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 28

Mets’ Alderson has a long list ahead of him.

It won’t be an easy task for Sandy Alderson to turn around the Mets. Naming a manager is on everybody’s mind now, but that’s just one of the issues on a lengthy things-to-do list.

ALDERSON: A long list of things to do.

No doubt all these things were discussed during the interview process:

1) ORGANIZING HIS STAFF: John Ricco is already on board as assistant general manager, but Alderson has thoughts of his own for the remainder of his staff. Alderson’s reputation is having his hands in everything, and that means surrounding himself with people he trusts.

From scouting to minor league operations to the medical staff, Alderson has his own ideas and won’t blindly inherit Omar Minaya’s staff and the remainder of the Mets’ organization. You might see in the upcoming weeks, perhaps even ahead of naming the manager, announcements on Alderson’s staff.

There’s little doubt Alderson hasn’t already begun the evaluation process, and there should be a minimum of time before naming any new pieces.

Is it possible for some of the Mets’ organization to stay in place? Absolutely. He’s been around; he knows who’s good or not from the existing staff. Part of the process will depend on his conclusions as to how much Minaya was responsible to the existing mess.

2) NAMING A MANAGER: I appreciate the sentiment naming Wally Backman might cause the perception the Wilpons are still calling all the shots, but the former Mets’ second baseman is reportedly on his list.

Alderson already has his short list, which he’s keeping close to the vest. Jerry Manuel was too passive in many areas, and the choice should be someone with a firmer hand. That, however, doesn’t necessarily mean a dictator.

A candidate without a Mets’ background will also be one of the things he’ll consider. Alderson, by himself, represents change, so I don’t think they’ll name a manager just to sell tickets. That is part of the rationale in Backman.

BACKMAN: Don't count on him.

Whomever is chosen, he should be a teacher with an ability to work with young talent as the Mets have a core in Ike Davis, Josh Thole, Mike Pelfrey, Ruben Tejada and Jon Niese. The right balance between motivation and patience must be made.

3) DECIDING ON WHERE ARE THE METS TODAY: Are the Mets a .500 team that needs a minimum of rebuilding to be competitive next year or are they a team that needs an overhaul?

Alderson must decide on what being competitive means in 2011. Is .500 good enough or should they wait until 2012 when he has more salary to work with?

The decision on where the Mets will largely be dependent in part on Alderson’s budget. With $130 million earmarked for 2011, just how much flexibility will he be given?

They have the pieces in place to improve if Jason Bay and Carlos Beltran are healthy and productive, but those are just two of several things that must break right. The Mets learned since the end of the 2006 season that hoping isn’t a sound strategy.

There are holes in the rotation, and bolstering the bullpen and bench is a must. They are closer to last place than first place.

The answer to this issue will determine just how much work needs to be done.

4) ASCERTAINING JOSE REYES: He’ll probably stay, but if Alderson decides the team is far away he’ll have to consider whether Reyes is more valuable on the field or with what he might bring in a trade.

You just don’t deal a player like Reyes without considerable thought, and Alderson has to look at the injury history the past two years and whether there’s still a ceiling for him.

REYES: What's his real value?

If Alderson believes dealing Reyes could fill two or three holes, then that has to be on the table. The flip side is having somebody to replace him, and right now they don’t.

Reyes can be, and has been, a dynamic talent for the Mets, but it also must be remembered the Mets haven’t won with him. Ditto David Wright.

5) DECIDING ON A PITCHING COACH: Mike Pelfrey and RA Dickey endorsed Dan Warthen, but that’s not enough. The manager should have the right to name his pitching coach and the rest of his staff.

Assuming Alderson is already reaching out to potential managers, it is a safe assumption the new pitching coach is already on the radar.

The Mets pitching staff statistically improved last summer under Warthen, but how much of that was not having Oliver Perez and John Maine? I would say plenty.

6) WHAT TO DO WITH THE DEADWOOD: I think the sooner they are rid of Perez and Luis Castillo, the better. However, just ditching them as suggested the other day might not be a prudent move.

Alderson needs to change the culture and not having Perez would do that. However, Perez rarely pitched last summer and was coming off an injury. The rational thing to do would be to add to the pitching staff thinking Perez won’t be there, but allow him to work on his mechanics and strength in the winter leagues.

There are no games being played now, and either way Perez will get $12 million in 2011 from the Mets. If they have one more opportunity to see if Perez can turn it around they should take it.

Castillo, at least, wanted to play. The Mets don’t like eating salary, but $6 million is more palatable than $12 million.

7) BUILDING THE ROTATON: The assumption must be made Johan Santana will be out for much of the season if not all.

Nobody thinks they’ll sign Cliff Lee, but there’s no harm in contacting his agent.

The current rotation consists of Pelfrey, Dickey and Jon Niese. Is Dillon Gee a real option? We don’t know, but he’ll get a shot. The prudent thing to do with Jenrry Mejia, since they misused him last year, would have him start in the minor leagues.

The Mets need to add two starters, which is why giving Perez a chance in winter ball is a prudent thing. Then they can attempt to add some middle-tier arms in the offseason so the team would at least be competitive.

8) DECIDE ON CARLOS BELTRAN: It’s highly doubtful Alderson will find a taker for the injured and highly-priced – $18.5 million for 2011 – Beltran.

Any deal they might make would necessitate them picking up a considerable piece of the remaining salary, and with that being the case they are better off hoping he has something left in his walk year.

However, it is clear Beltran, as he is now, can’t play center field on a regular basis. Alderson, with the new manager, must meet with Beltran to discuss a move to right field.

This can’t be a thing to be debated during spring training. The decision must be made before.

9) THE BULLPEN: The Mets’ reaching a settlement with Francisco Rodriguez only tentatively answers the closer question. Assuming things work out for Rodriguez in court then the Mets can address the rest of their bullpen.

The Mets need to make a decision on Hisanori Takahashi by Oct. 31, and it is believed they will offer him two years. An ironclad promise to start can’t be made because they won’t have a manager by then, but bringing him back is important.

Bringing back Pedro Feliciano is also necessary, as is finding a role for Bobby Parnell.

The bullpen has been mix-and-match the past few seasons and this winter will be more of the same.

10) EVALUATING THE MINORS: By most accounts, the Mets are stronger in the lower levels of the minors than they are in the higher classes.

A lot was made after the season about developing a “Mets Way,’’ in the farm system where a certain philosophy and style of play is adapted and taught at all levels.

I would like to see that with the Mets, where it is ingrained in the young players that they play an aggressive, fundamental style of ball. The transition from level to level must be as seamless as possible.

The Mets are starting over with Alderson, and that includes on all levels.

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?

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 09

Hospital Flap: Just like the Mets.

BELTRAN: Skips hospital showing with Perez and Castillo.

The New York Mets had planned, as they usually do when they are in Washington, to visit the Walter Reed Army Medical Center to comfort  injured servicemen from Iraq and Afghanistan. This is a pet project of the Wilpons and the team knew well in advance what was to happen this week.

That night’s starting pitcher, Dillon Gee, was making his major league debut and was excused. Everybody else was expected, not required, to attend. It was one of those unspoken gestures of team unity.

The firestorm is in that Carlos Beltran, Oliver Perez, and Luis Castillo, three players who have clashed with Mets’ management this year and who carry heavy, yet unproductive contracts, opted not to attend without prior explanation.

Beltran said he had a meeting with his foundation to build a baseball academy in Puerto Rico; Castillo said he was uncomfortable at seeing the injuries; Perez offered no explanation.

Maybe Beltran could have rescheduled; maybe he could not have. But, it was his foundation, he knew of the conflict in advance and said nothing. He could have rescheduled. That’s pretty lame. Beltran was aware of this visit to the hospital, and although he was supposedly doing charity work, it’s still a weak effort on his part in communicating. Had he taken a more proactive approach, he wouldn’t be lumped in with Perez and Castillo.

Still, it can’t be forgotten how the Mets and Beltran clashed over surgery this spring, and if surgery had been done last summer how he might have recovered for this season. Instead, Beltran is owed $18.5 million for the final year of his contract, which the Mets would gladly unload.

Beltran’s unexcused absence, regardless of the subsequent explanation, brings these other issues to light and puts him in an uncomfortable position. Beltran isn’t stupid, he knows how the media operates and what would be made of this. Beltran is too smart to do something like this unless he was trying to make a statement.

Meanwhile, Castillo’s comment that this would make him queasy is an insult to those who are injured. It is a high insensitive comment. It reminds me, that he didn’t seem to have this reaction when he visited in the past.

You can insert your jokes about Castillo making you queasy here.

Still, the thing that sticks out with Castillo has been his disappointing, unproductive and tumultuous season and the $6 million remaining on next year’s contract. He’s not playing and is angry at the Mets. Was this the right way to express that anger?

Then, there is Perez, who was smart enough not to offer a lame excuse or lie. He just refused comment, which automatically makes anybody speculate what his agenda is. Perez is bitter at how he has been treated, although he brought on a lot of it himself. Perez is owed $12 million this year and next year and has refused all requests to do things that would make him better.

There’s no doubting the Mets want somebody, anybody, to take these contracts off their hands, and it’s no secret these guys want out. It’s also no secret the Wilpons hate eating these contracts.

All what the hospital flap has done is make me wonder whether the boycotts were orchestrated as a way of forcing the team to say “enough is enough,” and cut them loose with their 2011 contracts owed them. I’m thinking it is their way to force the issue on a release.

As far as conspiracy agendas go, it’s a good one.

What also makes me scratch my head on this is Jerry Manuel’s weak response, saying they are adults and can act they way they want. That’s the way Jerry for spitting on the concepts of team and accountability and responsibility.