Sep 21

Ten Reasons Why Mets Won’t Collapse

A week ago today the Mets held a 9.5-game lead over the Nationals and we were talking about magic numbers. There were columns, including those written here, suggesting Matt Harvey’s limitations weren’t a big concern because the Mets opened a huge gap in the NL East and the Nationals were floundering.

After Sunday night’s disaster in Flushing the Mets’ lead is six games with 13 games remaining. Three of those games are with Washington the final weekend of the season.

WRIGHT: We'll see that smile in October. Trust me. (AP)

WRIGHT: We’ll see that smile in October. Trust me. (AP)

Despite growing anxiousness, I don’t see the Mets coughing up their lead, regardless of Harvey’s innings situation, and here’s why:

1. It’s hard to believe the Mets will have another collapse like 2007, or even 2008. Three dramatic collapses in less than ten years is almost impossible to comprehend. I mean, what are the odds? History won’t repeat itself.

2. There are a core of veterans that are real leaders who won’t let it happen. David Wright, Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson are veterans with a clue. You can add Daniel Murphy and Curtis Granderson to the list.

3. The Mets folded in 2007 because of their bullpen, but despite what happened Sunday, it is significantly better this year. Jeurys Familia is a dominating closer, and if Tyler Clippard gets over his back problems, the 2015 back end is much better. Addison Reed is a plus.

4. Yoenis Cespedes is in a dreadful slump. Better to get that out of the way now. If he can turn it on again it will work wonders with the offense.

5. The starting pitching everybody raved about is going through a rough stretch, but Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard are just too good to go into a group free fall.

6. Bartolo Colon seems oblivious to pressure. He’s been strong this month and I don’t see signs of him letting up.

7. With the exception of the final weekend, the schedule is working in the Mets’ favor.

8. They have a group of young, talented players in Travis d’Arnaud, Wilmer Flores and Michael Conforto who are having solid seasons. Plus, Lucas Duda is showing breakout signs.

9. The 2007 team had chemistry issues and there were a segment of players not happy with then-manager Willie Randolph. Plus, the front office wasn’t behind Randolph, evidenced by assistant general manager Tony Bernazard spying in the clubhouse. There’s a disconnect between manager Terry Collins and GM Sandy Alderson, the players generally like and respect Collins. They haven’t quit on him. There are no dogs or cancers on this team.

10. While there’s a sense of anxiousness, these Mets have played too good for so long for there to be another free-fall into winter.

None of this is to suggest the Mets don’t have issues. They do, and I’ll get to them later this week, but for now just relax as this season will be over soon enough, and in a good way.

Oct 05

I see the Wilpon’s pain

I watched Fred and Jeff Wilpon squirm yesterday with embarrassment and pain. It was clear to me by their body language and tone of voice they felf genuine embarrassment and frustration of having to go through the firing and hiring process once again.

WILPONS: Not an easy time.

They were under the glare of the spotlight not only in New York, but the baseball community, and they were admitting the last six years under Omar Minaya were under them. That can’t be easy, as it reaffirmed in part the criticism directed at them.

When Fred Wilpon said he loves the Mets, I believe him, and I believe Jeff Wilpon when he said everybody is responsible. They were asked point blank where they failed and their answer was in hiring the wrong people. There were no excuses, no lamenting injuries and bad luck, but an admission they made judgment errors in their hiring process.

They said things spun out of control and the people they hired did not produce the results, meaning the Wilpons did not produce results, either. Nobody spends that kind of money and doesn’t want to win.

Can the Mets win with the Wilpon ownership?

I believe they can. Afterall, they reached the World Series in 2000 and came within one hit of doing so again in 2006. When you come that close, you can win with the right people.

I believe the biggest problem the Wilpons made with Minaya, was overestimating the ability of the team after the 2006 season. Their thinking was “we’ll get that hit next year,” but it never happened. The Mets made no significant changes after the 2006 season, and instead regressed with their pitching staff. That led to the collapse of 2007, and later 2008.

By 2009, the team had dramatically regressed and patchwork was not enough. Patchwork won’t be enough for 2011, either.

How much the Ponzi scandal set back the spending we’ll never really know, but we must give them the benefit of doubt with that payroll.

That they continually have a one of the highest payrolls in the major leagues shows a willingness to spend. That they OK’d the spending on whom they signed was their mistake. Maybe the Wilpons never overruled Minaya’s choices, but they should have done a better job of asking questions.

One of the questions the Wilpons and the new leadership must face is that changing the culture might entail eating contracts, and if the new general manager suggests it, are they willing to take that kind of financial hit?

I would have liked to have heard more of a blueprint for the future rather than hearing it will be the new general manager’s decision, but they left it all out there that the new leadership will have responsibility and must have a vision. They said they will examine all kinds of GM candidates, but I would have liked to have heard them define the ideal candidate.

In saying the new general manager must just change the culture is an admission the present environment hasn’t been good and the fault lies with the Wilpons in fostering it.

Yesterday was not an easy day for the Wilpons or the Mets’ organization. And, this will not be an easy winter for them or the new leadership. But, Fred and Jeff Wilpon took responsibility yesterday, and promised the new leadership will be given the authority and resources to rebuild their franchise.

I saw their anguish and humiliation yesterday. I know they don’t want to go through that again.

There’s an old saying, that discontent is the first step toward progress in a nation or a man. That includes baseball teams as well, and there was no hiding their discontent.

They’ve already taken the first step.

Sep 29

Manuel reflects on a season lost

It was interesting to hear Jerry Manuel evaluate his performance last night on SNY, admitting he pushed the envelope in bringing back Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran, and the experiment with Reyes at third.

MANUEL: The dreams of success have faded.

Much of the self-evaluation had been written by posters at the time, but it must be remembered Manuel is working off different information and conditions that we were.

Quite simply, Manuel knew there was pressure on him to win this year, and that only made it easier to be tempted, especially when the player says he’s ready.

Manuel didn’t get into it, but there was inconsistency in how he made out his lineup, set up his bullpen and bench. Lest we not forget, it was Manuel’s insistence to stay with Jenrry Mejeia, who has been shut down with a shoulder injury.

I also didn’t like how Manuel handled Jeff Francoeur and John Maine, but there are always be dust ups in the player-manager relationship.

Last night Manuel was candid, forthright and honest. There was very little excuse making, other than to say the collapse of the offense played a major factor into the season’s outcome. And. I don’t look at that as an excuse as much as a statement of fact.

If this had been Manuel’s first season with the Mets, you could make an argument for another chance, but he presided over the September collapse in 2008 and last year’s disaster. There were extenuating circumstances after both that warranted a second chance, the bottom line is that through a myriad of reasons, the Mets have taken a step back since 2006, and in this market, with this stadium and the expectations, somebody will have to pay the price for failure.

Keeping Manuel with roughly the same payroll as this season is to tell the fanbase “our hope is that we stay healthy and improve,’’ which is something they’ve been saying since Carlos Beltran took that third strike from Adam Wainwright.

Keeping Manuel would be saying this year was acceptable.

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 11

Upon further review ….

Maybe it is me, or am I piling on when it comes to Johan Santana’s shoulder injury which will require season-ending surgery?

SANTANA: Gone for how long?

After Santana was injured August 2, I would have expected him to have a MRI immediately and not wait a week before he tested it and found out the extent of the injury. Considering he’s the Mets’ most valuable pitching commodity, and how the team has handled injuries in the past, the MRI should have been performed matter-of-factly.

Sure, Santana said he was fine, but Ryan Church said he was fine, John Maine said he was fine, Jose Reyes said he was fine. Players will always say they are fine. That’s part of their competitive DNA, but where did Santana go to medical school?

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