A time for change
Plenty went wrong for Mets, who face tough choices
Posted: Sunday September 30, 2007 11:30PM; Updated: Monday October 1, 2007 9:49AM
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Break up the Mets. And I mean that literally.
Following one of the bigger collapses in major league history, the Mets need to make some significant personnel changes for 2008. They simply can't come back with the same team. They couldn't possibly sell that to the public. More important, they couldn't sell it to themselves.
There are folks, even within the Mets organization, who will want to start any overhaul by firing manager Willie Randolph. It's true that he didn't get the most out of this team. He didn't push the right buttons, and his attempt to spark young, impressionable Jose Reyes through tough love fell flat.
Randolph did not have a good year. But firing him would be a knee-jerk call that isn't warranted or fair.
In the wake of the stunning disintegration, general manager Omar Minaya, who has been seen as one of Randolph's biggest in-house boosters, stressed that he's "happy with what Willie Randolph has done'' and urged folks to consider the "three-year body of work,'' not just the one year, a.k.a. the disaster year. There will be others inside the organization who'll recommend the opposite, and Minaya mentioned one other caveat. No matter what he thinks, he has to run it by ownership.
Yet with Minaya still mostly in Randolph's corner, and two years left on his contract (at $4.25 million), Randolph probably stays. But it's fair to say that the Randolph Watch begins now.
After the Mets became the first team to blow a seven-game lead with 17 to play, clubhouse leaders like David Wright and Billy Wagner spoke about how the team needs to use its collapse as motivation for tomorrow, and that's fine. But they need more than that. They need reinforcements.
We kept hearing about what a great nucleus the Mets have, and Carlos Beltran, Wright and Reyes are as good a first three as any, Reyes' own collapse aside (.205 in September). Oliver Perez and John Maine are two fine -- if inconsistent -- young starters, Wagner's set anchoring the bullpen, and there are contractual obligations to several others, somewhat inhibiting an overhaul.
But before they do anything, the higher-ups need to look in a mirror, and realize that they have gone backward. The brass kept saying what a good team this was. Maybe it wasn't as great as they thought. "We weren't as good as we were last year,'' said Wagner, as candid as they come.
Clearly, there were problems that need solving. Such as...
The pitching failed them. The bullpen took all the bullets, but the starting pitching -- excellent early -- was equally as brutal in the final days. The Mets never got the ace that they needed. And the truth is, pitching coach Rick Peterson, who became the darling of the Mets' higher-ups and media in New York, missed the mark most of the year. Discards Brian Bannister, Heath Bell ("Peterson just didn't think much of Bell,'' a team source said) and Matt Lindstrom all showed significant improvement elsewhere. "Lindstrom throws 100 and he's come up with a pretty good breaking ball. He's going to be a closer soon, maybe next year,'' one AL scout said. Plus, Chad Bradford, who went to Baltimore, was dearly missed. "We didn't have the depth in the bullpen,'' Wagner said. With a few exceptions, Mets pitchers seemed to regress as the year went along (of course, some of them being middle aged, just ran out of gas).