This past Monday, the Mets finally pulled the plug, relieving GM Omar Minaya of his duties and declining the 2011 option of Manager Jerry Manuel. The message was clear: This regime must be held accountable for the failures of the team. But were Minaya and Manuel truly the men responsible for the Mets’ woes? What could they have done better? To what extent should Mets owners Fred and Jeff Wilpon be considered at fault? Most importantly, what can be done to make the next era in Mets history more successful than the last? Here to discuss are Dan Mennella, author of the Press sports column The Mennella Line and reporter for MLB.com; John Otano, Press sports columnist and “LIPressPicks Guru”; and Michael Patrick Nelson, Press editor-in-chief and Yankees fan.
Minaya and Manuel were symptomatic of the problem, not the problem itself. The Wilpons’ intentions are well-placed (they’d be masochists if they didn’t want their team to do well). But Minaya was a questionable hire, and that mistake was compounded by the Wilpons’ penchant for meddling in baseball operations. The bottom line is, they need to hire the right guy and then leave him alone as much as possible. Unfortunately, I seriously doubt their ability to do either, let alone both.
There’s a lack of transparency in the Mets front office that makes it difficult to assign blame: To what extent was the payroll crippled by the Wilpons’ association with Madoff? When and how did the Wilpons exert influence over Minaya’s decisions? That opacity makes it almost impossible to distinguish what Minaya did on his own and what Minaya did under either the specific or general guidelines laid down by Fred and Jeff.
Minaya arrived with a splash, signing Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran, tossing large chunks of payroll for lengths of time that ultimately hurt the club in the long term. Beltran, 33-years-old, is owed $18.5 million next season. Oliver Perez, who signed a three-year, $36 million deal last offseason, pitched himself out of the rotation, has $12 milling coming his way. Throw oft-injured and little-used Luis Castillo in the mix and throw another $6 million down the drain. Add the crippled payroll along with a lack of clubhouse leadership and you have one huge mess for the next group to clean up. Whoever comes to Queens must possess some of the financial savvy, baseball intelligence and leadership exhibited in the Bronx.
The Mets have been operating like a Ponzi Scheme since Minaya took over— not unlike the one run by Bernard Madoff, which reportedly cost the Wilpons millions. Most of Minaya’s big moves were short-term Band-Aids for a big-picture problem. John, I think it’s worth stressing the importance of the attributes you ascribed to the Mets’ next GM, if they are to right the ship. That said, I say forget the Yankees. Concede the big stage for a couple years and focus on building a top-notch organization from the top down.
Johan Santana and Beltran may seem like albatross deals, but at least they represent premium talent. Castillo, Perez, Jason Bay…those are the deals that keep the Mets from moving forward, because those players are taking up too much payroll space and not performing much better than players who might cost a fraction of their salary. That forces the team to rely on marginal talent—the Angel Pagans of the world—to produce at levels higher than their actual ability. I agree with Dan, the best way to stop that cycle is to enter a phase of rebuilding.
We can all agree that rebuilding the team smartly from the ground up is the best move for the Mets, but I feel many Mets fans would be hard pressed to fully accept that fate. One of the cornerstones of a rebuilding process could be trading David Wright for as many building pieces as possible. Coming to grips with trading Wright for the future of the club is something this Mets fan is torn to pieces about. Is it possible for the Mets to hang on to David Wright and continue to build the franchise around him?
Look, if the new GM comes on and has a concise, focused plan for getting the ship righted, and that plan includes dealing Wright for what I presume would be a nice haul of young talent, I’ll live with it. Wright’s still in the prime of his career and is signed to favorable terms for another two seasons (with a club option for 2013), which makes him an extremely valuable commodity on the trade market. If we’re separating emotion from business, as most successful teams do, let’s put it this way: If the Blue Jays can trade Roy Halladay, the Mets can trade Wright.
In a philosophical sense, that might actually be the true moment of rebirth for the Mets and their fans. If Wright is the face of the franchise, then to part ways with him would be to assume a new identity, and while I can’t advise moving a player of Wright’s tremendous value, there is nothing the Mets need more right now than a new identity.