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.

What in the heck is Derek Jeter doing with the Marlins?

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Last night we linked the Miami Herald story about the Marlins firing special assistants Jeff Conine, Andre Dawson, Tony Perez and Jack McKeon. Let’s talk about that a little bit.

The firings themselves are eyebrow-raising inasmuch as “special assistants” like that are rarely key front office personnel. Former players, Hall of Famers and former managers like those guys are really ambassadors for the team and, particularly in the case of Jeff Conine, who is known as “Mr. Marlin,” why would new ownership want to kick its ambassadors to the curb? It’s not like you can just hire a bunch of new franchise legends for he role. Who ya gonna call? Dan Uggla?

Sure, I can see an argument for changing their responsibilities. If they actually had say in baseball operations, I can see new ownership wanting to relieve them of those duties. It’s also possible that Jeff Loria paid them too much money for guys who are only team ambassadors. So, sure, if the job is too cushy by the standards of the gig, I could see Jeter cutting their pay or their duties to make it conform to what other clubs do with their former stars. Maybe that makes them want to quit. If so, that’s OK I suppose.

Beyond that, however, it’s hard to see why you would NOT want guys like Conine, Dawson, Perez and McKeon to represent your club in the community and in the service of impressing prospective season ticket holders. The franchise’s first star player, a Hall of Famer who ended his career with the club, another Hall of Famer who is from Cuba (which is kind of a big deal in a place like Miami) and the manager who brought the club its last World Series championship are exactly who you want to represent your team. Especially when nearly everything else about your team has, for so very long, alienated the very public you want supporting it.

But let’s say, for the moment, that there was a good reason to fire those guys. Let’s say they’re all flaming jackwagons who have secretly poisoned the franchise from within. Let’s say that, despite his grandfatherly charm, Jack McKeon is a ruthless Machiavellian. Let’s say that Conine, Dawson and Perez beat up copy boys in the stairwells and microwave leftover fish in the break room every day. Even if that’s the case, how does this happen?

And here’s the twist: Jeter asked Marlins president David Samson to fire those four Marlins luminaries for him, because Jeter didn’t want to do it.

Even more strange, Jeter made the request after telling Samson what he already knew: that Samson would not be returning as team president.

It seems that Samson did carry out the firings. Unless some handsome severance package was being held hostage over it, I’m not sure how Samson doesn’t tell Jeter, “Hey Captain RE2PECT, know what? Up yours, you do it yourself.” Of course, one can only project one’s own sensibility on a guy like David Samson so much, so let’s cut him a bit of slack here. We don’t know how the conversation went. Maybe Samson was happy to tell those guys to hit the bricks.

But really, how doesn’t Jeter man-up and handle this himself? It’s not because he’s not yet officially the owner, because if he has the power to fire Samson, he has the power to fire Conine and his friends. Maybe there is more to this than the Herald story lets on, but as it stands now, it comes off as cowardice on Jeter’s part. It’s a really bad look.

I’ll be curious to see how this plays in the baseball establishment over the next couple of days. Everyone — particularly the press — loves Derek Jeter an credits him with a class, smoothness and media savvy matched by few others. This, though, was either (a) a failure of class and an act of disrespect to baseball luminaries; or (b) a complete bungling of public relations, serving to make what was, in reality, a reasonable move appear classless. It has to be one or the other.

Derek Jeter has been a teflon star for more than two decades, but two of the few things the media loves more than Derek Jeter are (a) old Baseball Men like McKeon, Dawson, Perez and Conine; and (b) “classiness.” It’ll be interesting to see if, for the first time in his professional life, the media gets its knives out for Derek Jeter for seeming content to dispense with both.

Dodgers top Giants, clinch fifth straight NL West title

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The Dodgers are NL West champions for the fifth time in a row. They clinched with a 4-2 win over the Giants on Friday night, taking their first and only lead on a mammoth record-breaking home run from Cody Bellinger in the third inning.

Rich Hill turned in another quality start, going six innings with five hits, a run and nine strikeouts to keep the Giants at bay. He tacked on an RBI hit of his own, too, lashing a double to left field for his first extra-base hit since 2007.

The Giants, meanwhile, deployed Jeff Samardzija and his 4.42 ERA for 4 1/3 innings. Samardzija was on the hook for the Dodgers’ four-run spread in the third and took his 15th loss of the season. Pablo Sandoval came through with a solo home run in the ninth, but the rest of San Francisco’s offense wasn’t so lucky against Kenley Jansen, who struck out the side to clinch the game — and the division.

After Friday’s showstopper, the Dodgers are just two wins away from their first 100-win season since 1974. If they win the remaining eight games of the season, they’ll beat out the 1953 Brooklyn Dodgers for the most wins in franchise history.