So, the deed is done. And I’ll never forget where I was when I heard it. In Vegas waking up hung over (not from alcohol, but from a 59-yard field goal that cost me a shot at $600.)
Apropos. Because every time I looked out my window and saw Las Vegas, I couldn’t help but think of the gamble the Mets took at this time last season when they blamed 2009 on injuries, and gave Omar Minaya and Snoop Manuel one more chance. The Mets gambled and lost. Not like a new manager and GM would have made a difference in 2010, but at least the Mets would have been one year away from the abyss with a new direction and a new plan. And that was the biggest tragedy about what happened on Monday: that it didn’t happen a season earlier.
I still maintain the following: Omar Minaya isn’t the worst GM the Mets have ever had … far from it. Anyone who thinks so obviously wasn’t around for Al Harazin. Minaya has always had certain strengths and weaknesses, and in 2005 the strengths were just what the Mets needed, which was the ability to lure the big name player and an ability to scout decent minor league talent (the minor leagues are probably better now than when Omar first came, if you can believe it). But in 2009 and 2010 when what the Mets needed was somebody who was good at the very things that Minaya couldn’t provide, which was the ability to construct a deep roster from one all the way to 25, the Mets instead believed that Omar was all of a sudden going to be good at what he was bad at. It was the belief that the Mets were still one player away, and all that spaghetti thrown against the wall in the hopes that some of it would stick (along with some meatballs that Oliver Perez helped him out with), that proved to be Minaya’s downfall. That, and the contracts of Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo, of course.
However miscast Minaya was those last two seasons, it will always be accompanied by the constant undercurrent of the Wilpons removing his “autonomy”. One thing I’m glad I didn’t see was that dog and pony show known as the Wilpon newser on Monday. It didn’t do any good except to give us the same sad ending that we’ve seen about every three or four years. We spent, we underachieved, blah blah blah. I’m happy I missed it … especially the part where the brain trust couldn’t agree on how to pronounce the interim GM’s name (“brain trust” of course being an oxymoron in this instance, since those are brains I wouldn’t trust to recognize colors let alone run a baseball team.) Or how about where they said that the dismissal of Minaya and Manuel was “humane”. Humane? When did the Mets morph into the ASPCA? Unless all those cortisone shots were … oh no.
As for Snoop, you’ve read me regularly so you know how I felt. While it’s tough to say that Manuel was the problem with the Mets, he sure as hell wasn’t the solution. First off, as much as the players might have loved him, and I believed Frenchy when he said it, not everyone did. And while it’s impossible to have everyone love you, you can’t have a doghouse. And his handling of Ryan Church when he was there, and after he left, was proof positive that Jerry utilized the chateau bow-wow. Now in the same way that not every player has to love the manager, the manager doesn’t have to love everyone who’s playing for him. But it’s not good practice to consistently throw somebody under the bus. Yes, Ryan Church missing third base in L.A. back in 2009 was an incredible blunder. But it’s not like Church tried to miss the bag. And that’s precisely the moment that he could have used his manager to stick up for him. Instead, Snoop didn’t even refer to Church by his name in the post game newser. You absolutely cannot come off as petty and vindictive when you’re the manager of a baseball team. Only Tony La Russa can get away with that so many time before it comes back to bite him (Colby Rasmus), and Jerry Manuel is no Tony La Russa.
Manuel was a good manager when everything fell into place. Who isn’t? He went 55-38 in 2008 when he had a roster that was diggin’ the new manager smell. The way some of the star players had felt about Willie Randolph, they would have won no matter who replaced Willie that season. And in 2010, Manuel oversaw 47-37 when he had a set lineup every day and didn’t have to think about who to put out there. But any sort of adversity, and Manuel never brought anything extra to the table. The Mets had plenty of injuries in 2009, but still had a workable roster of major league players and went 18-41, which is a disgrace no matter who you throw out there. I concede that part of that was Minaya not being able to stock triple-A with anything more than a bunch of Jose Offermans and Wily Mo Penas. But in 2010, when Manuel was faced with the challenge of juggling four outfielders for three spots when Carlos Beltran came back from injury, he couldn’t find a workable solution. True, Beltran was a shell of his former self, Angel Pagan was out of position in right, and Jeff Francoeur was nothing more than a good arm. But I have to think that a halfway decent manager would have found a way to keep everyone happy, healthy, and productive. The fact that they weren’t any of that after Beltran came back has to fall somewhat on the manager. Again, maybe he wasn’t the problem in that instance, but he wasn’t the solution.
So now we come to the point in the program where the era of the “New Mets” is over, and again the Wilpons have to start from scratch. I’m not going to pretend I know who the best candidate for GM or manager is. I have no idea. But I do see that the Wilpons are screwing it up already. They seem to be interested in Terry Ryan and three guys from the Marlins… in other words, they’re reaching for the unreachable stars. I can’t imagine that Ryan would want to leave Minnesota as they’re finally opening up the wallet a little bit. The Twins were competitive when the payroll was strict, but now that they’re spending a little bit Ryan’s going to leave? Good luck with that. And the Marlins? Really? The team who’s star player expresses his hate for the Mets at every turn? The team that can’t draw unless the Mets are in town which surely creates a complex? They’re going to let anybody go to the big bad division rival from the biggest city in the nation? Those Marlins? Seems like a smokescreen so that they can just give Ricco or Ricko or Reeko or whatever his name is the job, or worse … ladies and gentlemen, your new GM: Jeff Wilpon. (Cue the music from the Psycho shower scene.)
But I do have one bit of advice whether it be Terry Ryan, Rick Hahn, Sandy Alderson, a Marlin, Theo Epstein (seeing if you’re paying attention) or anyone that interviews for this job: Just as with all job interviews, whether it be for a data entry job, blackjack dealer, or general manager of a baseball club: Your prospective employers will use this interview to find out about you. But you can also use the interview to find out about your prospective employer. As they’re deciding whether they want you, you must also decide whether you want to come to this circus. And that means not only giving the Wilpons your “vision” for the New York Mets, but finding out whether you are going to be given the means to execute that vision. In other words, when they ask you if you have any questions, ask them if you’ll have the resources. Ask them if you’ll have freedom to eat bad contracts. Ask them if they are going to actually let you do the job that they’re offering you, or if you’re going to be part of a corporate chain of command. If you don’t like the answer, then say thanks but no thanks. The way I see it, the Wilpons aren’t in a position to let the best candidates walk over something like that … that is, if they’re serious about doing things the right way. It’s how job interviews work in the real world too (at least until this dopey recession.)
And as for the manager, who we all hope the GM will have the freedom to choose himself, I implore upon all of you reading this, especially those of you who think this team needs a “fiery” manager, to consider the following: No manager of a baseball team is going to march into the middle of a clubhouse, kick over a post game spread and yell “GRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!!!!!” while its star player turns to its star pitcher and says “you know, he has a point”. That’s not going to happen. And that’s not to say a guy like Wally Backman is a bad choice. Backman might actually be a good choice to manage the Mets. But if he is a good choice, it’ll be because he learned from playing under Davey Johnson how to treat grown men like grown men, and not like the 18 or 19 year olds he has at Brooklyn now. It’ll be because he doesn’t have to march to the middle of the clubhouse and keep reminding his players who the boss is because they’ll already know. It’s because his ability to lead will speak louder than any words can, whether they be colorful adjectives prefaced with F-bombs or otherwise.
In other words, kicking food tables over gets old after a while.
But whether it’s Backman, Tim Teufel (who has the same pedigree of playing under Davey as Backman has), Tim Wallach, or whoever, it has to be the new GM that picks him. And it also has to be the new GM that gives him the players to work with. And that brings me to the last portion of this monstrosity:
We all know what the Wilpons are about. They’re not going to throw good money at bad money. They’re not going to go the way of the Yankees and cover up bad signings like Perez and Castillo with good signings like Adam Dunn and Cliff Lee. They’ve done nothing in the past to make us believe that they’re going to do that this season. So the days of the Mets going after the big free agents are over, at least for this season. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. To me, 2011 is already decided. The Mets aren’t going to make any runs at any titles next season as long as they’re saddled with the bad money of Ollie, Luis, and Frankie Rodriguez who they should get rid of at all costs.
So above all else, what the new GM of the Mets needs to do, is to make every move for 2011 with 2012, and beyond, in mind. This means no more signings to appease the fan base, no more big splashes for their own sake, and no more hail marys like Fernando Tatis, Jose Valentin, and yes, R.A. Dickey. Because for every move that works like Dickey did (and considering he’s a knuckleballer he actually might be around for five or six more seasons), there are three or four moves like Livan Hernandez, Freddy Garcia, or Kelvim Escobar. The lightning in the bottle the Mets need to catch are not the older guys that might have one good season left, but younger guys who may have enough lightning for five or six good years. Rule Five free agents who may not contribute until 2012, but that’s fine because that’s the season you can actually spend money on a few good players (and not one semi-superstar). Everything has to be geared towards 2012 or beyond. I’m willing to sacrifice 2011 in terms of a title as long as it’s part of a larger plan to be competitive for a longer period of time.
That, beyond all else, is what the Mets need: Long term investments … not putting all your chips on black at the roulette table.