Minaya happy to see Mets' core thriving
NEW YORK -- Like other New Yorkers with a passion for baseball, former Mets general manager Omar Minaya plans to spend his weekend at Citi Field.
But when Daniel Murphy comes to bat in the bottom of the first inning of Game 3 on Friday (7:30 p.m. ET air time on FOX, 8 p.m. ET game time), Minaya won't be hanging on every pitch, waiting for the Mets' second baseman to punish one. He'll be thinking about Steve Barningham, the scout who had fallen in love with his potential when Murphy was playing for Jacksonville University.
When lefty Steven Matz starts Game 4 of the World Series on Saturday -- either trying to even the Series or prevent a sweep by the Royals -- Minaya will think back to the contract negotiations that almost collapsed after the Mets took the hometown guy from Long Island in the second round of the 2009 Draft.
Murphy and Matz are among 11 members of the Mets' World Series roster who were drafted or signed in the six-year period that Minaya served as the team's GM. He won't get a ring or a bonus if the team he turned over to Sandy Alderson comes back to beat the Royals, but he'll certainly be proud of Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Jeurys Familia, Juan Lagares and the other holdover players, along with the people he worked alongside, especially the scouts.
"I feel good for the players; I'm happy for the players,'' said Minaya, who earlier this year left a position as senior vice president of baseball operations of the Padres to work as a senior advisor to Tony Clark, executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association. "I'm happy for those guys, many of whom we first got to know when they were 15, 16 or 17 years old. I'm happy for the organization, and most of all I'm happy for a lot of good scouts and player-development people. I look at that team and I see the scouts and the coaches that helped those players.''
It's easy to see the Mets as a team with an ultra-talented rotation that came together after Alderson traded 2012 Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey to the Blue Jays for a package of players including Game 3 starter Noah Syndergaard and catcher Travis d'Arnaud, and then added Yoenis Cespedes at the Trade Deadline this season. But like all good teams, when you look beyond the surface, the story is as much about scouts and Minor League coaches and the patience to let players mature and recover from injuries -- as was the case with Harvey, deGrom and David Wright -- as it is the moves themselves.
While Minaya takes pains not to seem like he's trying to steal any of this moment from Alderson and his top assistant, Paul DePodesta, his stamp is clearly visible on the team's passport to the World Series. Ditto the work of the men who were his top scouts: Sandy Johnson, Rudy Terrasas and Bryan Lambe.
"Sandy's always been my mentor,'' said Minaya, who first worked with him when he was a Rookie-level manager and Johnson was the Rangers' scouting director in the mid-1980s. "He helped me develop my love for player development and scouting. It's always about those things with every team, in every market. The guys nobody sees, your scouts and your [Minor League] coaches, those are the guys who are going to make you successful.''
With the Rangers, Minaya was part of an operation that turned a perennial doormat into a contender due to the talents of Ivan Rodriguez, Juan Gonzalez, Kevin Brown and Dean Palmer, among others. Johnson & Co. also signed Sammy Sosa and Wilson Alvarez, who were traded shortly after reaching the big leagues.
Their work with the Mets wasn't as dramatic but they got a pipeline of talent flowing into the organization through the Draft and international signings while also helping stock the 2006 team that took the Cardinals to Game 7 of the National League Championship Series.
Murphy and Matz are two of Minaya's favorite stories.
He remembers Barningham pushing strongly for Murphy, who had been Player of the Year in the Atlantic Sun Conference in 2006 but was still available in the 13th round of the Draft, where the Mets selected him.
"Our scout really wanted him, and he was a young scout who was new to the organization,'' Minaya said. "He just loved the guy, and said we could sign him for $50,000. I remember asking him how much he loved the guy and he said we won't be sorry if we take him. Sandy said, 'For $50,000, we'll find out if this guy can scout.' It means a lot when a scout puts his name on a guy. A lot of scouts say they like the guy, but then when you ask if they'll put their jobs on it, they don't like the guy so much anymore.''
Matz was another story. He had been expected to be a first-round pick in the 2009 Draft but slid into the second round, where the Mets took him with the 72nd pick overall.
That was a disappointment to Matz and his family, and for a long time it appeared he might wind up at Coastal Carolina University rather than with the Mets. There was a big difference between the sides in the first round of negotiations, with Matz's advisor asking for $1.1 million while the Mets said they couldn't go above $600,000. But the sides bridged that gap a few minutes before the signing deadline.
They almost didn't. But the Mets came within $5,000 of Matz's revised request for a $900,000 signing bonus, and Minaya succeeded in convincing advisor Rob Martin and the family that they couldn't let the deal die for such a small amount.
"We almost couldn't close it out,'' Minaya said. "I told him, 'Look, the difference here is a nice bottle of wine, let's don't lose the deal over a bottle of wine.' We closed out the deal. I still owe [Martin] that bottle of wine.''
Maybe he'll bump into him at Citi Field.