Tag: tony larussa

Why the Mets May Consider Tony LaRussa

tony-larussaTony LaRussa is currently busy leading his St. Louis Cardinals into the postseason. But he could be on table of discussion in the Mets front office right now.

After two consecutive collapses and a godawful premiere season in their brand-new, billion-dollar ballpark, the Mets have to do something signficant to win back season-ticket sales their fans in 2010. They absolutely cannot stand pat, or make a few minor changes. In order to sell tickets compete in 2010, they have to make a sales-inspiring announcement drastic change at some point this winter.

But what can they do? If they were tightening the purse strings last winter — BEFORE the Madoff scandal came to light — then certainly they won’t have much money to spend this offseason. So forget about the Mets bidding for the services of Matt Holliday or Jason Bay. In fact, I’d be surprised if they have the money or gumption to go after Chone Figgins, John Lackey, or Rich Harden. My guess? We’ll see Mark DeRosa, Xavier Nady, Jon Garland, Benji Molina, Nick Johnson, and Jason Marquis on their radar. Nice complementary pieces, but hardly impact players.

Further, the Mets have next to nothing to offer in trade for a big-name player. No one of value is healthy enough nor expendable, and they’ll get lambasted if they empty their farm system for one player for the third consecutive winter. So, with no big trades and no big free agent signings on the horizon, the Mets will have to try another route to the back pages.

They will start by promoting John Ricco, either to GM or some kind of parallel position to Omar Minaya. With their budgetary concerns, I would be surprised to see them eat the rest of Minaya’s contract — particularly if they plan to eat Jerry Manuel’s. At the same time I don’t see them spending big bucks to lure Pat Gillick out of retirement, or hiring another big-name GM. They won’t do that because a) they don’t want to spend the money; and b) Jeff Wilpon wants to remain the puppet-master. So forget about the nonsense of bringing in a strong-minded personality such as Billy Beane or Bobby Valentine.

Instead, they’ll do the financially prudent move of keeping Minaya in the organization — in some type of “player evaluation” capacity — and promoting Ricco to GM. Such a decision will be a cheap way of making it look like things are changing, and they’ll spin it by positioning Ricco as a young Brian Cashman or Theo Epstein — a numbers-crunching uber-geek who can use his calculator to lead the Mets into the Promised Land. Maybe he can do that, who knows? … but the decision will be financially motivated, and in keeping with the “Jeff’s in charge” theme.

Still, a change in GM and a few mildly impressive free-agent signings won’t be enough to stimulate season-ticket sales improve the 2010 Mets. Soon after Ricco is promoted, expect to see Manuel ousted and replaced with Tony LaRussa.

LaRussa is most likely a bad fit for the bright hot lights of New York City — he barely gets through the mild-mannered press and forgiving fans in St. Louis. But convincing LaRussa to manage the Mets (3 years / $18M?) will be much cheaper than signing a big-name free-agent. Most importantly, it will be seen as a major change in “the right direction” — substantial enough on its own to sell season tickets position them as a contender.

I could be wrong — the Mets may not have enough money to even afford LaRussa. But I wouldn’t be surprised to see a scenario similar to this unfold in the offseason. If not LaRussa, then another big name that won’t cost a fortune (in comparison to an impact free agent). Perhaps Lou Piniella is let out of his Cubs contract, or Frank Robinson comes out of retirement. Or maybe they do something completely off the wall and hire Gary Carter or Wally Backman (not likely). Whatever it is the Mets do, it will be newsworthy, but unlikely to break the bank.

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Psychic Or Psycho?

You may have noticed during the St. Louis series that the Mets hitters were hitting the ball hard, but “right at people”. The Cardinals defenders seemed always to be at the right place at the right time — to the point where Matt Cerrone quipped, “… either Brendan Ryan is psychic, or the Mets are really unlucky, because the kid seems to be in the exact spot of every ground ball hit to the right side.”

Of course, Brendan Ryan is not psychic — but, neither are the Mets unlucky. The reason the Mets seemed to hit so many “at ’em” balls had much to do with the psychotic preparation of Tony LaRussa — a dugout warrior who leaves no stone unturned and reduces each game to a painstaking process of execution.

Since making his managerial debut with the White Sox in the early 1980s, the cerebral LaRussa has treated ballgames like chess matches, using every means necessary to gain an edge on the opposition. He was using computers before people knew what they were to churn out statistics and probabilities, a pioneer in the practical use of situational percentages (and a prelude to modern day sabermetrics — LaRussa was Billy Beane before Beane was playing high school ball). His teams have always been fundamentally sound, and benefitted from extensive, detailed advance scouting. These past three games were not unlike those of the 2006 NLCS, when David Eckstein seemed to be everywhere, except when balls were hit right at Ronny Belliard. LaRussa’s teams pore over the scouting reports, then act on them: the pitchers throw to specific locations, in specific counts, to specific batters, and the fielders position themselves accordingly. The results are not always perfect, but LaRussa makes certain that the odds are always on the Cardinals’ side, on every pitch. If the pitcher makes the intended pitch for a particular situation, there’s a good chance the batter will hit the ball to a general location. Many give the bulk of the credit to Dave Duncan when the Cardinals pull a pitcher off the scrap heap and turn him into a winner, but in truth, at least part of the success can be attributed to LaRussa’s intensive system.

LaRussa didn’t event this approach to the game — fielders have been “cheating” a few steps one way or the other depending on the batter and/or pitch since the 1880s, and all teams use scouting reports and preparation to some degree. And there are a few other managers who employ similar “systems” of success — Ron Gardenhire and Bobby Cox are two that immediately come to mind.

Point is, the sweep in St. Louis had little to do with a hex, luck or any other hocus-pocus. The team on the winning side had better scouting and better preparation, and did a better job of translating both into execution.

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