Mandel’s Musings: Mets A Direction-Less Franchise

Published on: 24th September, 2010

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New York – It’s not by accident that the New York Mets, a franchise initially known as lovable losers when they were born in 1962 and who maintained that losing tack until the Tom Seaver years commenced in 1967, have turned into losers, once again. The difference is, there’s absolutely nothing lovable about this team, it’s management, or it’s future prospects.

And Mets fans know it.

And, they can’t do a damned thing about it.

The problem facing this team is literally facing the owner right in the mirror every morning. Jeff Wilpon, baseball’s version of Jim Dolan, the Knicks owner, is the problem. Like Dolan, Wilpon doesn’t see himself the way the world does. He doesn’t understand how little he truly knows about running a baseball team. Or, running a business.

What has happened to the Mets under Wilpon’s direction is a team that is rudderless. There is no direction and there is no true director to show Mets minor and major league players the “Mets way” of doing things. There is no such thing as a Mets way, it appears.

If you look around the major leagues at the solid franchises who, year-by-year put a winning product on the field despite having payrolls a fraction of what the Mets spend, you can perceive very clearly a winning attitude and way of doing things that emanates from the top down.

People talk about the Yankees payroll as the main reason for their contending ways every year but one need only look at their minor league teams, the major league prospects they are developing at all levels of the minors, the way they are teaching their kid Yankee hitters how to be patient at the plate to make the opposing pitcher work and throw more pitches. It’s the Yankee Way.

The Minnesota Twins are closing in on yet another division championship at the Major League level with a payroll below $70 million, compared to the Mets’ $150 million. Led by former Mets shortstop, Ron Gardenhire, the Twins have learned the little aspects of the game that leads to wins. Gardenhire played that way, hit and running and bunting and catching the ball, and has conveyed his way to the rest of the organization.

What exactly is the Mets Way? Is it Tony Bernazard, the former assistant to Mets General Manager Omar Minaya brow-beating minor league Mets into playing better or risking a fist-fight with Bernazard, himself? That got Bernazard fired so the Mets must have decided that wasn’t the way to develop minor league talent. Is it having a general manager in Minaya who is given almost zero latitude to develop and build the franchise with Wilpon’s money because he has already proven himself to be a poor administrator in the game of baseball. It appears the Wilpons have heard this complaint about Minaya enough times where they will finally shift the gm out of that office and back into an area where he is comfortable and confident – baseball scouting and minor league player development. The GM job, with its immense requirements of detail orientation, an understanding of the evolving salary cap and legal issues, and, specific to the New York market, a comfort-level with the pesky New York press corps, appears to have been a little too much for Minaya to handle. He has one more year on his contract with the organization and the Mets, ever-frugal, will make him earn his $2.5 million remaining dollars in a position he is more suited for.

But who will take his place and begin to put a stamp on the organization to learn how to draft, teach, train, and act in a way that is the Mets Way? With Kevin Towers, the accomplished former general manager of the San Diego Padres who spent the past year with the Yankees assisting his buddy, Brian Cashman (and getting the benefit of learning the Yankees Way), leaving yesterday to take the general manager’s job with Arizona, that leaves not too many young, accomplished candidates to replace Minaya. Sure the Mets can bring in Tal Smith for a year or two, or a few of the retreads that are flying around the general manager radar screen but the bottom line is, who will want to come to New York to work under Jeff Wilpon? It appears not anyone with a solid reputation and track record.

So, the Mets may continue to flounder without a true leader of the franchise. To Dolan’s credit, he finally brought in a basketball man who had the respect of the league in Donnie Walsh to run things the right way, quite possibly even developing a Knicks Way of doing things. However, Jeff Wilpon has not yet reached the point where he understands the long and short-term ramifications of his decisions.

Without bringing in someone who has earned the respect of his peers in the sport and can lay down the principals of winning baseball throughout the Mets organization, the Mets Way will continue to be one of floundering and hoping.

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