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 50â€“50 shotâ€¦If you recall, Tony Bernazard came from the Player’s Unionâ€¦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.