Revisiting “Five ways to ‘fix’ the Mets”

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It was a little less than a year ago when I wrote a piece for HardballTalk entitled “Five ways to ‘fix’ the Mets.”

For those who have forgotten, here were my recommendations at the time:

  • Decide on a public face
  • Learn how to keep certain things in-house
  • A complete and thorough review/overhaul of medical protocol
  • Invest in the draft
  • Bridge the disconnect between the front office and the fans

Ah, memories. Of course, the Mets endured yet another disappointing season in 2010, finishing at 79-83 and in fourth place in the National League East. In what was a foregone conclusion for months, Omar Minaya and Jerry Manuel were relieved of their duties immediately following the season.

The organization has underwent a massive overhaul over the past three months, bringing on former Athletics general manager and Padres president Sandy Alderson as the new general manager. In turn, Alderson hired two of his former lieutenants, Paul DePodesta and J.P. Ricciardi, to work in the revamped front office. Many fans rallied around Wally Backman for manager, but the job eventually went to Terry Collins, who served as the organization’s minor league field coordinator in 2010.

The holidays have predictably brought the Hot Stove to a halt, so I thought now would be a fun time to apply my original list of recommendations to the new front office and see what progress, if any, has been made.

1) Decide on a public face: As I mentioned in February, there were times when John Ricco would address the media on certain issues rather than Omar Minaya. Granted, this isn’t out of the ordinary in other organizations, but in New York, it only fed into the perception that Minaya had evolved into a powerless figurehead. We can’t say that about Alderson so far.

The hiring of Alderson has quickly drawn comparisons to Frank Cashen from the early 80s. He wowed the room during his introductory press conference, quickly silencing those who wondered if he was “too old” for the job. I’m perfectly willing to put up with corny videos like this if it means he’ll continue to call out opposing general managers for doling out bad contracts. He’s already the anti-Minaya.

2) Learn to keep certain things in-house: This is the real wild card for me, for a couple of reasons. Alderson is the general manager of a baseball team in New York, so he is going to have to deal with some unwanted and possibly overblown controversy along the way. Perhaps nothing as crazy as Francisco Rodriguez’s arrest, as bizarre as Carlos Beltran’s knee surgery, or something self-inflicted like the Adam Rubin press conference debacle, but some sort of drama is inevitable.

Also, while Alderson served in a different capacity in San Diego, Trevor Hoffman called the organization “dysfunctional.” It’s very possible that some of this was heat of the moment-type stuff from a franchise icon on the way out, but it serves as a reminder that Alderson can’t control the players. That being said, I am confident that Alderson will be able to handle a difficult situation in a more professional manner than his predecessor. I know, I’m setting the bar pretty high here.

3) A complete and thorough review/overhaul of medical protocol: Again, too early to tell. During an appearance with Mike Francesa on WFAN earlier this month, Alderson said (via MetsBlog) that he has yet to “draw any conclusion” or “put his finger” on why the Mets have suffered so many injuries over the past two seasons, but that he is working with team doctors to understand what has taken place. He also announced that the team would be hiring a new strength and conditioning coach to replace Rick Slate, who will not be retained for 2011.

4) Invest in the draft: The Mets have rarely exceeded the slot recommendations in the draft, but during a recent conference call with influential Mets bloggers, Alderson said (courtesy of Amazin’ Avenue) that he believes the club “will be over-slot,” “maybe more than ocassionally.” Alderson has repeatedly said that a large-market team like the Mets should never be in the middle of the park as far as player development is concerned, so we should expect them to throw their weight around a little bit moving forward. And finally, while he isn’t the only person to blame, the club dismissed amateur scouting director Rudy Terrasas last month, hinting towards a change in drafting philosophy.

5) Bridge the disconnect between the fans and the front office: While it’s too soon to tell with most of the items on this list, the Mets have made the most progress in this area. For example, they invited prominent Mets bloggers (including Caryn Rose of MetsGrrl) on a conference call with executive VP for business operations Dave Howard in November in order to talk about ticket prices. And as I mentioned earlier, Alderson recently spoke with a panel of influential Mets bloggers in order to talk about a wide range of topics. It’s not clear what their motivations are (some wonder if they are hoping for some softer coverage as a result of increased access), but the important part is that the front office is paying attention.

The Mets aren’t “fixed” as we sit here today. The contracts to Oliver Perez, Luis Castillo, and to a lesser extent, Carlos Beltran, have restricted the ability of Alderson to be active in free agency this winter. Thus, expectations are low for the 2011 season. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The Phillies are the overwhelming favorites in the National League East, so adding one big piece in free agency just for the short-term boost in season ticket sales would be the wrong and cynical strategy. Call it the silver lining of the Cliff Lee signing, but most Mets fans are beginning to recognize that this just isn’t a quick fix situation.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Giants place Hunter Pence on 10-day disabled list with right thumb sprain

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The Giants placed outfielder Hunter Pence on the 10-day disabled list with a right thumb sprain, per an official announcement on Friday. Pence initially sustained the injury during the club’s home opener on April 3, when he dove to intercept a line drive double from Robinson Cano and jammed his thumb. Weeks of playing through the pain hasn’t worked, so he’ll take a breather while the Giants give outfielder Mac Williamson a chance to start in left after getting called up from Triple-A Fresno.

Pence, 35, wouldn’t pin his recent struggles on his injury, but it’s clear that he’s having difficulty finding his footing this year. He slashed a meager .172/.197/.190 through 61 plate appearances in 2018, collecting just one extra-base hit and two walks during the Giants’ dismal 7-11 stretch. While it’s far too early in the season to make any final judgments, it doesn’t look like the veteran outfielder will be replicating the .275+ average, 4.0+ fWAR totals of years past (at least, not anytime soon).

Williamson, meanwhile, has gotten off to a hot start in Triple-A. Prior to his call-up this weekend, the 27-year-old batted an incredible .487/.600/1.026 with six home runs and a 1.626 OPS through his first 50 PA. A hot Triple-A bat doesn’t always survive the transition to the majors, but the Giants will use all the help they can get — especially as they take on the AL West-leading Angels this weekend.