Originally posted on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 12/5/11

Maybe it wasn’t above-the-fold news, but Mets fans probably took notice: the San Diego Padres hired Omar Minaya last week. After interviewing with the Angels for the once-open general manager job, this might seem like a step back for Minaya. The fit might also seem strange, considering current Padres GM Josh Byrnes‘ pedigree in statistics-based analytics.

In the end, though, the move might be a great fit for Minaya. The hiring also represents a step forward for baseball.

Minaya’s duties as the senior vice president of baseball operations will include working with scouting (especially in Latin America) and giving input on trades. These are probably Minaya’s two strongest attributes.

Let’s take the last part first, though. Was Minaya good at trading? He has, perhaps, the worst baseball trade in modern history on his resume. When he sent Cliff Lee, Grady Sizemore, Brandon Phillips and Lee Stevens to the Indians for Bartolo Colon and Tim Drew, Minaya rewrote the way that every team looks at trade-deadline deals. Not in a good way. And even though he turned Colon into Orlando Hernandez and some spare parts following the Expos’ unsuccessful run at the wild card, he couldn’t soften the sting of that trade.

But then Minaya had his whole career as the Mets’ GM to undo that one trade. And he did: Mike Jacobs and Yusmeiro Petit for Carlos Delgado; Dante Brinkley and Gaby Hernandez for Paul LoDuca; Kris Benson for Jorge Julio and John Maine; Xavier Nady for Roberto Hernandez and Oliver Perez; Corey Coles and Ryan Meyers for Angel Pagan; Carlos Gomez, Deolis Guerra, Philip Humber and Kevin Mulvey for Johan Santana. These trades were all wins, and maybe the only player who got away was Heath Bell — whom Minaya dealt, along with Royce Ring, for Jon Adkins and Ben Johnson. Not quite Colon-Lee in the history books — none of them were — but the scale tilted back some while he was in New York.

Maybe his signings weren’t always the best ideas. The Perez, Pedro Martinez and Jason Bay deals -— and even the Santana signing -— were too many dollars and too many years. And some of his role players (Luis Castillo, Alex Cora and the like) were paid too much to be below replacement —- which, on veteran Mets teams, came back to bite him. On the other end, though, Carlos Beltran was worth almost every penny of his long-term deal; and the extensions to David Wright and Jose Reyes were well-timed.

Minaya might be best known for a couple poorly-handled firings near the end of his tenure in New York. In 2008, his front office put out news that they’d fired manager Willie Randolph at midnight on the East Coast. This left the team in some turmoil and led to the “Midnight Massacre” moniker. Later, Minaya was forced to call a press conference after firing Tony Bernazard, the team’s Vice President of Development, after Bernazard reportedly challenged Mets prospects to a physical fight. Adam Rubin, then of the New York Daily News, ran afoul of an obviously stressed-out Minaya during the presser. Minaya responded by questioning Rubin’s motives for his reporting, and insinuating that Rubin’s desire to work for the team had colored his analysis. Press relations are not Minaya’s strength.

But he won’t be responsible for signings or PR in San Diego. Instead, he’ll give background through his extensive contacts around the world. Scouting is his forte — he began his career as a scout in the Texas Rangers’ organization when they acquired Juan Gonzalez and Sammy Sosa — and that will help him fill his new role well.

As the assistant GM in New York, Minaya was involved Jose Reyes‘ signing out of the Dominican Republic. In fact, it was during this first tenure that the team drafted core of what would become the resurgent mid-2000s Mets. As the GM later, he made prominent signings out of Latin America, most notably giving Fernando Martinez $1.4 million in 2005. He also signed lefty Juan Urbina out of Venezuela for $1 million. Sure, maybe only one of the three players paid a decent return, but there’s no denying that Minaya has strong contacts in the region.

In the press conference, Byrnes focused on this aspect, saying that Minaya would take international trips to bolster scouting efforts. He also lauded Minaya for his knowledge: “He knows the job, he’s very networked, he knows about players, he knows about deals.”

This isn’t a buddy hire. This isn’t some sort of sinecure, a golden parachute for a baseball lifer. Minaya was linked to the Blue Jays and to the Indians before the Padres made their move. That’s three teams with established analytical bents, all interested in Minaya’s skills.

What we have here is a case of “everything old is new again.” Minaya’s strengths fall in line with an old-school approach: know your players, know their backgrounds and know their skills. Minaya can make a phone call with someone on each front, and he’s fluent in that language. He’s shown a subjective ability to evaluate trades from this angle, as well. If Byrnes and his staff are confident of their ability to break down the numbers, why not add someone with strengths that lie elsewhere?

In other words, if numbers are the new norm, perhaps scouting, background and subjectivity can once again give a team an edge.

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