METropolis; Year 9 A.D. - (After Doubleday)
NEW YORK METS: At The Roosevelt Avenue Crossroads.
Unless you're watching the Cardinals and the Rangers on TV, Baseball in NYC is finished for the year. Another season in the Age of Wilponianism is done. For the Boys of Flushing, and without poking fun, things were pretty much wrapped up by mid-August. And there's a problem with that - An ever growing problem with that. Although they were a strike away in 2006, the Mets haven't been to the World Series in over a decade, and haven't won one since 1986; now twenty five plus years ago.
Once born into the National League, this organization was and remained a NYC sensation. Several years of support through some awfully bad seasons of baseball paid off when The AMAZINs won a title and then taught us again Ya Gotta Believe in this team a few years later. Even during the late 70's down-turn, there was still always a little Magic you felt in being a Mets fan. Then seventeen years after their first World Series title, METropolis was awarded with another thanks to a real raucous bunch of very lovable and skilled, yet wild Metropolitans. And fourteen years after that in the year 2000, the New York Mets made their fourth and last trip back to the World Series.
If there was a pattern to their four World Series appearances, they all came after grass-roots efforts in minor league development. After fooling around with old NYC baseball heroes and aging vets, Joe McDonald finally got the organization serious about development in c.1966. He then initiated the second wholesale rebuilding that Frank Cashen continued. The third was instigated by Joe McIlvaine. The remnants of his efforts were parlayed into a WS appearance in 2000 during the Valentine/Phillips regime. Those methods were vastly different from the tactics employed by Omar Minaya which got the Mets to within a strike of another WS appearance. However, five complete seasons later, that season stands out as an aberration.
For the 1969 team there was a follow up 1973 season. For the 1986 Champs, there was a follow-up 1988 season. At least with the 2000 N.L. Champs, there was a lead-in 1999 season. The 2006 team had no such follow-up nor lead-in. That season stands by itself as an island because it was patch-worked together. With the club's minor league production at a stand still, that was a team for the moment that caught lightning in a bottle.
In today's times, the Media insists a NYC team can not risk a full blown rebuilding. And while I find that notion wholly absurd and idiotic for such learned persons to say, "Rebuilding" has however become a dirty word best not mentioning around these parts.
That's too bad, because sometime in the early to mid 1990's and before that last trip to the World Series, the Mets lost the town they owned over the cross-town Yankees. And since the partnership between Nelson Doubleday and Fred Wilpon deteriorated, the organization has quite literally been a "How To" owner's manual for dysfunction.
Hopefully Sandy Alderson is here to change that. But thirty plus years after the sale of the New York Mets eventually led to putting this organization within the sole hands of Wilpon and Son, it's high time someone declare an official Fourth Rebuilding of METropolis. The condition exists already so there's no fooling anybody. So please, the treatise with the Fans need merely be signed in order to move on. After all, there's been much done to alienate them already.
It's not a stretch to say the Saul B. Katz Dilemma is now a full blown crisis. Therefore the next logical question is where does the Saul B. Katz Dilemma go from here?
Money issues still rule the day. If the Madoff resolution turns out horribly for the Wilpons, or even if things end more positively for them as may be the case, either way it's going to cost them money; lots of money - enough money to initiate a major salary retraction for next season and beyond. They've also claimed to have lost around $70 million this past season in Citi Field related revenue. And the forecast is for more losses next season. Attendance has steadily gone down since the opening of Citi Field. And while no coincidence, there's been an equally rapid decline in on-field performance and the standings.
So how would you characterize an owner, that once, in a slightly lesser capacity part owned Thee Team in town, but as sole owner is now besieged by a financial scandal and staring ruin in the face; is laden in stadium debt; is fielding a poorly performing team; has a rapidly growing apathetic fan base who were partly disenfranchised by exorbitant ticket prices and what I call Coliseum-Style Segregation; and yet plays in the third largest city in the world, the largest city in America, and the nation's number one market?
Get back to me on that.
After a long line of Frank Cashen and Steve Phillips protegees, the Wilpons finally went off campus to hire their current General Manager. He's the first executive hire from outside the organization since Frank Cashen himself. Sandy Alderson is the seventh GM over the thirty years since Fred Wilpon (and Nelson Doubleday) purchased the team prior to the 1980 season.
The 2011 season completes nine years of sole ownership under Fred Wilpon and Family since buying out-going partner Nelson Doubleday's share of the Mets. And with Mr. Doubleday, I believe went this organization's better upper-level Baseball acumen.
The record speaks for itself. From the beginning trouble abounded. Then GM Steve Phillips was embroiled in a front office situation involving unbecoming conduct. Once the Bobby Valentine/Steve Phillips feud was finally resolved as both were fired, Fred Wilpon found himself with the highest payroll in the N.L. and a last place club.
Fred promoted Phillips' understudy; Jim Duquette. Duquette was given the proverbial cease and desist orders from the top. Wilpon cut off expenditures. Before Wilpon ever fired Duquette, Fred begged Omar Minaya to come back to the organization. And for a short time at the tail end of 2004, this organization maintained a two headed GM monster. It turned out to be a very amateurish way to fire Duquette.
By now, we understand the Omar years a little better. But with no more understudies. After thirty-years of executives being put in place for Wilpon's usage, there were none. The Commissioner of Baseball was needed to suggest Sandy Alderson as a candidate. So Jeff Wilpon conducted an interview process ruse before announcing Alderson's hire.
II. FRONT OFFICE:
What GM Sandy Alderson is not, is wishy-washy. There is no paralysis by analysis with him. He's brutally honest, quite methodical in his approach, and doesn't let situations linger.
Five members of Omar's old guard were effectively purged this past season. John Maine was allowed to hail a cab and leave. Decisions to release Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo came decisively early in the season. Likewise, another early season situation at second base was not allowed to fester. And ultimately, a solution presented itself in the form of Justin Turner.
Sandy played his hand in the Carlos Beltran transaction as best he could and landed a top-quality pitching prospect in return from the Giants. In the Francisco Rodriguez deal, I don't think the Mets nor KRod's agent ever even considered the 2012 option in his contract as being negotiable. I think that aspect of KRod's settlement with Milwaukee was born strictly because the Brewers are small market and forced to be creative, and in this case bold enough, to suggest such an opt-out. The bottom line however, was KRod's potential balloon salary for 2012 was strictly out of the question in Fred's operating budget and Sandy managed two minor league bodies in return.
This General Manager is still driving Omar's ride however. We don't know what will become of Jose Reyes. But Omar's other inheritance; David Wright; still has a year on his deal. And the latest rumor is the Mets are now openly shopping David. The other contractual hold-overs such as Johan Santana, Jason Bay, and Angel Pagan remain. Dillon Gee; Mike Pelfrey: Jon Niese; Bobby Parnell; Ike Davis; Lucas Duda; Ruben Tejada; Josh Thole; etc.. and most if not all minor leaguers from Binghampton to Buffalo are all Omar's.
Sandy Alderson's greatest accomplishment thus far has been getting the Wilpons to budge from MLB's suggested slotting system. The signing of Brandon Nimmo and others after the most recent June Amateur Draft was a welcome departure from the club's prior practice of not over-paying bonuses to prospects, and instead concentrating on Latin free-agents not subjected to the draft, and in effect being less costly.
Sandy Alderson's front office imports, Paul DePodesta and J.P. Ricciardi, are in charge of such matters now. And the fan base appears satisfied the operations have been put in very capable hands. I for one would concur. It's becoming very clear to this Met Fan, the organization is making a welcome return to being a developmental based organization again.
In the years between the promotions of Jose Reyes, David Wright, and Scott Kazmir, and the current crop of prospects who've been promoted over the last two seasons, the Mets' minor league system became a barren waste land. What had been a very fertile system for forty years, continually producing prospects since 1966, was nothing but a dust bowl by the 2005 season. It took several years after Omar Minaya's appointment for his scouting and development to produce the current Met youngsters pressed into action these last two seasons.
While this young likable group is fine for the moment, DePodesta and Riciarrdi are about to take scouting and development into the much needed "grass-roots" levels of which this organization removed itself long ago after the days of Joe McIlvaine and Gen-K, and which were started way back with Joe McDonald in the 60's. However, there will be a few year's wait before we see tangible results from DePodesta's and Riciarrdi's handy work.
The team's payroll is projected to be around $100 to $115 million dollars next season. The likelihood of major roster enhancements through free agency is zero. And that's a shame as this is one of the more deeper crops of potential free agents of the last few years. With this GM however, that seems to be a moot point. In my words, he finds it ludicrous the Mets will have half of next year's projected payroll wrapped up in just a few players. But if you're an older Met Fan, you know the Mets do not have a positive history with regards to free-agency. What we always did well was develop through the minor league system and make smart timely trades. It appears as if Sandy Alderson is bringing back that philosophy to Flushing.
Then there is the matter of our own Type-A free agent; Jose Reyes. Over the course of the 2011 season, he did much to change the GM's perceptions of him as a team leader and as being someone capable of carrying the club over stretches at a time. The eventual 2011 National League batting champ was undoubtedly having the best season of his career right up until his arch nemesis; pulled hamstring; re-entered his daily life again. And now truth be told, Jose Reyes can never be looked at the same way again. It is becoming more evident by the season, he plays on permanently compromised legs. All eyes of Met Fans are on Sandy Alderson to see which direction he will take this team and if it will be with or without Jose Reyes playing shortstop.
The Reyes situation also has the owner in a bind. Let us not forget the mildly disparaging comments Fred Wilpon made about his shortstop during an April interview which came to our attention much later in the season. Then ponder, no Jose Reyes probably translates into even less fans showing up at Citi Field next season. That's why rebuilding is such a dirty word around here I guess. The question remains, will the Owners exert pressure on their GM to sign Reyes? I believe the answer is no. I'm confident this call with be 100% Sandy's. The growing rumor is the Mets will let him walk away.
As a field manager and strategists, I had no problems with Terry Collins. The Mets don't finish as well as they did without Terry Collins imploring them day in and day out to keep at it like he did. While the Mets end of season record says one thing, the way the players responded to Terry said another. Tenacious Terry was rewarded somewhat by his players by being very resilient.
What I liked most about Coach Collins was how matter of factly he told the Media, you won't do to me, what you did to those other saps before me. He served them notice back in June. - Don't try and make him look stupid. Willie Randolph was wound too tight and Jerry Manuel kept the Media in stitches with jokes. But when either former managers were pressed during Media interrogations and put on the hot seat for answers, what you usually got was Ralph Cramden trying to answer the $64,000 Question.
Terry doesn't pull any punches. And the Media took his advice at face value. They were much more benign with Terry than they ever were with Willie, and on and off with Manuel.
After the effort he put in last season, the first year Met manager overwhelmingly earned a longer stay in Flushing. And his familiarity with the Mets' young players probably had a lot to do with that. Far from being the ogre of years past in Houston and Anaheim, Terry was very supportive of his players and they of him. It was the media if they weren't careful that would earn his wrath. And that's perfectly fine with me.
Upheaval has come to the coaching staff. Gone are third base coach Chip Hale; first base coach Mookie Wilson; bench coach Ken Oberkfell; and bullpen coach Jon Debus.
Chip Hale has already found employment. There's talk Mookie is headed to Binghampton. And while Jon Debus is a non-issue for me, the fact Ken Oberkfell is gone from the organization is welcome news. It's my opinion he's been part of the brick wall our prospects have been hitting midway through our system. For a decade plus, too many otherwise good looking prospects stalled and faded in AA - Binghampton and Oberkfell was part of a constant in the system throughout that time.
Tim Teufel replaces Mookie Wilson as the 1986 representative. But I feel Sandy will be equally unimpressed with Teufel's style just as he found Mookie's. I watched each man manage a season for the Brooklyn Cyclones. And neither did anything worth mentioning to distinguish oneself from the other.
Former MLB pitcher, Rickey Bones gets a promotion and is now the bullpen coach. Sandy Alderson described the switch as wanting more of a pitching presence from that roll, as Jon Debus brought a catcher's perspective.
By far, the most intriguing hire is new bench coach, Bob Geren. When I was a kid, he played on the Yankees. So I don't like him already. If Terry Collins was once considered to be the steel wool of managers, well Bob Geren definitely qualifies as a cheese grater. Geren wasn't exactly a smoothie with his players which makes this appointment odd. He has managerial experience which is a good quality to have as bench coach. But he's accused of having the interpersonal and communicative skills of Rowdy Roddy Piper with a microphone in one hand and a bottle of Johnnie Walker in the other. To say I am displeased with this hire is an under-statement.
Dan Warthen has been deemed a keeper as Pitching Coach by Sandy Alderson. I wasn't a Warthen fan at first, but he has handled certain pitchers this season in a manner I appreciated very much. I was quite surprised and pleased with A) - his tough love stances taken with Jon Niese and Dillon Gee, and B) - his re-introduction of the curveball to the Mets staff. R.A. Dickey, and hopefully Johan Santana next season, do not need much coaching. Those two merely need a watchful eye. And I am not about to put Mike Pelfrey on Warthen unless he can perform lobotomies also.
Niese and Gee have clearly been Warthen's projects. And there are a few farm hands who will be trickling up the ladder soon whom Dan Warthen will be asked to mentor. At some point, I fully expect the Mets to explore options with designs of ridding themselves of Johan Santana. The point is the starting staff may soon be filled predominantly by Met products which places the onus on Dan Warthen to teach these kids well. Sooner than later, he may be charged with a very inexperienced staff. If Niese and Gee can be used as a gauge, then maybe, in the absence of Dave Duncan falling into our laps, Dan Warthen might be a good man and fine choice moving forward.
Wally Backman continues to be over looked by the big club. He may accept the job to be Buffalo's manager. That matter is still pending. An appointment as coach on the big club would have recreated a Willie Randolph/Jerry Manuel type feel in the dugout. As Terry was just extended, if Wally is to be manager of the Mets one day, he'll have to take the Buffalo job and continue to play good soldier. I'm not sure, but I don't think Sandy Alderson appreciates bats flying out of the dugout.
Lastly, I've always been a proponent of bringing John Stearns back as a coach within the organization.
A/O 10-26-11 - PART TWO - V. STARTING PITCHING; VI. BULLPEN
Coming - VII. POSITION PLAYERS