The Mets were 36-24 on June 9th 2007. From that point to the end of the regular season, the Mets went 52-50. Thus far this season, they are 31-34. So, over the last 167 games, the team is 83-84. Last year was last year, and a different club, but the changes made to the roster have made the team worse rather than better.
Looking at the personality of the fightin’ Phils, the chance of a collapse in September in Philadelphia to boost the Mets into first doesn’t seem likely. However, all is not lost. The wild card is certainly within reach, as no one in the NL is head and shoulders above anyone else — particularly now that the Cardinals and Cubs have both lost their best hitters. The Mets have zero chance of winning 90 games, but there’s an outside possibility they won’t have to. If they’re really lucky, this season could turn into something like what happened in 1973, when they won the division with an 82-80 record. The Mets won’t win the NL East with 82 wins, but they might sneak into the postseason with 87. They’d have to 56-41 the rest of the way to get there — a tall order, but more realistic than playing .600 ball. To pull this off, however, changes have to be made, immediately. Luckily, there is a seven-step program that can improve the team.
1. Fire Tony Bernazard and Rick Peterson.
Omar Minaya came in to Flushing telling everyone the Mets would get younger and more athletic, and follow the Braves’ model of building the big league team from within. Since Bernazard became his righthand man, those concepts went straight out the window. The Wilpons should fire Minaya’s top man as a message to get back to the original game plan.
Peterson’s oil paintings and auras and other beatnik philosophies have grown tired. It’s now clear that he was not a genius in Oakland, but lucky to have talented and healthy arms around him. Few Mets pitchers listen to him, and the one that does is Oliver Perez — ’nuff said.
2. Demote Howard Johnson to first-base coach, re-hire Rick Down (if he’ll come back). Let Willie hire a pitching coach of his choice.
I’ll admit I was 100% behind the Rick Down firing last year. In hindsight, it was a poor move to take away the one guy Willie handpicked for his coaching staff. It’s time to give Willie some control, and see what he does with it. He has more World Series rings than anyone in the Mets organization — players and front office included. Keep HoJo around as he’s done nothing wrong, and appears to have a positive effect on David Wright and other young players. Tom Nieto can go back to the bullpen.
3. Bench the next star player who doesn’t hustle, on the spot.
Doesn’t matter if it’s David Wright, Carlos Delgado, Carlos Beltran, or whomever. Willie Randolph must take a page from Charlie Manuel’s book and make an example of one of the stars, to show the team he is the boss.
4. Demote Oliver Perez and Aaron Heilman to the minors. Promote Tony Armas, Jr. and either Eddie Kunz or Carlos Muniz.
Give Ollie and Aaron a chance to work with a REAL pitching coach in NOLA — Dan Warthen. Consider moving Heilman back to the starting rotation while he’s down there, and Brian Stokes back to the bullpen.
Armas is pitching as well as he has in five years, so slot him into Perez’s spot until he fails. Muniz or Kunz should be tested immediately in 6th inning situations, with that spot becoming a revolving door of unknown, unscouted arms. As soon as someone is getting overexposed, replace him with someone else from the farm. Rinse and repeat.
5. Make a deal for Kevin Millar.
Now that Bernazard is out of the way, do the right thing and get someone with fire in his belly — and World Series rings — on the roster. Millar should come relatively cheap, and is likely the best the Mets can trade for with the limited chips they have at their disposal.
6. Call up Mike Carp, play him immediately.
The guy is hitting .360 down in AA — obviously, he’s doing something right. Start him at first base for a few days, then in left field. With Millar and Carp on the roster, Delgado must now earn his playing time. Look at how Delgado’s batting average soared after being “rested” two weeks ago; it’s clear he can’t be allowed to get too comfortable. Of course, there’s no guarantee Carp will succeed, but we’ll never know until he’s given the chance.
7. Try to make a deal for a bat and personality to protect Carlos Beltran.
Beltran might be able to carry a club when he gets on a hot streak, but he is otherwise a complimentary player and not built for superstardom in NYC. Delgado was his protector in 2006, and Moises Alou should have been this year. With Alou back on the DL, the Mets have to get someone else in to fill the role. Maybe it’s Junior Griffey, or Ivan Rodriguez, or Travis Hafner. It has to be someone obtainable, and any of those three could be pried away if the Mets are creative. The Tigers, for example, have soured on I-Rod and have moved Brandon Inge back behind the dish — maybe they’d be happy to get Brian Schneider. The Indians are looking to unload C.C. Sabathia and might not want to be strapped with the rest of Hafner’s huge contract. I’m not sure what it would take to get Griffey. Any of the three could be inserted into the #4 or #5 spot to take the pressure off Beltran. More importantly, the addition of any of those three individuals would immediately change the tone in the clubhouse and on the field.
These are big changes, for sure, but desperate times call for drastic measures. As currently constituted, the 2008 Mets will not “play meaningful games in September”. This has been a .500 club for over a full season, and has shown no signs of turning into a consistent winner. Sitting back and hoping that they’ll figure out a way to turn it around is not positive thinking — it’s borderline insane. As Einstein once pointed out, insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
It’s time to for a revamp.