Oct 12

Interesting how October is shaping up.

The networks must be loving baseball’s final four of Milwaukee, St. Louis, Texas and Detroit. Their thinking, of course, is any LCS without the Yankees and Red Sox, or a Chicago or Los Angeles team, can’t be worth watching.

Actually, I tend to root for the match-ups the networks least want to see.

FIELDER: Looking out the door.

I don’t care either way that the Yankees and Phillies are done. I realize many Mets’ fans were thrilled to see them lose, and I understand the initial burst of joy, but does it really matter? Is that what you’re going to take from the season?

Who cares what those teams do? Savoring them lose is admitting to an inferiority complex. The Mets have enough on their plate for their fans to worry about what the Yankees did.

After all, it doesn’t change what happened to the Mets. For a while, it looked as if the Mets would overachieve, but they finished as expected. I was thinking .500, which would have represented significant improvement – I never imagined the playoffs – and for a period they were fun to watch.

But, talent seeks its level and the Mets did what most of us thought they would.

Continue reading

Oct 11

Riggleman to interview tomorrow; Mets could lose Backman.

Real good piece by Andy Martino of The Daily News on the Mets interviewing former Washington Nationals manager Jim Riggleman tomorrow for the bench coach job.

RIGGLEMAN: To interview with Mets.

Martino wrote of Riggleman calling the Mets’ Willie Harris – a former player of his with the Nationals – after he and wife Trey lost their daughter early in the pregnancy. Riggleman contacted Harris to offer support and council, shortly after he resigned as manager when the Nationals wouldn’t pick up his option.

It was an emotional and stressful time for Riggleman, yet he offered support to somebody else. The story humanizes Riggleman and showed compassion. As a bench coach, he will spend more time one-on-one with a player than Terry Collins. What Riggleman did was demonstrate the qualities of communication and understanding, essential for that position.

As a former manager, Riggleman doesn’t have to be trained for this job. Wally Backman, however, needs to be groomed.

I was for Backman getting the chance to be bench coach last year and work under Collins, but the Mets wouldn’t give him the opportunity. Not taking that chance might cost them as Backman could be offered the bench job under Davey Johnson with the Nationals.

It seems as if the Mets are just dancing with Backman, much as they did with Mookie Wilson. If the Mets truly want Backman to stay they would have immediately offered him the Triple-A job when Buffalo manager Tim Teufel was promoted to third base coach.

General manager Sandy Alderson said Backman is not a candidate for the major league staff, and given that, why shouldn’t the second baseman of the 1986 championship team look to better his position elsewhere? Working under Johnson would be ideal.

Although Backman interviewed for the Mets’ managerial position last year, it was to placate an uneasy fan base clamoring for change after Jerry Manuel’s disastrous tenure. Clearly, it was a token interview, and not moving him up the ladder indicates the organization has reservations.

And, if offered the job in Washington, Backman should have no reservations about leaving.

 

Oct 06

Bowa, Riggleman candidates for bench coach.

It didn’t take long for the suspects list for the vacant Mets’ bench coach position to start growing.

Four former major league managers are interested in working next to Terry Collins next season, including Jim Riggleman, John McLaren, Bob Geren and Larry Bowa.

Riggleman resigned as Nationals manager 75 games into the season in a salary dispute and was temporarily replaced by McLaren.

McLaren briefly managed Seattle while Geren managed in Oakland, with neither establishing an impressive resume.

Bowa is the most high-profile of the group having managed six years with San Diego and Philadelphia.

If the Mets want to instill a fiery presence, Bowa would be the logical choice.

 

Oct 06

Warthen survives coaching staff purge.

Since you can’t change all the players, you might as well change the coaching staff.

WARTHEN: The answer?

 

The Mets made a big deal of saying this year they’ve changed the culture of the franchise, but shouldn’t some of that credit go to the coaching staff?

If things were so improved, then how come only two coaches are staying on?

Only pitching coach Dan Warthen and hitting coach Dave Hudgens will remain in their current roles for 2012. Rising star Chip Hale, bench coach Ken Oberkfell, first base coach Mookie Wilson and bullpen coach Jon Debus are gone.

Stunning actually, considering how this team’s attitude had supposedly changed. Then again, did it really after watching Jose Reyes take his bow and leave?

Triple-A manager Tim Tueful is now the third base coach and his pitching coach at Buffalo, Ricky Bones, takes over as bullpen coach.

They’ll fill the bench coach and first base coach positions in the next few weeks. Wally Backman is not being considered for a major league job, but instead will take over for Teuful at Buffalo.

The Mets raved about Hale, so it makes you wonder why he didn’t get the bench job. Or, why he felt the need to leave.

The speculated answer as to the departures was a chemistry issue with Terry Collins. Hale was invited to stay in another capacity, but bolted for the bench job in Oakland. He obviously didn’t see a future here, or a co-existence with Collins.

Oberkfell, who managed on the Triple-A level for six years with the Mets, was not invited to stay. Sandy Alderson gave a song-and-dance about doing a nice job but needing somebody with a “different set of experiences,’’ clearly GM speak for a clash in personalities.

The only surprise is Warthen, who presided over one of the worst staffs and rotations in the majors. Perhaps he got a pass because of the injuries to Johan Santana and Jon Niese, and helped make Chris Capuano a positive reclamation project, but pitching is clearly an issue with this team.

Mike Pelfrey regressed tremendously and the Mets used 16 different relievers in the pen, few of them consistently effective. Bobby Parnell, whom the club envisions as its closer, has definite shortcomings. There isn’t a starter without a significant question next to his name.

Only one starter, Dillon Gee, had a winning record, and only R.A. Dickey had a sub-4.00 ERA among the starters. The staff walked 514 hitters this year, down from 545 the previous season. The Mets ranked ninth worst this season as opposed to seventh in 201o, so we’re not talking that great of an improvement.

Without question, pitching is the Mets’ main priority, and I wonder, with no influx of talent expected from the trade and free-agent markets, what makes Alderson think Warthen has the answers now after not having them since taking over for Rick Peterson in 2008?


Oct 05

My Question To Mets VP Dave Howard

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of participating in a conference call with Mets Executive Vice President of Business Operations, Dave Howard. I was joined by Matt Cerrone, Ed Marcus, Shannon Shark and other notable Mets bloggers. There’s a link to the entire transcript at the end of this post.

I knew going in that the call was basically to discuss the new dynamic pricing the Mets announced on Tuesday as well as the new rescaled ticket pricing which you can read about here. But my bigger concern was not so much about the lower ticket prices and all the perks for season ticket holders, as it was about getting attendance up again by putting a better product on the field.

I know that this concept is lost on many, but consumers in any industry want value for their dollars, especially their discretionary and entertainment dollars. All baseball fans, particularly in this market – the grandest and most storied of them all, want to see a competitive product. At minimum, you want a better than 50/50 chance that you will see the team win that day – in other words a better than .500 club. That’s the minimum most fans will accept.

I used to manage a big box store in New York that had 12 million dollars in annual sales, but was bleeding cash badly. When I accepted the transfer to the store, after a few weeks I gave our front office my overall assessment and action plan for making one of the top stores in gross sales in our region profitable again. Most of them were shocked when my top recommendation was to increase payroll 15%. I explained that we needed to have people on the floor offering better customer service and that their increased presence on the sales floor would have the cumulative benefit of increasing security and reducing shoplifting, which I concluded was very high based on previous years inventory shrinks. I was willing to risk my career that this strategy of increasing payroll would not fail and I emphasized to them not to look at it as simply escalating our already high expenses, but as making a very smart investment in one of the company’s most valuable assets. In one year the store was number one in the region in net profit and I was off to fix another problem store in New Jersey the following January, along with a fat bonus envelope and a 15% raise.

That same principle could be applied to the Mets. Yes, the Mets had an extraordinarily high payroll going into this season, that much is certain, but it might have been more prudent to spend a little more to make the team more competitive and thereby keeping the fans engaged for a full season instead of a half season. And of course, the season-long fan interest would have led to higher revenues and increased profit margins… And maybe lucking into a Wild Card… That was the basis for my question.

Joe D: My question is, last offseason you rolled out Amazin’ Mets Perks as an incentive to increase ticket sales only to see attendance drop a reported 8% from 2010.

I’m of the belief that the longer a team stays in contention, the more the fans will continue go to the park, support the team and buy tickets.

I would imagine that these new reduced ticket prices, the Amazin’ Perks programs, and all the free tickets that were given away this season cost the organization a very significant amount of money.

In the grand scheme of things, might it have been better to simply invest an additional five-to-ten million in improving the roster so that we could’ve kept the season more relevant through September? Wouldn’t it have been more beneficial, and maybe profitable, to spend just a few more million at the front end in exchange for tens of millions more at the back end, even with the high payroll?

Dave Howard: Obviously, you can’t predict what’s going to happen before the season begins. Things played out as they did, Injuries played a significant role as well. If you looked how well Ike Davis and Daniel Murphy were performing, in particular, before their season-ending injuries. That’s something you can’t predict.

With regard to what we have done from a promotional standpoint, the Amazin’ Mets Perks program was intended to bring added value and benefits to our season ticket holders because they are so critical to the success of our business. We wanted to treat them sort of like we treat our major corporate sponsors, in a very special way, give them exclusive access, exclusive benefits. There was some cost there. I wouldn’t say the cost is extraordinary. The primary benefit of that program is, number one, to provide incentive to renew season tickets. That was effective, because we renewed last year at over 85%, which was a very good renewal given the performance of the team. From that standpoint, that was successful.

Obviously our payroll was high last year, at about $145 million. The value wasn’t there – we did have two players who were released in spring training in Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo, we had Johan on the disabled list all year, so we didn’t get the full benefit of that high payroll. Again, I don’t think anyone can criticize our ownership for not supporting a high payroll. Perhaps you can criticize us for not spending the money wisely.

That’s where I’m very optimistic that Sandy Alderson and his team will be doing that much more effectively as we move forward. I think we have to balance everything and it’s very important for us to treat our fans, season ticket holders, and sponsors in a first-class way on the business side, and obviously baseball operations is charged with elevating the value of the team and getting appropriate value out of the money that we are spending on players.

* * * * * * *

I’m not sure that Mr. Howard grasped the totality of my point, but he did bring up some valuable points in his response and I thank him for the opportunity to engage him. Maybe someday we can both talk again so we can establish a clearer understanding of what I was trying to convey. By no means would I ever criticize the organization for not supporting a high payroll, in fact we may have the highest in the league if you tallied up the last ten years. His point on spending all that money more wisely is valid and of utmost importance, and may have avoided this quagmire we now find ourselves in.

Thanks to the guys at Amazin Avenue for transcribing the whole conference call which you can read here.