One of the great things about the blogging era is that the barriers to entry in writing have been greatly reduced, allowing the cream to rise. That said, the major websites are still flooded with baseball writers who don't know what they're talking about.
One very common sentiment last year was that Omar Minaya is one of the top general managers in baseball. The justification for that ranking basically goes like this: "Well, he identified that his team needed a center fielder, a first baseman, an ace starter, and an ace closer; and he got them." Sometimes, they'll even credit him with developing David Wright and Jose Reyes, something he had no part of.
So basically, he's a good GM because he has lots of money and inherited two franchise cornerstones. Am I getting this right? No one notices that the Mets wasted $36 million this year on Carlos Delgado, Pedro Martinez, Shawn Green, and Paul Lo Duca, getting virtually nothing of value in return. Why should they point the finger at Minaya, when there are so many better scapegoats?
I'm not big on finger-pointing, but I'll introduce you to the difference between 88 and 90+ wins for this year's Mets. His name is Heath Bell. Bell may be the most valuable relief pitcher in baseball this year; he led MLB in relief innings, while posting a 2.02 ERA in high-leverage spots. He contributed more than four wins to this year's Padres, taking them from fringe status to contender.
This wasn't a fluke, either. Bell's skills and scouting reports point to him as one of baseball's top five relievers. You want your pitcher to rack up Ks and ground balls while limiting walks? Bell does all those things with great effectiveness. He's owned these same skills for years, too; check out the xFIP column on his Hardball Times player card. That number, basically representing his ERA without any "noise," pinpoints Bell as a bona fide relief ace, the heir apparent to Hells Bells in San Diego.
The Padres have control of Bell for five years at rock-bottom prices. I can think of plenty of GMs that would be happy to shell out $15 million/year for his 2007 performance. Fortunately, the Padres' Kevin Towers didn't have to do that, because Omar Minaya basically gave Bell away for free.
Does Minaya not value stud relievers? Doubtful; he threw $43 million at Billy Wagner two years ago. Rather, Minaya was too lazy or too incompetent to hire an employee--someone who probably would have worked for free--to tell him that Bell's poor ERAs as a Met were the results of bad luck and bad defense, and not indicative of Bell's talent or potential. This isn't rocket science; any analyst worth his salt knows that a 3.20 xFIP pitcher is a rare bird.
Face the facts: The Mets didn't choke because they "didn't want it enough," they didn't lose out of apathy in September. They did lose because their GM failed to allocate his resources optimally. It's a shame that having the resources to throw $119 million at a franchise center fielder is often mistaken for owning the ability to ace the tests that really matter.