Dec 04

Making a go with little

Sandy Alderson said it again, that the Mets have little payroll flexibility and aren’t expected to make a splash in the free-agent market.

Again, even if the Mets cut Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo, they are still on the hook for $18 million between them. It’s not as if the money could be spent elsewhere.

The Mets need to find two starters, bullpen depth, a second baseman (if it is not Castillo), a back-up catcher and bench depth. Try doing that with about $10 million to spend.

There’s not much in the minor league system to help immediately. And, Ruben Tejada and Jenrry Mejia are best served in the minor leagues for this year, Alderson said. There aren’t the prospects available to make a trade similar to the one Boston did for Adrian Gonzalez. And, if there was, the Mets are committed to not spending.

Again, we can re-examine trading Jose Reyes and David Wright, but you’d be dealing your two best players. And, with Reyes, his value because of injury and lack of production the past two years, and that he’ll be a free agent after 2011, make him difficult to deal.

And, while a solid player, Wright isn’t one that would bring a boatload of talent in return. Plus, he’d leave a gaping hole at third base.

Alderson said this would be a process and he’s not lying. This is becoming more apparent as the winter meetings approach. They might be able to add a band-aid or two, but other than that, hope for 2011 is for Reyes, Jason Bay and Carlos Beltran to get healthy and continued development from players such as Mike Pelfrey, Jon Niese and Ike Davis.

As of now, hope is the plan.

Nov 23

Some issues for Collins

The thing that stood out most in listening to Terry Collins this morning is his emphasis in “playing the game the correctly.’’

Collins promised an accent on fundamentals with a team that too often disregarded them in the past. This is a team that gives away too many at-bats, both at the plate and on the mound, and loses focus.

That is the culture Sandy Alderson and Terry Collins vowed to change.

One thing apparent in Alderson’s comprehensive search and handpicking of Collins as manager is the continuity between the front office and field staff. There will be no more players taking their issues over the manager to the general manager.

That was the chemistry in Anaheim when the players revolted against Collins, and with the Mets when Tony Bernazard sabotaged Willie Randolph, and the last two years when Jerry Manuel managed without the respect of his players.

Collins said the right things, but there’s more I’d like to hear from him:

THE CORE: Collins wants the game played correctly, but hasn’t elaborated on what he doesn’t like about David Wright and Jose Reyes.

Wright put up decent numbers last season, but they were somewhat deceiving because of his strikeouts. Wright still gives up too many at-bats to kill rallies. The right way also means increasing Reyes’ on-base percentage. Injuries have limited Reyes from running and if he’s healthy will Collins turn him loose?

CARLOS BELTRAN: Collins mentioned how badly Beltran wants to win. The team will keep Beltran because of his contract.  Collins hasn’t said yet whether he wants Beltran to move to right field to make room for Angel Pagan in center.

THE BULLPEN: The Mets will offer arbitration to Pedro Feliciano. If he accepts the Mets will have a proven lefty specialist. With the assumption Francisco Rodriguez is back as closer, the next order of business in the pen will be designating a set-up man. Presumably, that will be Bobby Parnell. The Mets must now fill four spots in the bullpen. How many could be filled from the minor league system Collins oversaw last summer?

THE ROTATION: With Johan Santana on the shelf indefinitely, the Mets have three starters heading into the winter meetings: Mike Pelfrey, RA Dickey and Jon Niese.

With the Mets not expected to be free-spending in the free-agent market, their options are from within, trades and middle-tier arms in free agency.

Collins must operate on the assumption there won’t be any significant additions so his thoughts on Dillon Gee are important. As it is now, no matter how healthy the Mets are with Jason Bay and Beltran, it means little without a strong rotation.

Alderson wants to unload Oliver Perez, but that’s a monumental task. Assuming the worst, that Perez is still here in the spring, how does Collins envision using him?

SECOND BASE: There are three candidates: Luis Castillo, Ruben Tejada and Daniel Murphy. If Murphy can handle the position defensively, he offers the best bat.

Collins knows Tejada from the minor leagues and probably has an idea of his ceiling.

JENRRY MEJIA: As of now, the Mets regard Mejia as a potential starter.  With Collins’ background in player development he likely has his ideas of how he was used last year and what his timetable might be.

Nov 03

What will be the “Mets Way?”

Sandy Alderson’s first hire is former Blue Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi as his special assistant, with presumably one of his responsibilities to help implement a “Mets Way,” throughout the organization, beginning with the lower levels of the minor league system.

Considering the dimensions of Citi Field, presumably an organizational philosophy will place an emphasis on pitching and defense first, followed by situational hitting, and down on the list power.

As the Giants proved, power is not essential to win, and the Mets have enough to get by with David Wright, Jason Bay and Carlos Beltran (presuming all are healthy, each has 30 homer potential) followed by Ike Davis.

It must begin with pitching, with the first step pounding the strikezone and getting ahead of the hitters. Hopefully, it will include instilling the mindset of working deep into games. When Mike Pelfrey was winning in June he worked fast, efficiently and kept the ball down. When he struggled in July he was the opposite and lost confidence.

The Mets have some talented arms below and I’d like the organization to keep them and not rush their progression. Let them develop a variety of pitches and not be reliant on just one pitch. The prime example is Mike Pelfrey, who gradually developed his secondary pitches, and Jenrry Mejia, who still has a way to go.

If the Mets are able to harness arms and pitch to contact, they should then let the defense take care of them. The Mets still gave away far too many outs, and this must be addressed in spring training. There were still instances of overthrowing the cutoff man and not knowing ahead of time of what to do with the ball.

Defensively, there must be more of a concentration on fundamentals, and this also pertains to the offense, where at times it was glaring as emphasized with the amount of strikeouts.

Offensively, way too many at-bats were given away because the hitter lacked patience and didn’t have a mastery of the strikezone. On-base percentage is a statistic that could be improved by nearly every hitter on the team, including Jose Reyes and Wright.

When the team was winning in June Reyes and Wright were on their games, which meant forcing the play and using the whole field. When they hit the skids in July, their situational hitting as a team was non existent.

Wright, Davis and Bay must reduce their strikeouts, which would automatically increase the on-base percentage and lead to more productive outs.

Power is baseball’s great eraser and always has been. The three-run homer can overcome a lot of things. However, being consistent fundamentally applies continuous pressure on the opposition and that’s the way to go.

I want players who’ll force the action, who know how to take the extra base, who’ll make the correct decisions and not take plays off. I want to see a hustle that was absent at times. We saw Angel Pagan have a horrific season fundamentally in 2009, but he greatly improved last year so it can be done.

I want pitchers who’ll throw strikes and not beat themselves with walks. I want pitchers who’ll go after hitters, and not lose concentration after an error, bad umpire’s call or poor pitch.

This must be emphasized on the major league level, with consequences when it is not. It must also be taught and drilled in the minor leagues.

It’s not an overnight process, but if strongly implemented we should see results the first year.

The Mets’ Way should be to play smart, aggressive, fundamental and relentless ball. It shouldn’t be a novelty when a player advances a runner, hits the cutoff man or doesn’t get lazy in the strikezone with a pitch when he falls behind in the count.

It should be an all time thing.

Let’s face it, the Mets don’t have a rotation like that in San Francisco. They don’t have the power or the ability to buy their way out of trouble like the Yankees.

The Mets have talent, but to win they must out hustle and out work their opposition.

Nov 01

What exactly is Sandy Alderson’s definition of competitive?

Sandy Alderson expects the Mets to be competitive next season, but did not define that to mean they’ll be in the playoff hunt. He also said he doesn’t foresee the Mets being big players in the free-agent market.

There’s nothing down below that is major league ready to drastically improve the team, and it’s highly unlikely they’ll deal any of their three biggest major league commodities – David Wright, Jose Reyes or Mike Pelfrey.

Translated: Alderson believes the Mets can be competitive with pretty much the same team they had this season if their injured players can return productive and sound, which is what Omar Minaya said last winter. The Mets won 79 games this year, two below .500, which is merely average. They would figure to improve with full and healthy seasons from Jason Bay, Carlos Beltran and Reyes, but there are no guarantees.

But, how much better? Ten games? That would be 89, but the NL wild card team, Atlanta, won 91 games. So, winning ten more falls short, and that’s even before considering their other issues.

The first, and most important, is the expected absence of Johan Santana. Some projections have him missing most, if not all of the season. Assuming no Santana, the Mets will need two other starters to fill out their rotation.

If the Mets go the same route as they did last winter and not add an arm in the free agent market, we’ll be looking at a front end of the the rotation with Pelfrey, Jon Niese and RA Dickey, with Dillon Gee and Pat Misch among those competing in the back end.

Other issues will be hoping for the continued development of Ike Davis, Josh Thole and Angel Pagan.

Alderson has already told us he won’t have a lot of payroll flexibility this winter, but even if he were to shed the Mets of Oliver Perez or Luis Castillo, that doesn’t mean he’ll find an extra $18 million to play with for 2011.

So far, the first impression has been a good one of Alderson, and part of that has been him being forthcoming about the obstacles.

We’re all assuming the Mets will make major moves for the 2012 season. That doesn’t mean they can’t take a step up next season. How big remains to be seen.

Oct 04

With changes, 2011 is underway.

Jeff Wilpon didn’t wait long.

Wilpon, doing the right thing, acted quickly and decisively today in announcing GM Omar Minaya and manager Jerry Manuel are no longer a part of the Mets. There was no need to delay the inevitable.

Here’s his statement: “We are extremely disappointed in this year’s results and the failures of the past four seasons.  We need to hire a new General Manager with a fresh perspective who will transform this club into a winner that we want and our fans deserve.  We appreciate all that Omar and Jerry have done for the Organization and thank them for their time and effort.  Changes like these are never easy, especially when you are dealing with people you like and respect.”

It was a clipped, cliche of a quote, offering nothing new. That might come in a press conference this afternoon. Probably not, as the real story never is told in these types of gatherings.

Both handled their dismissals with class and dignity, qualities you admire and respect. They aren’t always qualities that translate to winning baseball games.

Manuel was very classy yesterday in his post-game remarks and during the game when he prompted Mike Pelfrey to take a bow and removed David Wright and Jose Reyes so they could receive ovations. It was a small gesture, but it meant a lot to the players involved. Minaya was the same this morning, saying: “I think we needed a change here. The bottom line is we had three years where we didn’t finish the job, and I’ve been in this town long enough to know that we’re expected to win.”

Minaya and Manuel are gone, as we’ve anticipated since the end of July when the Mets plummeted out of contention after a freefall West Coast trip.

In particular, Minaya’s decisions on Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo have hamstrung the Mets financially, which was underscored in Perez’s awful performance yesterday after a month of inactivity. Watching Perez soil a strong pitching performance by Pelfrey and the bullpen might be Minaya’s legacy with the Mets.

However, before we pile on Minaya, let us remember that ownership signed off on those moves and did not spend the money wisely.

Ownership vowed Minaya and Manuel would be held accountable in 2010, and that they have been. However, ownership promised, but did not deliver on its vow to make significant player acquisitions. And, ownership has not delivered to its fan base a concrete blueprint for change.

Minaya and Manuel are gone, but unless ownership makes a dramatic hire to lead its front office, they will merely be scapegoats.

Change is underway, but will there be real change?