Where to Start the Housecleaning

Big win last night. Woo hoo. More like, darn lucky win. Was it me, or were the Mets waiting to lose the game before Carlos Beltran belted one out of the park?

Anywho, ending a five-game losing streak is hardly cause for celebration. There are still issues with the Mets, and it goes beyond this year’s 31-33 record. As we’ve all heard from every media outlet, the Mets have been playing .500 ball for about a year now. Being mediocre for that long does not suggest future success.

Toward attacking that issue, I reference you to this found on MetsBlog yesterday — comments from Jon Heyman speaking on WFAN about the possibility of the Mets trading for Kevin Millar:

“He’s a feisty guy, I’d like to see him come in to that clubhouse, and be a guy who can shake things up. But, you know what, there’s some detractors in that front office on Millar. So, I’m not gonna give that a better than 50–50 shot…If you recall, Tony Bernazard came from the Player’s Union…and, I have talked with Tony about Millar, and I don’t sense that he’s a fan. I’ve heard from others that, because Millar crossed the picket line (in 1994) and he was a replacement player, but I didn’t get that from Bernazard. You can make a case against him with that. But, I’ve heard this, and I wouldn’t be shocked if that was an issue.”

Gawd, where do I start?

Let’s begin with Millar. I’m an advocate of bringing him, or someone like him (i.e., someone with a pulse) into the fold to shake things up a bit. It’s also nice that he’s a righthanded bat who can play both the OF and 1B. His advanced age is worrisome, but on the crotchety old Mets roster he looks like a spring chicken. Finally, it’s helpful to have someone else around the clubhouse who has actually won a World Series ring — not too many of those currently on the roster.

Now let’s get to Tony Bernazard. If in fact it’s true that Tony B. is the reason the Mets aren’t hot on acquiring Millar, then by all means it’s a deal I want to see done PRONTO. Why? Because if Willie Randolph can be continually undermined for the team’s performance, then how about someone in the front office getting crisp slap on the face?

Case in point: last season, the Mets are in first place, but the team is struggling offensively. The front office fires Willie’s best buddy and batting coach Rick Down, then assigns Howard Johnson and Rickey Henderson to “Willie’s” coaching staff. Of course, it’s not really Willie’s staff, since nearly every member was chosen and hired by the front office. When the Down firing took place, it sent a message to Willie: we’re in control of this team, not you.

A year later, it’s pretty clear that the team’s .500 record has more to do with the batting coach — or any coaches, for that matter. The issue is clear to anyone who can see the forest from the trees that this team has a personnel problem.

That established, who put the personnel into place? Omar Minaya, of course, but he’s not going to fire himself. The next man in line is Tony Bernazard, the VP – Player Development. Sandy Johnson, the VP – Scouting Director, should also be on the line, though I get the feeling that Johnson doesn’t have nearly the influence of Bernazard in the final decision-making process. Which if true, is strange, since Johnson is the one with vast experience in scouting and player evaluation, while Bernazard’s background is, well … I’m really not sure how a guy with his background gets a position of power.

After finishing a rollercoaster career as a streak-hitting second baseman, Bernazard worked as a “special assistant” in the MLBPA. His next job was again a “special assistant”, this time to Minaya. Then all of a sudden he’s Omar’s righthand man, a VP in charge of Player Development.

As Mark Healey pointed out on Gotham Baseball:

“Based on his resume, and a choppy 2005 as Minaya’s special assistant, it’s hard to fathom why he was given control of the minor leagues. Yes, he spent 10 years in the majors. After retiring he was a special assistant with the Players Association. Not a lot of scouting background that I can find. Well, there’s none, actually.”

There are some serious issues with the Mets’ roster, there have been curious personnel moves recently (Abraham Nunez?), and the Mets went into the season without backup plans for the fragile bodies of Moises Alou, Orlando Hernandez, and Pedro Martinez; with the idea that Mike Pelfrey was ready for prime time; and without acquiring a legitimate RH bat to spell Carlos Delgado. May I also add the fact we’re looking at three and a half more years of Luis Castillo at a less-than-bargain rate?

You can’t blame Willie Randolph for getting stuck with these personnel decisions — he’s doing his best with the hand he’s been dealt. Now it’s time for the front office to look at themselves. Again, Omar is not going to fire himself, but he can fire his staff. And if he’s not willing to put the responsibility on his talent evaluators, then perhaps the Wilpons should do to Omar what Omar did to Willie: make the firing for him. Perhaps the Wilpons should step in and ask, “why are we trusting Tony B’s opinion on anything?”

Before Rick Down was sent packing (and I admit I was on board with the decision at the time), he at least had justification for existence on the staff. For example, he’d won World Series rings as batting coach for one of the best offenses in baseball, the New York Yankees. What is the justification for Bernazard? His claim to fame — and apparently the reason for his promotion to VP — was his “significant role” in bringing Carlos Beltran to the Mets. Well, number one, it isn’t hard to convince someone to play baseball when you’re holding a $119M offer in your hands. And two, many of us now think that paying Beltran marquee money to be a complimentary player wasn’t such a “coup”.

Of course, it’s a lot easier to put the blame on the manager. And in fact, even if you don’t blame the manager, firing him just for the sake of change is the easiest short-term solution. Heck, there have been enough in-season firings that turned teams around in the past — Bob Lemon for Billy Martin with the ’78 Yankees; Jack McKeon for Jeff Torborg on the ’03 Marlins; Phil Garner for Jimy Williams with the ’04 Astros. The problem, though, is if showing Willie the exit doesn’t change the team’s performance, then Omar and his staff are next to go.

Personally, I’d start looking more long-term right now, and make the front office accountable first. Band-aids can only stop the bleeding for so long — and this is a team with some large wounds.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. debmc June 12, 2008 at 9:17 am
    Joe, you know what I think, already. I think the entire organization needs housecleaning, and like with any good housecleaning, you must start with the right tools and from the right place. Therefore, as I’ve said before, we need a whole new cleaning crew director. Making surface changes, or surface cleaning, as it were, isn’t going to solve the real problems in this organization, which seems not to have a focus or an identity.
  2. isuzudude June 12, 2008 at 9:25 am
    Good article, Joe. And I agree. Willie has become the scapegoat for the Mets’ lack of success because he is the most visible figure of authority. Fans see him in the dugout with stoic expressions, they read his monotonous commentary after games, and listen to his tired rhetoric in radio interviews. And they jump to the conclusion that, because of his unexcitable demeanor, he’s at fault for everything that is wrong with the team. But the truth is that Omar and his team of executives have failed to give him the best group of compatible players to work with. There are glaring holes on the roster that either were not addressed by Omar this past offseason, or have presented themselves to him this season with very little reactionary movement. Overall, I think Omar and company have moved the franchise in the right direction since the doldrums of 2004, but there have been many instances recently of dropping the ball when it comes to putting together the best 25 man roster the Mets’ money can buy.

    Seriously, I’m ready to throw 2008 out the window. I have very little confidence in Delgado turning things around, or in Alou, Church, and Pedro staying healthy for the rest of the year, or in Perez and Heilman recapturing their 2007 forms, which are all going to be needed for the Mets to make a run at the playoffs. It sucks to be looking ahead to 2009 in early June, but you gotta start sometime. Obviously, Delgado and Alou are gone, which leaves 2 gaping holes in the lineup. And the pitching rotation is likely losing numerous bodies (Perez, Pedro, Duque, Vargas). After some thought, I’d prefer to see future Met teams use Beltran in the 5-hole, which means we need a new cleanup hitter (or #3 hitter if you want to bat Wright 4th), and a #7 hitter, as I think Church can bat 6th. I’m hesitant to throw big money at free agents this winter (w/Teixeira, Burrell, Sabathia, and Sheets some of those who will be available), as it seems that’s one of the things that has gotten this team into the trouble it’s currently in. But that leaves finding replacements in-house, or trading for them…and both options are going to be much easier said than done. So Omar really has his work cut out for him. If the team continues to struggle for the next month and a half, I really hope he realizes it’s not a bad thing to cut bait and prepare for ’09, which could mean trading Perez, Heilman, and whatever prospects are deemed expendable for players who will fill voids in ’09 created by our pending free agents. Keep in mind: the Indians just lost Westbrook for the year, and could be looking for pitching. Boston is still without Daisuke, Schilling, and Buchholz, and have the ticking timebomb Colon eating innings in the rotation, maybe they want pitching. The right deal can be had, I just hope Omar is going to be on the lookout for it, and not rest on his laurels of keeping his fingers crossed for the miracle that’s likely not to happen.

    There’s so much more on this upcoming offseason I’d like to get into, but it’s probably too early to be getting into all of that now. I’ll be patiently waiting until the topic becomes a more timely discussion piece later in the year.

  3. joe June 12, 2008 at 11:24 am
    I’m not ready to write the season off, mainly because of the wild card. I see the Phillies running away with the East, but otherwise, the NL is completely up in the air right now. Remember the Astros of 2004, who were hanging around the cellar, made a few changes midseason and found their way into the NLCS.

    I’m not EXPECTING that to happen to the Mets, but also not expecting them to do anything anymore. This way every win will be a nice happy surprise.

  4. Micalpalyn June 12, 2008 at 12:04 pm
    I have the opposite opinion.

    I think there is a good core of players. A good organization and a good flow of capital. regardless of this season there will be turnover. Del, alou, elduque WILL be gone. Possibly Pedro. Possibly Ollie. Right now that leaves Pelf, Santana and Maine. On the field, CB, F-mart, Church, Reyes, DW possibly Castillo come back. I’m fine with that. Obviously a platoon 2nd baseman would be nice too. In the BP aaron, Wags are featured. I think Sanchez after 2 yrs of is suffering from ‘overuse’.

    Once you can add a 1st baseman, Possibly a slugging outfielder a maybe a credible starter this team competes again.

    There will be no 1993, no 2003. Trying to use polite terms…do you want to wait 10yrs to compete again? I doubt it.

    there is near 2/3 of a season left. The Atl team just lost Smoltz and Glavine. I think the Mets will be chasing Jimmy Rollins when all is said and done.

    Housekeeping: Yes the Arz D-backs cleaned house and traded away El Duque and Shawn Green. the next yr they were the best record in the NL.

    The problem is we count on production from Pedro, El duque and Alou and its not there. Second Reyes and Dw need a spark. DW can carry this team but he is swooning right now. He needs a break to clear his thoughts.

    Considering the fate of Nunez and Casanova that makes sense now. Considering the rebound of Del Isuzu’s early season writing is coming true. the 31 wins have been put together with challenges. The loss of Church has been huge as he really filled a big hole. If DW, Reyes, CB and Wright get rolling….Pelf continues, Santana has his renaissance, and something comes from Ollie (or replacement), Pedrop and Maine these new miracles will make the playoffs.

    “Adversity does not make character, it reveals it”

  5. Micalpalyn June 12, 2008 at 12:09 pm
    BTW: Arz were running away 2 weeks ago and came back to earth hard, detroit have not really got going, The Yanks and their 200Mil are so-so.

    IOW, there is parity. And the Phils wont run away. Uttly has surged but if he comes back down a notch the Phils will tailspin.

    Rightnow I’d put Wags under the Joe Janish microscope……

    Headline Billy where is that 10Mil dollar head?

  6. julie June 12, 2008 at 2:37 pm
    I always wonder why Tony Bernazard’s name isn’t mentioned more often when we talk about cleaning house. Who ever said make Alou the hitting coach and free up his roster spot…I agree.
  7. sincekindergarten June 12, 2008 at 3:51 pm
    Now that Wagner blew the save, and Heilman was cheated out of the third strike just before he gave up the SF that scored the winning run, I say right now.

    But, we know that the Wilpons won’t do that. Can’t possibly undercut their revenue stream for the first year at CitiFiled, can they?

    Joe, I need the Wilpons’ addy again. There’s another letter brewing, and it’s not going to be a good one. It’ll make the one I wrote (and sent) on October 2nd, 2007 look like a children’s story.

  8. Coop June 12, 2008 at 3:55 pm
    Julie, I think most seasoned and knowledgeable fans know about Bernazard. But you are completely right. The problem isn’t Willie – surprisingly I don’t think he’s the problem (though I never thought he was the right guy to be mgr anyway). Omar – eh, it’s a wash, he’s made some great moves that really brought legitimacy back to the Mets and made some boneheaded ones also – hasn’t every GM? As for Bernazard this guy is nothing but trouble. he singlehandedly got Delgado pissed off in 2005 and he wouldn’t sign with the team (though that might not have been a bad thing in hindsight), undermines Willie and his authority and has refused to build up the farm system like he was supposed to. I say that’s more Omar’s thing than anything else but as we like to see, Omar does not like firing his friends.
  9. julie June 12, 2008 at 5:33 pm
    I heard, some where the other day that the reason we signed Castillo was because Santana wanted him.
  10. joe June 12, 2008 at 7:59 pm
    Julie, I believe Castillo was signed long before the Santana deal. However I wouldn’t be surprised if the Santana-Castillo relationship in MN had at least something to do with their signing Luis.

    Mic, we’ll have to respectfully disagree. The Mets’ “core” has a few problems. Mainly, that Beltran is part of that core and paid to be a marquee player — which unfortunately he isn’t, and further, he clearly does not enjoy playing under the microscope of NY. To get that kind of dough in this town, you have to have a Reggie Jackson personality — you must thrive on attention. Beltran is uncomfortable here, and unless the Mets find another Delgado circa 2006 to protect him, the core is flawed.

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