In a word: desperation. We are seeing it right now. Both of them know that the Mets can’t have another year like they had last year, or else they are both gone. At the same time, ownership did not give Minaya the keys to go out and drastically overspend on the free agent market. In many ways, that was a good thing; it prevented the team from signing Bengie Molina, for one, and the team did not go crazy trading prospects for short-term solutions. In many ways, it was also a bad thing; the starting rotation is perilously thin, and it led to the team bringing back Alex Cora as “the devil they know” rather than pursuing a better middle infield reserve like Felipe Lopez and Adam Everett, both of whom signed with teams for less money than the Mets will pay Cora. It seems silly that the team would not pursue a better reserve shortstop with Jose Reyes coming off of injury, but that’s the New York Mets for you; such incompetence is sadly expected at this point, and will remain that way until Minaya and Manuel are gone.
Ironically, one area of the team where the Mets are not particularly undermanned is the bullpen. Between Frankie, Feliciano, Igarashi, Calero, Parnell, Green, Nieve (assuming Niese wins the 5th starter job), Takahashi, and Figueroa, somewhere in there is a pretty good seven man bullpen. They have enough internal candidates already to where a young, promising arm like Jenrry Mejia should only be concerned with going to Double-A (not even Triple-A) to master control of his secondary pitches, work on command, and keep stretched out as a starter to hopefully benefit the big league Mets, at the earliest, in the second half of 2011.
The middle infield is an area of a little bit more concern, though no thanks to the fools in charge. Thanks to Alex Cora being retained as the middle infield reserve due to his great leadership abilities, (another good reason to fire Manuel; they value his leadership so little that they employ a player to help lead the team) the team doesn’t have a backup shortstop that they actually trust to start everyday should their starter, the great Jose Reyes, find himself injured. Considering that Reyes was coming off of a severe hamstring injury in 2009, you would think that they would make it a priority to have a middle infield reserve that they trust should he miss time. As it turns out, the hamstring isn’t a problem, but Reyes is suffering from a thyroid condition that will keep him out of action for the first month or two of the season.
Since the team doesn’t actually trust Alex Cora, 20 year old prospect Ruben Tejada now seems likely to make the team. While Tejada will almost surely be a huge defensive improvement over Alex Cora at shortstop, he will give a lot of that improvement back with his inability to handle major league pitching. This is a guy who is only a year removed from a .229/.293/.296 line in Single-A, and while that may be an improvement over some of the reserve shortstops we saw with Reyes out last year, that is still in no way major league-ready. It would be nice to see Tejada master the International League before being promoted to the major leagues, just to make sure that 2009 wasn’t a BABIP-inflated fluke.
Yet because Omar Minaya and Jerry Manuel need to save their jobs, they need a success story or two, to hide their many failures. That is what Mejia and Tejada represent; a chance for them to show that the farm system is producing players, that they can work within the restrictions that the Wilpon family has put on them. They have nothing to lose; if Mejia and Tejada succeed, Minaya and Manuel look like geniuses for a minute or two. If they fail, hey, Minaya and Manuel are likely getting fired at some point before October of 2010 anyway, so what do they lose?
It’s not as grievous a mistake with Tejada as it is with Mejia. At least with Tejada, we can assume his stay in the majors will be short, only long enough for Reyes to return from the disabled list, assuming Cora doesn’t suffer some grizzly thumb-related injury before that can happen. Whenever Reyes is back from injury, Tejada will be sent back to Buffalo after finding himself completely and totally overmatched offensively in the majors, even if he represents a huge upgrade defensively from Cora. It’s still an ill-advised decision, and proof that this team has absolutely no idea how to build organizational depth (Russ Adams is 4th on the organizational depth chart solely as a token ex-major leaguer to appease the Bisons front office, not because he’s somebody the major league team would ever consider bringing up), but somewhat justifiable. Playing in the majors for 2-4 weeks shouldn’t hinder his development.
Bringing Mejia to the majors as a reliever this soon, however, that is borderline malpractice. Mejia can probably hold his own for a little while in the majors. He may even be preferable to keep around over players like Bobby Parnell or Sean Green. I don’t need to go into too much detail as to why, as dozens have done so before me. The key point is, Mejia’s ceiling is too high to waste in a role where he won’t be forced to work on his secondary offerings, and he should only be used in the bullpen when he proves completely incapable of becoming a starting pitcher. We may not know what he will become, but limiting his ceiling this early in his development is the work of desperate men.
And that’s the problem with keeping Manuel and Minaya around when management has a pretty good idea that they probably aren’t long-term solutions for the role. Much like Omar Minaya has proven unable to handle sunk costs like Luis Castillo, so too have the Wilpons shown an inability to handle sunk costs like Jerry Manuel and Omar Minaya. Clearly, by the restrictions Omar had in free agency this offseason, they don’t view him as a long-term solution, so limiting his ability to do long-term harm in free agency was a wise move. But he can still do long-term harm without making a single move by being trusted with minor league promotions when, in reality, the progression of minor leaguers are only important to him if the team wins and he can retain his job.
The problem is even worse with Manuel; he keeps pushing for the team to promote Mejia because if Mejia’s ETA isn’t until mid-2011 at the earliest, Mejia can’t help him if the team sucks again this year. But he sees that electric fastball, which is definitely major league ready, and that he can get batters out in a relief role once or twice around the league. Considering that the bullpen has remained an issue for this team dating back to before Manuel was even the manager, Manuel needs every advantage he can find to retain his job. The problem has become that, in the case of Mejia, Manuel’s short-term job security should not outweigh Mejia’s long-term potential, without even factoring in how much better this team would be if Manuel did get fired. Yet that seems to be what’s happening.
The outside forces, the same outside forces that told Omar Minaya “Thou shalt not offer Bengie Molina a two year contract” need to step in here. They need to recognize that Mejia is not ready for the majors, and that he needs far more developmental time than he is being given. They need to see that Minaya and Manuel are only promoting him in a last-ditch effort to save their jobs, that the team’s future outweighs theirs, and they need to put a halt to the overpromotion game. Supposedly, Tony Bernazard’s firing meant the end of prospects being promoted well before they were ready, but clearly, that’s not the case. The 2010 Mets are a team built on desperation, but for once, can they show some caution here?