Sep 28

Reflections of Willie

With the Milwaukee Brewers in town, and Jerry Manuel presumably in his last week as Mets manager, it is not surprising the attention being placed on Willie Randolph and the inevitable comparisons to his successor.

RANDOLPH: Looking back.

I covered Randolph in 2006 until 2008 when he was unceremoniously fired, and found him to be knowledgeable but sometimes too thin skinned. I won’t use the word paranoid because I’m not a psychiatrist and believe that’s too harsh and unfair an assessment.

I attributed Randolph’s demeanor to it being his first job and his inability to let go of being passed by for other opportunities.

And, to be fair, Randolph had reason to be cautious as the Mets presented him with several untenable obstacles. Willie spoke highly of Omar Minaya the other day, but part of that was being a gentleman. Fact is, there was an uneasy tension between Randolph and the front office caused in large part by the constant undermining presence of Tony Bernazard, who literally was a management spy and who fed information to players that caused a gap in the clubhouse.

Minaya was at fault for letting that situation develop and not pulling in the reigns on Bernazard. Eventually, Bernazard did himself in and his reputation has kept him from landing another baseball job.

That Carlos Delgado sabotaged Randolph’s relationship with the Latin players, and it was allowed to happen by the front office, was distasteful and really despicable. Delgado’s presence undoubtedly hampered Randolph’s relationship with Jose Reyes to name one. It was information fed by Bernazard to Delgado that damaged whatever relationship the player could have with his manager.

The Mets came within one hit of reaching the World Series in 2006, then collapsed in 2007. The collapse that summer was historic, but traceable to the front office not addressing the needs of starting pitching and not bringing back the bullpen that was a strength of the 2006 team. The collapse would have happened sooner, and perhaps not been as dramatic, if not for the strong start that spring.

The bullpen was again a problem in 2008, but the Mets hung around until the final weekend. There was another collapse that year, but not as dramatic. The team hung around long enough for the interim tag to be removed from Manuel.

The Mets have addressed needs piecemeal, from Johan Santana to Francisco Rodriguez to Jason Bay, but never gave Randolph a full deck after 2006. The feeling was that they came close and to take the next step with essentially the same team. Hoping for improvement is not the same as adding the proper pieces to improve.

Gradually, by sticking with Pedro Martinez and Orlando Hernandez too long, by not rebuilding the bullpen after Duaner Sanchez’s injury described in his EMR (electronic medical record) as a  fractured coracoid bone in the shoulder, by misjudging the progress made by Oliver Perez and John Maine after 2007, by hamstringing the bench with the likes of Julio Franco, poor contracts given Perez, Franco and Moises Alou, and numerous injuries, the window has slammed shut on the Mets and it doesn?t matter who is manager.

Had Randolph stayed, he couldn’t navigate through this mess, and Manuel has proven to be less capable. Let’s face it, today’s Mets are a house of cards. Their record will be better this year, but in some respects the team overachieved because of RA Dickey and Hisanori Takahashi, and Mike Pelfrey’s step forward.

With the payroll as it is, the injury to Santana and questions in the pitching staff, and the health issues of Carlos Beltran and Bay, this team could go south again next year.

Randolph deserves another chance to manage in the major leagues, but bringing him back isn’t the best idea. Been there, done that. Just like with Bobby Valentine.

Randolph has his faults as does Manuel, but the fact is this front office will be going on its fifth manager in ten years next season, a sure sign that the instability that comes from up top.

Sep 22

It’s over, finally.

The inevitable became official last night when the Florida Marlins eliminated the Mets from playoff contention for the third time in four years. The Marlins might have administered the killing blow, but last night, as in the other two years, the Mets killed themselves.

Last night was a microcosm of this season in many ways, beginning with an offense that squandered numerous opportunities to eventually waste a strong starting performance, this time from Mike Pelfrey. The Mets’ inability t0 produce, much less in the clutch, has been a critical weakness all summer.

We’ve been over this before, but most of the starting position players will return next season so the Mets don’t figure to add a big bat. They need to hope for healthy players and improvement. Hoping makes for a very bad plan.

For his part, Pelfrey continues to pitch well enough to win most games, but last night was betrayed by his defense and later the bullpen.

After Pedro Feliciano retired the first two batters in the eighth, Jerry Manuel went to Elmer Dessens, who gave up four straight hits, including a mammoth three-run homer to Gaby Sanchez. Why Feliciano wasn’t allowed to continue is beyond me. He’s certainly more reliable than Dessens.

Another poor bullpen decision, but there have been so many I’ve lost track.

It’s easy to blame injuries, and for the Mets they could wonder what might have been had they not lost significant time from Carlos Beltran, Jason Bay, Jose Reyes and Johan Santana. Still, the Mets’ losses weren’t as severe as those of the Phillies, but they managed to overcome and have won 21 of their last 25, the kind of hot streak Manuel kept waiting for, but never came.

Championship caliber teams must find a way to overcome from injuries and the Mets did not. There were simply too many times this season when they beat themselves, whether it be an error in the field, giving away an at-bat, or throwing a lazy pitch.

You are what your record says you are, and for the Mets they are a losing team for the second straight season, and out of the playoffs for the fourth straight year.

On an interesting note, Manuel responded to Joe Torre’s comments about being curious about the Mets’ job, and Torre responded by apologizing to Manuel and saying he was closing the door on managing the Mets. Torre should have danced around the question better and apologized for violating an unwritten protocol.

Still, people change their minds so I wouldn’t write off the Mets and Torre talking after the season. It’s not as if Torre backing off now will save Manuel’s job. The Mets have not been shy in the past for going after media outlets for stories they didn’t like, or weren’t correct. The Mets have not told one media outlet to back off on Manuel, nor have they made any comment about his returning.

They have left Manuel alone to twist in the wind because they know he’s not returning. They are studying their options. Speaking of which, they appear to have lost out on Kevin Towers, who appears to be headed for Arizona. He would have been intriguing.

So, it is officially over, but we’ve known for awhile now that it wasn’t going to happen for the Mets. For me, I thought the series just prior to the break when they lost to Atlanta was a determining moment. From there, came the disastrous West Coast slide that coincided with the return of Carlos Beltran.

From there, the rest of the season was a formality.

Sep 20

Where to plug the holes?

I’m looking at the Mets’ payroll for 2011 and see around $130 million is already spent, much of it on players who could make a minimal impact, if at all. Money will be spent on Carlos Beltran, Oliver Perez, Luis Castillo and Francisco Rodriguez, but what will the return be?

Castillo will get his money, even if he doesn’t play full time at second base. This is one of the few spots where the Mets could upgrade. They also must upgrade their rotation, bullpen and bench.

Every other position, I see, is already accounted for.

I see Ike Davis and Josh Thole as building blocks. Even though they could get something in return, I don’t see them dealing David Wright and Jose Reyes. Jason Bay, assuming he’s healthy, will come back in left field.

Beltran is virutally untradeable with an $18.5 million contract for next year (the Mets would have to pick up most of it in a deal) and having been injured for much of the past two years. He’ll be back and Angel Pagan will move to right, that is, unless the new manager can convince Beltran to switch from center.

The Mets don’t figure to spend heavily, so they’ll hope for a repeat from RA Dickey, and continued development from Mike Pelfrey and Jon Niese. They might pick up a middle-tier arm to minimally off-set the projected loss of Johan Santana.

And, if they can’t shed K-Rod’s contract, they’ll hope he’ll be sound following thumb surgery. They’ll try, but might not be able to re-sign Hisanori Takahashi, and they’ll hope Bobby Parnell further develops. They’ll swap out their other bullpen pieces with mediocrity and hope for the best.

They’ll hope from the best from Bay and Beltran, hope Wright and Reyes have better seasons, and that Pagan wasn’t a fluke.

It really doesn’t matter who they bring in here as GM and manager, their hands are tied with their existing contracts and the way the roster is configured.

They don’t figure to be much better, if anything, other than they are today. They will bide their time into they clear some salary off the books for the 2012 season.

Sep 02

Manuel’s status ….

MANUEL: Clock ticking toward the inevitable.

Jerry Manuel told The New York Post the other day he’d love to know his job status for next season. There was a chance of his return, maybe even had the Mets not made the playoffs, if they continued to play as they did in June when they reached a high-water mark of 11 games over .500. Had they made a real run an argument could be made for him.

But, the collapse in July, followed by a month of .500 ball – give or take a game – has done him in. August was especially brutal because the Mets played with disinterest, without passion, without spark. There were extenuating circumstances – there always is – but the general apathy the team has been in the past month greatly reflects on the manager.

He has lost his team.

Several things within Manuel’s control have done him in, headed by his handling of the bullpen. He burns out relievers and isn’t always clear in dealing with the players on their job descriptions. Communication is not his strong point, as evidenced when he said Ike Davis had been spoken to regarding his emotional displays at the plate. When asked about this, Davis had no clue.

David Wright did not know when he’d get a day off. Manuel did not discuss with Jeff Francoeur his status following Carlos Beltran’s return.

Manuel threw John Maine under the bus when he said maybe the best day to pitch him would be on off days. He insisted on three catchers in the National League game which is absurd. Manuel’s handling of Jose Reyes’ oblique strain prior to All-Star break was foolish. He insisted on Jenrry Mejia in the bullpen to start the season when it clearly was not in the best long-term interests of the club.

The list goes on and on.

That there is not one Met saying for publication that the fault is on the players and not Manuel is telling. Nobody is in his corner. More than a few Mets stood up for Willie Randolph, while at the time Manuel was telling the brass he’d be interested in the job.

Add it all up, and the Mets are 190-198 under Manuel in his two-and-a-half  years. For the fourth straight year the Mets will not make the playoffs, for the second straight year September will be about showcasing players for the following season.

This time, the Mets will be showcasing players Manuel will never get to manage.

Sep 01

Mejia to get start

The Mets announced this afternoon Jenrry Mejia will start Saturday’s game at Chicago. Not a surprise.

I hope the Mets give Mejia a lot of rope to see what he is capable of doing. Remember he spent a lot of the season in the bullpen, so his innings aren’t what they could be had he been in a rotation all year. Even so, I’m sure they will watch his pitch count.

By rope, I mean let him work his way out of jams and if he gets mauled early, let ‘s see how he reacts. I don’t want to hear how getting rocked will shake his confidence, because if he’s as good as the Mets think he’ll learn from it.

This is obviously the right thing to do, as the Mets finally have realized his future is as a starter. Five starts won’t be enough for him to develop another pitch, but it is a start. Even after five starts he might need more time in Triple A to develop, but that’s all right.

I thought they pushed the envelope with him in the first half of the season with how they handled him in the bullpen. There were glimpses where you could tell what all the fuss is about, and there were other times when you knew he wasn’t ready.

The season is lost, so it’s time to plan ahead. For every fifth day at least, when Mejia pitches, there will be meaningful games in September. Let him take his lumps and learn from it. Both he and the Mets will be better off.