Oct 14

Don’t bank on Backman

Following the Mets’ GM search brings a couple of thoughts to mind.

BACKMAN: Would he be a gimmick hire?

I don’t see the Mets hiring Sandy Alderson plus Rick Hahn, as has been suggested.  I believe the job is Alderson’s for the taking, which would enable him to help groom John Ricco to be his successor. I don’t think they’ll end up hiring one assistant GM (Hahn) when they won’t interview their current assistant GM. If they did, they’ll take a risk at losing Ricco.

Because of Logan White’s proficiency in scouting, I can see him joining Alderson.

Whomever, the Mets hire as their general manager, I’m beginning to think Wally Backman won’t be hired as their manager if the new guy has the autonomy the Wilpons have promised. I’ve seen several list of the top managerial candidates and Backman hasn’t been on any of them.

I keep hearing about Backman’s spit and fire, but he’s not the only fiery personality out there, and that’s not the primary quality in a manager. The ability to motivate isn’t confined to yelling and over turning the food spread in the clubhouse. There’s also game management and dealing with player personalities.

Backman has not proven he can be that on a major league level, and with a team in transition such as the Mets a veteran presence is the best option. Like the general manager, I’d prefer a manager with a track record, one who could groom Backman by bringing him on as a bench coach.

This isn’t to say Backman won’t eventually become an accomplished major league manager, but I don’t believe this is the right time. There’s still too much for Backman to learn, and a rebuilding situation like the Mets isn’t the best place to start. I keep hearing about Backman’s fire and the ties to the 1986 championship team, but that sounds more and more like a gimmick hire.

I just don’t see a new general manager tying his success to an unproven manager.

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 01

Feeling good for Frenchy

I can’t help but feel good for Jeff Francoeur to escape this asylum for a winning place. I liked Francoeur’s attitude, his hustle and the life he brought to the clubhouse. I do believe Jerry Manuel underestimated Francoeur’s importance and should have done better by him when Carlos Beltran returned. He basically turned his back on him, which didn’t go over well in that fragile clubhouse.

It was obvious Francoeur wasn’t in the Mets’ plans for 2011 and beyond, even though their outfield situation with Beltran isn’t as settled as it could be. So, to cut him loose now and send him to a team with a chance to win is doing him a solid.

It would be good if he flourished in a winning situation rather than go down with a sinking ship. I’ll bet there are more than a few Mets who’d like to be going with him.

Aug 25

When does a gesture become more than a gesture?

It’s a noble gesture, but one that will have little sting or impact.

Tonight, fans are to meet for the “Citi Field Sit Out,’’ in which the organizers got their message across on the Internet to meet at the ballpark to express their displeasure at the Mets organization by boycotting the game.

The gesture is symbolic and won’t create change simply because management has shown no inclination it wants to change. Management will laugh off the boycott because it already has their money.

As the Mets become more irrelevant heading into September, it should be realized there is little to be done to energize an alienated fan base for the remainder of the season. There is only one gesture symbolic enough for the fans to appreciate there could be a real change and it’s not the firing of Jerry Manuel or Omar Minaya, which could be soon enough. The only gesture the Wilpons can make to the fans that will be symbolic enough to bring about a genuine hope for change would be cutting Oliver Perez.

It will say things will be different.

Manuel and Minaya could be gone, but if the same group of underachieving players is around, what good will it do?

And, all indications are things will be the same because without spending a dime on new players to get better, the Mets have $130 million committed to salaries for next year, with roughly $50 million earmarked for Perez, Luis Castillo – the poster boys for the Minaya regime – Carlos Beltran and Francisco Rodriguez.

The Mets are notorious to not wanting to throw money away, which is why they’re still paying Perez and going with a 24-man roster. The message sent to the clubhouse in keeping Perez at a time when the season was still salvageable was that of surrender.

With a trade almost impossible, next year will likely be as frustrating as this season. Any enthusiasm the team can muster for the 2011 season will be tempered by Perez’s presence, as it will signify nothing has changed for the better no matter how they dress up a new manager or youth movement.

Perez leaving might create a large enough buzz among those thinking of going to Citi Field in September, and even more importantly those on the fence about renewing season tickets, to believe there is sincerity in wanting to change.

Perez is going to get $12 million from the Mets next year either way, so it might as well be in the form of a public relations gesture.

Because without real change, the season ticket base will continue to erode, spending will be further cut, and there will be more symbolic boycotts _ and losing.

There will be more of the same.

Aug 24

Can’t see Warthen surviving, either.

The Mets’ starting pitching is decidedly better than it was last year at this time, but I don’t think it will be enough to save Dan Warthen when Jerry Manuel gets the ax, presumably within days after the end of the regular season.

Incoming managers prefer to name their own pitching coach and staff. To have a staff thrust on a new manager is unfair and puts him at a disadvantage. There’s always the underlying thought  if the pitching coach stays he’s really the GM’s guy. The new manager could interview from the old staff as a courtesy, but there are no guarantees.

That coaches’ contracts expire after the season – unlike that of GM Omar Minaya – should make the transition easier. If Manuel goes as expected, it will mean five managers this decade, hardly a bastion of stability. They’ve also had three general managers during that span to further indicate this is franchise without stable direction.

So, they start again with a new manager and pitching coach.

While the rotation has improved, there’s not enough of an imprint by Warthen to make a difference for these reasons:

1) John Maine: Calling one of your pitchers a “habitual liar,” is not good business. Although it turned out Maine was injured, the process of letting him go out there when he didn’t have it to throw five pitches lost the player, and might have damaged Warthen’s ability in the clubhouse. The team had rebound hopes for Maine but he never made any progress and then came the injury.

2) Oliver Perez: While this is probably unfair with the assumption Perez is a lost cause, Warthen did have two years to work with him without positive results.

3) Mike Pelfrey: Kudos for the fast start, some questions for the slide. There was also last year. Pelfrey, despite showing signs of coming out of it, remains an enigma.

4) The Eighth Inning Guy: All season the Mets have had troubles finding somebody for the eighth inning. A lot of guys have pitched there, but nobody has taken hold of the job. While Manuel will get roasted for this, Warthen must share responsibility.

5) Burning out the bullpen: Manuel kept riding the hot horse until he drops. Somewhere, the pitching coach has to do a better job of monitoring the bullpen arms to keep everybody fresh.