Nov 02

Looking at the make-up of the new Mets’ manager.

Sandy Alderson is back from teaching in California and at Citi Field working on hiring the next manager of the Mets. There should be some interviews scheduled by the end of the day, with some to happen this week.

While Alderson said he’s not adverse to hiring a “fiery,” manager – relief to Wally Backman supporters – his preference is of an analytical and knowledgeable type. Middle management, if you will. Speculation has Bob Melvin and Clint Hurdle emerging as early favorites.

Yes, the manager could be important to sell tickets – in that regard Backman might have it over Melvin – but winning is the most important criteria and if Alderson believes a low-key, almost vanilla personality is better equipped to implement his vision he’ll get the job. If the Mets play a fundamentally sound, aggressive brand of baseball and prove to always be in the game, that will sell the tickets and steady the ship until they start spending after the 2011 season.

In addition to Melvin, Hurdle and Backman, also on Alderson’s list is third-base coach Chip Hale, Triple-A Buffalo manager Ken Oberkfell, Minor League field coordinator Terry Collins, Double-A Binghamton manager Tim Teufel, and former Seattle manager Don Wakamatsu.

Not an established genius on the list, then again, neither was Bruce Bochy, whom Alderson had in San Diego.

The new Mets manager must have these traits:

SMARTS/ANALYSIS: It’s a complicated game and a manager must always be thinking two, three innings ahead. Bochy was flawless this October in how he juggled his lineup and bullpen. It’s an oversimplification to blame injuries for an unstable batting order and bullpen, but Jerry Manuel showed he didn’t think things through with his insistence in batting Jose Reyes third and for overworking his bullpen. Those were the most glaring as it showed he didn’t have an understanding of the talent of his players.

Sometimes a manager must act on instincts and guts, but hoping and flying by the seat of 0ne’s pants isn’t the best strategy. Alderson is big on probabilities and that comes in being prepared which puts the odds in your favor.

HAVE A PLAN: The bullpen and batting order were all over the place with Manuel. Perhaps the most difficult thing for a manager to do is assess bullpen roles and keep them in place. The bullpen was solvent and stable in 2006 under Willie Randolph but hasn’t been since even though the Mets spent lavishly on closers Billy Wagner and Francisco Rodriguez.

ABILITY TO CONVINCE THE PLAYERS OF THE BIG PICTURE: The Giants proved it is possible to win without marquee players in the starting lineup. (As long as you have four quality starters, a strong bullpen and dominant closer, then the batting order doesn’t have to mash). Neither Manuel nor Omar Minaya could convince Oliver Perez to do what was right, and they didn’t have the backbone to broach moving Carlos Beltran to right field.

Convincing Beltran to move to another position in his walk year will require a delicate, yet firm touch, as it is likely we won’t see him after 2011. The new manager will have to convince Beltran to do what is best for a team  he won’t  be a part of after this season. Tough task.

The Giants won with serviceable, productive role players who performed in a relatively stable lineup. Their lineup might not be as talented as the Mets’ order, but they all knew their roles and had a disciplined approach at the plate. One thing watching the Giants during the year and in the playoffs is they gave away far less at-bats than the Mets.

The new manager and his hitting coach must overhaul the Mets’ far too often careless and sloppy approach at the plate, and this begins with convincing the stars Reyes to improve his on-base percentage and David Wright and Jason Bay to cut down on their strikeouts.

It was almost a novelty when the Mets worked counts, manufactured runs and hit with runners in scoring position. It should be common place.

One of the most memorable at-bats during the World Series was Aubrey Huff sacrificing late in the game last night to set up Edgar Renteria. Arguably their best power hitter was bunting. Clearly, the Giants bought into what Bochy was selling. We rarely saw that here.

THE ABILITY TO MOTIVATE: It’s hard to believe major league players with the money they make need motivation, but it’s true. This is personified by Reyes, whom Manuel lost by juggling in the order and pushing his return from injuries. Reyes is still the Mets’ offensive key and requires delicate handling at times because he does lose focus.

HAVE PATIENCE WITH THE YOUNG PLAYERS: This team has a young core with Ike Davis, Josh Thole and Ruben Tejada. Angel Pagan, Reyes and Wright are also in the prime of their careers. Part of this is surrounding himself with the proper staff. Hale and Dan Warthen, reportedly, could stay in some capacity and this should ease the transition.

It was Manuel who insisted on Jenrry Mejia opening the season in the bullpen when it was clear he was not suited for that role. A manager must put his players in position where they have a chance to succeed. Not only was Manuel wrong here, so was Minaya for letting him.

KNOW HOW TO DEAL WITH THE MEDIA: There were many instances Manuel criticized and threw a player under the bus in the press, which showed he didn’t trust them. Conversely, those players returned that lack of trust. Two of the more enduring images of the season was Mike Pelfrey turning his back on Manuel when he took him out and the John Maine incident. Both illustrated the players’ lack of respect and trust in their manager and it filtered down.

Manuel also failed several times when it came to informing players of change. When it came to informing Wright of an off day or Jeff Francoeur of his role with the return of Beltran, Manuel handled it sloppily. If you’re a manager and you’re selling a new system, you must have diplomacy, tact and consideration, knowing you’re going to rely on those players in the future. The new guy needs this trait.

Manuel did a lot of double-speaking when it came to the press and wasn’t believable, and with that neither the Mets were as a contender.

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 29

Alderson makes good first impression

Sandy Alderson concluded his introductory press conference less than an hour ago at Citi Field and made a positive first impression in laying out the groundwork for the first year of his four-year contract with the Mets.

Among the topics he addressed:

FRONT OFFICE: As suggested here yesterday, Alderson said a priority would be in piecing together his staff. He stressed the word “collaborative,’’ meaning he’ll bring in some quality people and delegate responsibility. It figures to be a staff that encourages the free flow of information and ideas, but Alderson didn’t leave any doubt that wasn’t afraid to pull the trigger on a decision. The farm system, he said, produced players last season, which could be interpreted as a plus for Terry Collins.

MANAGER: The impression is Alderson isn’t keen on bringing in a celebrity manager, which isn’t good news for those stumping for Bobby Valentine. Alderson did say he wasn’t averse to hiring a fiery personality, which leaves the door open to Wally Backman. The new manager should reflect the organization’s philosophy, and should have an intellectual and analytical side to him. Alderson mentioned no candidate by name, but speculation is Bob Melvin has emerged as a favorite. The interview process is expected to begin next week.

THE FUTURE: Alderson said he’s not focused beyond 2011. He admitted he doesn’t expect to be a big player in this winter’s free agent market, but that the Mets expect to be players in the future. Alderson acknowledged the team has financial constraints with up to $130 million earmarked in salary for next season. He also said the team should be competitive in 2011, and with increased production from Jason Bay and others (Carlos Beltran for one, but he didn’t mention him by name) the Mets could be better.

THE DEADWOOD: Alderson said: “I think we want to be thoughtful about everything we do.  I’m mindful of public opinion, but I think we have to be circumspect here. I think we need to be careful about writing off any player or any asset we have without thinking about it carefully.’’ Alderson left the impression he would speak with Oliver Perez about 2010. Alderson didn’t say Perez had a role for next season, but he also didn’t say he didn’t, either. Unloading Perez in a deal will be next to impossible, so he’s not about to hurt himself in trade talks by trashing Perez now. Alderson is simply keeping his options open, which is the smart thing to do.

It was a good first impression, but considering where the Mets have been, it would’ve been hard for Alderson to not have impressed this afternoon.

I, like a lot of others, want Alderson to turn around this franchise. A competitive Mets team is good for the city and for baseball and today was a positive.

Oct 29

Mets to introduce Alderson today; he’ll answer questions about the manager.

The Mets will introduce Sandy Alderson today as their new general manager, and he’ll answer a multitude of questions about his managerial preference.

This much we know already about Alderson: He’ll implement an organizational philosophy and the new manager must adhere to that way of thinking. Alderson is not as interested in the manager’s philosophy as he is the manager fitting into his.

We’ve already heard a lot of names and likely to hear a few more in the coming days. The following are some of the more popular candidates:

Bob Melvin: Melvin has managed in the major leagues, he’s smart, knows how to deal with players and carry through an organizational philosophy. He doesn’t have a dominant, fiery personality, but that’s not essential with Alderson. Slowly, his candidacy is gaining steam and could be emerging as a frontrunner. He’s already in the organization as the Mets’ AL scout.

Wally Backman: Fans and media have been clamoring for Backman even before Jerry Manuel was sacked. He’s a favorite of the Wilpons and Alderson has him on his list. He’ll likely get an interview, but is sliding in the polls. Alderson isn’t interested in a personality as much as he is getting somebody to follow through with his philosophy. Working against Backman is a lack of experience. It’s doubtful Alderson will tie his success to a candidate with a minimum of experience.

Terry Collins: Collins was hired to improve the farm system, and Alderson might find it best to leave him in that capacity. Collins managed Houston and the Angels, and is an organization man. I think he’ll stay in his current role, but he could draw an interview.

Clint Hurdle: Hurdle’s name popped up recently with Texas’ appearance in the World Series. The Ranger’s hitting coach had some success managing the Colorado Rockies. He has a Mets’ background, but I don’t know if he has enough to get over the top.

Chip Hale: Hale did a good job in his first season as Mets’ third base coach. He’s smart, well organized and has a strong work ethic. He’ll interview and could stay in the organization in some capacity, perhaps as a bench coach. He’s too good for the Mets to let him slide through their fingers.

Lee Mazzilli: If the Mets truly want somebody with organizational ties, there’s always the fan-favorite Mazzilli. Mazzilli didn’t get a fair shake managing Baltimore and has been waiting for the right opportunity. I’m not sure this will be it. Being a favorite of Fred Wilpon might not be enough.

Ken Oberkfell: Oberkfell has managed the Mets’ Triple-A affiliate and has logged more time in minor league dugouts than Backman. He obviously knows the Mets’ minor league system. As a second base man for St. Louis he learned under Whitey Herzog, so he learned from one of the best. He was a cerebral player and should mesh with Alderson.

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.