Don’t Blame Manuel For Mets Problems

Published on: 17th May, 2010

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New York – Everyone here in the New York market is screaming for Jerry Manuel’s head, in the midst of another season of bad baseball at the helm of the New York Mets. His team is now 38 games into the 2010 season, almost 25% of the games and it’s already begun to feel like the 2009 season, when the club collapsed amid injury and poor performances from its best players. Currently on a five-game losing streak and having just been swept by the underpaid Florida Marlins, the Mets have now settled into last place of the National League’s East Division.

Columnists looking to change the man in charge of the dugout are wasting ink. Sports radio talking heads are using valuable air-time in crying out for Bobby Valentine, re-doux. But, it isn’t Manuel that’s the problem. Whatever his vices are as a field manager, there are others within the Mets organization who deserve to be blamed as the Mets sink into a morasse of mediocrity. They are 18-20, six games behind the Phillies but if one looks at the roster of this team, it can be argued they’re playing at the level of their talent which, by the way, was provided by Mets’ General Manager Omar Minaya and approved of by owner, S.O.F. (Son of Fred), Jeff Wilpon.

This is an organization that has been dysfunctional from the moment Jeff was handed the keys to the family van by his father, who appeared to be a much smarter decision-maker than his progeny has proven, thus far. Every aspect of this team, from its medical decisions to its personnel choices get botched on an ongoing basis. Worse, they gave the responsibility for procuring winning players and a solid manager to the man who has sometimes been incapable of taking responsibility for his own behavior, Minaya.

Casey Stengel, this franchise’s very first manager back in 1962 and a lovable clown in his own right, would have loved these Mets. He could have done an hour of pre-game, dugout standup for the assembled media on Minaya’s shenanigans, alone. It has been one misstep after another for this newest version of the Amazing Mets but unlike those comedic on-field lugs of the early sixties, the dark comedy of this team has usually taken place off the field, in the administrative offices of this team where Wilpon and Minaya team up.

All you need do is look at the Mets starting lineup this season, position by position. Decide for yourself if Minaya, Wilpon, and the Mets minor league operation are running a tight ship or making more like the Keystone Cops did in those silent films, scrambling aimlessly without knowing exactly which way to go.

First Base – Finally, after listening to the yelling and screaming of their fans, they brought in the kid, Ike Davis from Triple A. Of course, it took a month of watching Fernando Tatis to convince Minaya to make that move. Daniel Murphy, last years’ WonderBoy, called by Minaya the best young hitter in the organization, looks like a player without much pop in his bat and no position to play since he’s not a guy who’s that familiar with a baseball glove, from what we’ve seen.

Second Base – Luis Castillo was signed by Minaya to a three-year, 25 million dollar contract despite being a diminished player, particularly in the field. His range was shot when he got here two years ago, and it’s much worse now. He puts the bat on the ball, it just doesn’t go very far when he hits it or find enough holes to make his salary worthwhile.

Shortstop – There are many, many secrets about Jose Reyes that the Mets organization refuses to address. About his health, about his family, about his personal habits. The rumors never end and now, his skills seem greatly eroded, at age 27. Something’s up, here. Eventually, we will find out what it is.

Third Base – David Wright has now become a strikeout machine, especially on low, outside sliders in the dirt when he has a two strike count. He knows they’re going to make him chase that breaking pitch, which usually comes after a high, tight fastball. He keeps chasing it and he keeps walking back to the dugout with an impassioned expression on his face. Since getting beaned last season, in 217 at bats, Wright’s batting average is .253. In his 426 at-bats prior to being hit in the head last season, Wright hit .324. Worse, his role as the “face of the franchise” seems to be disappearing as his production continues downward. The problem is, Minaya has not brought in anyone else, nor has the organization developed anyone who can fill the void of a productive, every-day player who leads by example or words.

Left Field – Jason Bay is a bust. Plain and simple. One home run in his first 35 games projects out to about 5 homers for the season. Minaya blew this one, big-time. Jerry Manuel had nothing to do with the signing of Bay, other than his hoping to get a 30-homer, 100 RBI cleanup hitter in his lineup.

Centerfield – Carlos Beltran hates this team and this city and this organization. He will not play baseball for the Mets until and unless his surgically-repaired knee is as close to 100% as only Beltran decides it is. He resents how the Mets medical staff botched their diagnosis of his knee, which had been hurting for weeks. When he decided on his own to visit another doctor of his choice, someone not affiliated with the Mets, it led to a ridiculous “he said, they said” scenario in the press. It embarrassed everyone associated with the Mets but again, this all falls on the heads of Jeff Wilpon and Omar Minaya. Another headache Manuel cannot be blamed for.

Right Field – Minaya went out and traded Ryan Church, a guy reputed not to be popular with Mets management because he spoke his mind about the team, for Mr. Nice Guy, Jeff Francoeur, formerly Atlanta’s right fielder for five years with a great arm, wonderful smile, and diminishing offensive output. Since the first week of this season, Francoeur is batting .132. Yes, that isn’t a misprint. One hundred and thirty two. Frenchy is an Atlanta native but despite being a hometown kid, he was given up by his hometown team, a team badly in need of offensive punch. That they dumped their starting right fielder for a talky backup outfielder should have spoken volumes to Minaya. But it didn’t and now, Omar bares the blame for this move, too. Don’t blame Manuel.

Catcher – After putting all of his eggs in the Brian Schneider basket for the past two seasons, Minaya saw the error of his ways. So, who did he bring in? Rod Barajas, a 36-year old platoon catcher from the American League and Henry Blanco, a 38-year old backup catcher. Neither of them will be mistaken for Johnny Bench, Minaya only hopes they don’t break down in injury and age, forcing him to bring up a Triple A player to guide their young, fragile pitching staff. Speaking of which……

Pitching – Minaya could have had John Garland, Ben Sheets, and John Lackey to join Johan Santana and Mike Pelfrey, the Mets top two starters. Instead, Minaya and the Mets organization opted to put their hopes for this season into the dynamic duo of John Maine and Oliver Perez, who, along with Jonathan Niese were expected to win lots of games for a team that is structured to win now, not in the future. Minaya signed Santana to a long-term, 20 million dollar per season deal three years ago. Has he been a very good pitcher for the Mets? Yes, most of the time. Has he been everything Mets fans expected? No, not even close. After shoulder surgery, the Santana Mets fans get to see is an 89-90 mph fastball, a 83 mph slider that doesn’t always locate well or slide well. The result: he gets hit a lot harder and more frequently than ever before. He’s not the stopper the Mets need, at this stage. Pelfrey, now in his fourth season, hasn’t panned out. He remains inconsistent and fragile, psychologically. Niese, who looks to be a good fourth or fifth starter in a major league rotation, pitched inconsistently before re-injuring the same hamstring that ended his rookie season last year, leading to surgery. Minaya signed Francisco Rodriguez to a huge contract, after he had appeared in 76 games for the Angels in 2008. Rodriguez’s FIP, which factors in walks, strikeouts and fly ball rate, is 4.41. That reflects the high number of fly balls he surrenders – 56.4 percent of his batted balls, before Wednesday – and the expectation that 11 percent of those will be home runs. In addition, he’s allowed nine walks and 11 hits in 17.2 innings and has seen his average velocity drop near two miles an hour from 2009. K-Rod is still a solid reliever, but be may no longer be top-tier, and as many predicted when he was signed, the Mets are unlikely to get full value on the the three-year, $37 million deal they inked him to before last season.

But, the biggest mistake the Mets made was not signing established, veteran pitchers with track records. It left a veteran lineup, a team built to win this season, to depend on Oliver Perez and John Maine to solidify the middle of the rotation. It was fool’s gold on Minaya’s part. It also may be the biggest evidence that the Mets, despite all the top-heavy contracts for six players – Wright, Reyes, Bay, Santana, K-Rod, and Beltan, are much shorter on cash than they’ve let on. It’s forced them to count on a confluence of too many perfect events to occur for their season to be successful.

Minaya counted on no injuries, the kid starters coming through, the bullpen being reliable, and Manuel’s ability to juggle the pieces successfully. Instead, Minaya, along with Jeff Wilpon have gotten none of what they counted on. They now sit in last place, in the middle of May. Attendance is already reflecting the team’s record and an unhappy fan base. The terrible part of this mess? It has the potential to get much worse before it gets better.

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