Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Mets In A Death Spiral

  • There are ways to fix this mess....if they have the nerve:

When watching the Yankees; the Phillies; the Angels, there's never a game in which you can say they've bagged it and gone home; never a time when you can chalk things up to misfortune, formulate a series of excuses for the buzzards circling overhead (the reporters); the after-the-fact experts (hack radio hosts); and the bottom-feeders waiting to pounce (the fans looking for blood).

With the Yankees and Phillies, it comes from their relentless lineups; with the Angels, it stems from leadership, the aversion to panic and implementation of a template. They may lose, but it won't be because they packed their gloves, bats and balls and went home.

Such has not been the case with the Mets.

Going back to last season, the team has too often chosen to throw their hands up in the air, use injuries or uncontrollable events to consume them and give them cause to give in. The injuries from 2009 were an reason for their atrocious result, but not an excuse. It's only seven games into 2010 and the team doesn't look much different fundamentally; in body language; nor in results than they did in August and September of 2009.

It's still obviously too soon to go on a spree of firings; to unload on the club and do something that will be regretted later; but to deny the aura surrounding this team that they simply don't care is the death knell to another season----in April.

The stench of failure and ambivalence with this team is unmistakable. As soon as one thing goes wrong, the fragility present in this club sends them into a spin of self-doubt and paranoia that can be traced back to the collapse in September of 2007.

Taking a step back from what they've done so far and there are positives to be extracted----Jeff Francoeur----but those positives haven't equated into wins. The team appears to have tuned out manager Jerry Manuel; it's a question as to how effective pitching coach Dan Warthen has been in getting through to the pupils who need the most guidance----John Maine and Oliver Perez. They don't get the big hit or record the big out; and whenever they're pushed, they fold. It's as if staying in the game or making a valiant comeback is enough for them to say they did the best they could and "almost" won.

Well, it's not good enough.

Not anymore.

Contrary to popular belief, Manuel did a very good job in 2008 after replacing Willie Randolph as manager. The team responded to him (or more likely responded to an end to the constant speculation regarding Randolph's job status and the stifling, suffocating, in-your-face style of pitching coach Rick Peterson). Had Billy Wagner not blown out his elbow leaving the team without a closer in September, they would've made the playoffs that year; that wasn't a collapse, it was an absence of personnel.

There was no way to blame Manuel or anyone else for what happened in 2009 as a powerful witch doctor was tearing the club apart in relentless fashion from the beginning of the season to the end.

Now, there are no more excuses. The injuries aren't such that the club should look so inept. Is Daniel Murphy going to make that much of a difference to this lineup? Carlos Beltran's return will drastically alter the landscape, but no one----not Joe Mauer; not Albert Pujols----would help with the pitching that has too often put the club in the hole of 3,4, and 5-0 to give them the impetus to say, "let's get the hell outta here".

And that's the way many Mets appear to be approaching their at bats.

"Let's get the hell outta here."

What's even more disturbing is the pitching they've faced in the past two games and against whom they've been unable to generate any kid of offense. Livan Hernandez? Greg Smith? It's not like they were dealing with Chris Carpenter and Tim Lincecum.

Until a culture shift occurs or an entire attitude adjustment takes place, nothing's going to change.

There's already speculation about the job of manager Manuel and if they continue to play so poorly and slog their way through this road trip, there could be a new manager in place for the Cubs on Monday.

The Mets have options of what to do in an attempt to save the season.

Let's have a look:

Keep the management team in place and see what happens:

Many will scoff at the idea of keeping GM Omar Minaya and Manuel in place, but it's not an unprecedented occurrence for a team under duress to hold off on making any radical decisions. Most notably, the Rangers were hours away from firing manager Ron Washington in late April of 2008 as they stood at 9-18....then they started winning. It was inexplicable as the team rallied to over .500 at mid-season and played respectably until fading at the end. Ignoring all the cocaine stuff (for which Washington should've been replaced), the team contended for much of 2009 and has the talent to do so again this year.

Another Manuel, Charlie in Philadelphia, was under about as heavy scrutiny for the Phillies in 2007 as the club began the season at 3-10 after having been an also-ran for his entire tenure. Then they started playing better and took advantage of that 2007 Mets collapse to win the division and sow the seeds for the World Series win in 2008 and pennant in 2009.

It's not ridiculous to hold off and say, "let's see what happens" before firing the manager and especially firing the General Manager, which I don't remember ever having worked when done in-season.

The fans and media, looking for a scapegoat, won't be happy if this is the course chosen by the club, but it's not a crazy notion to give it time to see if it self-corrects.

Fire both Minaya and Manuel:

If anyone's expecting the Mets to bring in a big name GM (and I can't think of anyone available right now who'd be interested in taking over in April without the nod to do whatever he feels needs to be done to fix things), they can forget it. If the Mets fire Minaya, one person and one person only would take over and that's assistant GM John Ricco.

Ricco was credited with the idea of bringing Jeff Francoeur in for Ryan Church and is much smoother as a communicator than Minaya; but is he the talent evaluator? Can he judge a player? He's a corporate guy and while he may be able to do the job, it's a risk that's probably not worth taking now. Mets assistant Wayne Krivsy is a respected talent evaluator who made some savvy moves as the Reds GM; or they could bring back a former assistant Gerry Hunsicker to take over. Firing the GM is a difficult thing to do and overcome during the season.

As for the field boss, former Diamondbacks and Mariners manager Bob Melvin was hired by the club as a scout in what appeared to be a move to have someone within the organization to take over for Manuel if things went horribly wrong.

I respect Melvin and his players loved him.

One funny story about Melvin as a player was when he was catching for the Tigers in 1985 and Yankees manager Billy Martin, in full meltdown, sent lefty swinging Mike Pagliarulo up to the plate to bat right-handed against lefty Mickey Mahler and Melvin looked at him settling into the right-side of the batter's box and asked in bewilderment, "What the hell are you doing?" Pagliarulo replied that he was trying to get a hit. He eventually struck out.

Melvin, as a manager, for the most part got the most out of the talent on his roster. He was unfairly blamed for a Mariners team that went from 93 wins in his first season to 99 losses in his second----he was managing Lou Piniella's players and they all got old at once. With the Diamondbacks, his team overachieved and he was too independent for the tastes of GM Josh Byrnes.

Is he the man for New York?

Hiring John Ricco and Bob Melvin wouldn't enliven a fan base that's bloodthirsty and desperate for a spark.

Keep Minaya and hire Bobby Valentine:

Bobby Valentine is sitting in an ESPN studio desperate to manage in the majors again; has experience with the Mets; a good relationship with Minaya going back to their days with the Rangers; and would be an stick of dynamite to the fans, media and players.

If the club gets desperate enough to do something drastic, this is the way to wake everyone up.

There are few managers in baseball who can draw fans by themselves and would accord instant credibility to any club strictly by force of will, personality and strategic acumen. Valentine is one.

Are the Mets going to let this opportunity pass by again by playing it safe and going with Melvin?

Or are they going to look at the crashing season and light a fire under everyone by bringing back the manager they never should've fired to begin with? Just one bellow from that muppet-like, foghorn voice of Valentine will send the opposing teams into a frenzy of hatred that was a hallmark of Valentine's first tenure and, at the very least, would give a front man to the club that is a personality. His encyclopedic knowledge of the rulebook; smug condescension and overt arrogance is exactly what that organization needs.

It doesn't hurt that he wouldn't put up with the laissez-faire at bats the club is taking; nor would he tolerate the way the pitchers are afraid to throw the ball over the plate; he's fearless and one of the top three strategists in the world.

Money shouldn't be a factor because Manuel is on the last year of his contract and they wouldn't have to eat the money remaining on Minaya's contract if they kept him and brought in Valentine.

The easiest thing to do is fire the manager. Some are speculating the Mets should hire Wally Backman. Backman would flip the food table and get in players' faces, but putting him in this cauldron when it took him that long to get another job as a single A manager is too big a gamble. After the disastrous hiring and firing within days by the Diamondbacks, Backman's the opposite of the what the under siege Mets need or want even if it worked.

The most viable solution is Bobby Valentine.


A slow start is tolerable. The perception of not caring isn't. There's blood in the water.

The sharks are out and looking for a sacrifice. Hiring Valentine does two things, it reinvigorates the organization and gives the fans what they want. It's not as if they're hiring someone who doesn't know what he's doing or is unwilling to get his hands dirty.

Will they do it? Do they have the nerve? The desperation?

We'll see by the end of this road trip, because they may not have a choice by Monday and it's the quickest fix they have at their disposal.

Valentine's not in Japan anymore. He's in Connecticut. It's a short ride. And they don't have much choice anymore.

As much of a laughingstock the Mets appear to be, people conveniently forget the Phillies were ridiculed in much the same way until 2007; no one wanted to play for the Red Sox in 2001; the Yankees were a joke in 1990; and the Mets went from a similar morass in 2004 to one game from the World Series in 2006. There's nothing wrong with dropping a bomb into the organization to shake the foundation.

Just as things fall apart, they rebuild quickly.

But something's going to have to be done barring a drastic shift in fortune or a steering from the spiral that the current manager doesn't have the capacity nor the support to accomplish. We'll see in the near future where this is going to go.

  • Oh look, it's Ian Kennedy:

The Diamondbacks version of Ian Kennedy looked strikingly similar to the one who pitched for the Yankees. Here's what I wrote about Kennedy in my book from two years ago when the talk was that Kennedy was the most "polished" and ready for big league success among the three of Kennedy, Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes:

Ian Kennedy is the third of the Yankees young starters and the one that the team was most willing to trade in deals for a veteran starter the likes of (Johan) Santana or (Dan) Haren. I don't think Kennedy is as good as the other two starters and is the most likely to not make the team out of spring training, or make the team, get pounded and sent back down. He looks to be a finesse pitcher who has been built up by the Yankee propaganda machine and apparently other organizations feel the same way with their reluctance to take him as the centerpiece of any deal for one of their veteran starters.

The only inaccurate thing about my assessment of Kennedy is that he may actually be worse than I thought.

Kennedy's started two games for the Diamondbacks and hasn't been particularly good in either. Against the Padres, he at least threw strikes and didn't walk anyone; he struck out eight, but allowed 3 runs and 6 hits in five innings. The Padres aren't exactly an offensive powerhouse.

Against the Dodgers, he was back to his old self. In 4 1/3 innings, he allowed 6 runs; 6 hits; 3 homers; and walked 3.

He's horrific. A sixth starter/long reliever who simply does not have the stuff nor the mentality to be a successful starter. Possibly, once through the lineup, as a reliever he can become a Taylor Buchholz-type who has use out of the bullpen if he throws strikes. Maybe.

  • Viewer Mail 4.14.2010:

Kyle Johnson writes RE the Angels pitching and possible pursuit of Cliff Lee:

I'm really hoping the Angels move Joe Saunders before the trade deadline this year and try to land Cliff Lee in the offseason next year. Saunders gives up so many hits its bound to catch up to him soon enough (if it hasn't already).

I'm not a fan of Saunders either and he is a trade chip. The way the Angels do business focusing on pitching makes them a very likely spot for Lee. I can't see them trading Saunders at the deadline unless things really go badly for them.

Jeff (Acting Boss) at Red State Blue State writes RE the Mariners:

So I've been staying up late and watching the Mariners because I want to know more about this "sexy" pick.

They are not sexy.

They are boring.

Like him or not, when Milton Bradely is your clean-up guy there are major offensive issues.

This team can not hit. They might be the Giants from a year or two ago.

The Giants weren't dealing with a diva in Ken Griffey Jr; nor were they always on eggshells with someone like Milton Bradley. They appeared to be a close-knit group; the Mariners are trying to find themselves and, like you said, can not hit.

People focused on my picking the crashing Mets (it's still early; it's still early) in the NL East, but here's what I wrote:

The 2010 season is going to go one of two ways for the Mets.

After the relentless and out-of-control ridicule the club has endured for being a dysfunctional mess, the situation will continue to spiral downward until the club cleans house of both Omar Minaya and Jerry Manuel and starts all over again and they’ll have a disastrous season falling into or near last place. Or, they’ll take the underdog status and that they’ve become a convenient punching bag for every leech who wants to take a shot and turn it into an “us against the world” mentality to galvanize the club to band together and stick it to everyone who’s had a field day at ravaging them since their collapse in 2007.

As of right now, with the way they're playing, it appears that I chose the door with the tiger rather than the lady. It's early to be judging assessments; but this is what I wrote. It's analysis, not homerism. Like it or not.

Pick up a copy on Amazon and I-Universe in paperback and E-book. And now on Barnes and


Jeff said...

Indeed, the Mets are playing terribly right now, but it could be worse: they could be the Orioles.

I have made it a point to watch all Brian Matusz's starts because I have a tiny man-crush on they youngster and his ace-like abilities... but watching that game Tuesday night where the O's bullpen did their usual imploding thing really got me down. I mean, I was literally depressed after watching it. You could see on the Orioles' faces that they knew they were shit and they were really embarrassed about it.

The total attendance was around 13,000 people. In Baltimore. Home of Camden Yards. What a tragedy the O's have become.

Sorry, that was a long-winded way of saying it could be worse for the Metropolitans.

Gabriel said...

Or they could be the Astros.

She-Fan said...

Ah, Bobby Valentine. I knew you'd go there. But Wally Backman? Are people really mentioning his name? I don't know much about the Mets, but I do know he'd be a disaster.

theBrooklynTrolleyBlogger said...

Bobby V is certainly all the things you said and is capable of doing the things you said. Here's the other side. Bobby V and Steve Phillips couldn't stand each other because Phillips was trying to protect his power and Bobby wanted more input on personnel matters. It didn't help that Bobby V was openly critical of Fred Wilpon, and in METropolis that's a big
no-no. Bobby V forced himself out of town at about the same time his players tuned him out. The Wilpons had to decide who was going to get ejected and they sided with Phillips, who was soon after shown the door also. If you want to bring Bobby V back as Manager and Hunsicker as GM? OK. The Wilpons will have lucked out again in bringing back someone from their past to save the Wilpon's butt again, like McLvaine and Omar, if they hire Hunsicker. If you want to bring Bobby V back to manage a team with Omar as GM? I say absolutely not! If you want to go with John Ricco as GM and Bobby V as manager? I'm even more opposed to that. Melvin? More so!
The Wilpons need to go off campus for a GM that will institute a standard operating procedure for this organization and MAKE the Wilpons comply in order to secure his services. I.E. LARRY BEINFEST! Or someone on a dramatic level as that. Stop with the in-house hiring this team has adhered to since 1980. Frank Cashen was the first and only outside influence this executive board has ever been in contact with. The Mets Front Office is inbred and it's time to change it! Save your time with deciding who the next manager is going to be because the fish rots from the head! BTW if you want to hire Bobby V as GM...I'm open to that. He did take a bunch of AAA players to a WS and I can't take that away from him. But we've been there and done that. He's not Billy Martin (although maybe as cunning) and we are not the Yankees. If a change isn't feasible now....then wait. Lastly, I've never been a fan of Manuel.

Welcome to Met Year 8 A.D. (After Doubleday).

signed angry Met fan.

PairFace said...

Your NL East predictions are not 2 weeks old yet, and the Mets are in a "death spiral"??? Don't you have them winning the East???

You have some other logic issues, as well. The Angels have "leadership", but the Yankees and Phillies get by with "relentless lineups"??? What 2 teams played in the WS last year??? Seems to me like you need some leadership to make it to that point.

And I guess Jerry Manuel is out of the running for MoY, huh???