wound up short on starting pitching after John Maine went down for the last month of the season.

So when Jerry Manuel had to go to the bullpen as early as the sixth inning, you knew the Mets were in trouble.

Sure enough, Schoeneweis and Ayala gave up solo home runs in the seventh, while the Marlins' relievers delivered three scoreless innings, and that was that.

You could second-guess Manuel's decision to go to Schoeneweis, knowing the Marlins would pinch-hit Wes Helms for Mike Jacobs, but the manager's thinking was sound. He said Schoeneweis is his best "cross-over" lefty to get righthanders out, and a sinkerballer who was supposed to keep the ball down and away from Helms.

More to the point, we have seen enough by now to know that there is no right or wrong in such decisions with this bullpen.

Manuel himself characterized it afterward as "rolling the dice" and said, "When you don't have established roles at this time of year, it's really a gamble down there."

It was an old story, yet Schoeneweis was visibly shaken by giving up the tiebreaking home run.

"I'm still kind of in shock over it," he said quietly. "There's nothing else to say. I can't describe it. If I could take it back, I would, but I can't."

Lindstrom's 93-mph fastballs in the ninth Sunday were a reminder the same words could apply to the organizational bullpen decisions that led to another painful ending.

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