As I sit here and watch the Mets strut their, er ... stuff on national television, I feel as if it's probably time for one of those "what went wrong, how can it get better" posts. You know the one, it's generally designed to map out the road back to greatness. Except every time I do that I get slammed.
Okay, so I only really did it once. But I got slammed for it. (Editor's note: looking back on what I had suggested, you know it really wouldn't have been all that bad.) So this isn't going to be the "five moves to put the Mets back on the map" post, because I think it's going to take a hell of a lot more than that.
And that's the entire point ... because the Mets have been basing their entire existence over the last three years over making a scant few moves when the whole operation needs a complete overhaul in thinking. It's the phenomenon that Greg Prince refers to as he surmises that the Mets perpetual mission statement is to win Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS.
(Speaking of Greg, he and his co-host Jon Springer cordially invite you to "Two Boots Tavern" this Tuesday for the first 2009 installment of "Amazin' Tuesdays", where he'll welcome dignitaries such as Paul Lukas of Uni Watch, and author Matt Silverman. And old Mets baseball cards will get you a free beer, so saddle up.)
But then when you combine that with ownership which has been burned by both Bernie Madoff and Oliver Perez (and really, how many on this planet can say they've been burned by both?), you get a team that thinks they're one game away but spends as if they were forty games out. Why else would the Mets bother to sign players like Gary Sheffield who, while it's a shame that he was hurt while being the Mets greatest offensive threat, should never have been put in the position to be their greatest offensive threat, and that's the shame of it.
But it's a pattern that was given legitimacy by the one and only Jose Valentin. It's his fault for having such a good season at the age of 36 to give Omar Minaya the belief that there are more in the bargain bin like him. It's also his fault for striking out in the sixth inning with the bases loaded in Game 7. Without either/or, the ill-fated chase for the unattainable would have ended before it began.
Now this isn't to pick on Valentin, but the fact of the matter is that we're a long way from the days where Valentin provided over 50 RBI's from the sixth, seventh, and eighth spots in the lineup. And it didn't have to be that way. When Omar Minaya came out with his "the bullpen has been addressed" speech, everybody knew that the team still needed a bottom of the order bat and a true back of the rotation starter. Omar got 'em, but he got 'em from the scrap heap and the bargain bin.
We already knew that.
We also know that this team gets injured ... a lot. Happened again on Sunday, as Fernando Nieve was the latest Met to go down with a lower body injury ... yeah, a lower body injury. I'm through regurgitating the propaganda of the New York Mets. And that's another part of the problem ... a big one. Because not only is everyone getting hurt ... not only is the information heavily filtered ... not only is the information heavily wrong ... but the way the injuries are handled are a joke.
And remember, the people that used to handle the Mets medical issues were replaced because, among other things, Mike DeJean was sent out to the mound with a fracture in his leg that doctors never caught. So they were replaced by the Hospital for Special Surgery. Now I'm sure you all read the Adam Rubin article, but it's fascinating in that it's not necessarily the doctors that are at fault. Consider:
The scrutiny of the Mets goes far beyond free spending by a baseball operations department that failed to keep the minor-league system stocked. Questionable medical moves such as last year's decision to fly Church cross-country with a concussion have become commonplace. Still, players expressed full faith in the Hospital for Special Surgery, which provides care to the organization, and instead fault how the organization has used the information it is provided (...)What the whole Rubin piece shows us is that nothing is in a vacuum. The Mets have boxed themselves into a corner to the point where they know full well that there's nothing in the minor league system, so in a twisted way it makes sense that Tony Bernazard is going to recommend cortisone shots and go against the wishes of the hospital ... anything to keep the baseball public from knowing how bare the cupboard actually is. Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain ... it's Argenis Reyes!
A source with ties to the Mets indicated that Beltran is extremely upset that he played for a month with a bone bruise after receiving a cortisone shot. The bone bruise ultimately doubled in size because of a lack of adequate rest, according to the center fielder. Scott Boras eventually had Beltran get a second opinion from doctor Richard Steadman at the Vail, Colo., clinic that performed Alex Rodriguez's hip surgery.
Putz, who ultimately underwent surgery last month to remove a bone spur from his right elbow, had been told by team doctor David Altchek weeks earlier that he needed to immediately have the spur removed, a team source said. Instead, the Mets advocated a cortisone shot. Putz went 0-2 with a blown save and 7.71 ERA in 10 subsequent appearances before needing the procedure anyway. (...)
The Mets have had a curious track record of pushing players too hard. Billy Wagner was furious at Mets VP Tony Bernazard for insinuating that Wagner was dogging it when he complained of discomfort after throwing a simulated game in Pittsburgh last August. Weeks later, Wagner was undergoing Tommy John elbow surgery.
It all fits. The signings are cheap because there's no money because of Bernie Madoff. And the major league talent are getting cortisone shots because there's nothing in the minor leagues except more of the low salaried, old man "talent" that are merely existing in Buffalo. Like pieces of a bloody jigsaw puzzle.
But you already knew all of the above. The big question is to ask what it all means for the future. The first option seems to be the most likely option as reported by most, and that's the return of Omar and Snoop for 2010. At best, the injuries are more of a factor than we all thought and 2010 will be the "our season has come" year. At worst, the realization that Minaya & Manuel are not the men for their respective jobs will come at the expense of one more season than necessary.
The second option is scary. That option sees Minaya and Manuel fired in favor of Bernazard and Manny Acta. I don't know Tony Bernazard, but everything I read about him tells me that I shouldn't trust him as far as I could physically, or even mentally, throw him. I've dealt with people who are sneaky, and that man is sneaky. And while Acta isn't necessarily a bad hire, if Bernazard he does hire Manny Acta, it only proves that he's more concerned with hooking up a friend and a favorite of his than hiring the best man for the job. If Bernazard paid more attention to his job than worrying about who's employed at other positions, maybe the organization would be in better shape than it's in.
The third option is: none of the above. Maybe the team thinks outside the box and brings a fresh approach to an organization that needs one. But would it matter? Would the Wilpons be in a position to spend money? Forget Bernie Madoff for a second, and think back to where the organization was before Omar Minaya, where the team was presenting half-ass offers to Vladimir Guerrero to save face before presenting us with the pizza twins (Karim Garcia and Shane Spencer) to play right field. Then Minaya came. And then came Pedro Martinez. And he made possible the signing of Beltran, which led to the trade for Delgado and the trade for and signing of Johan Santana. (I don't count Frankie's signing ... they swooped in to get what they needed in the midst of a bad economy. And I'm convinced that if the economy was strong, Frankie is still an Angel today.)
But what now? And what of the winter of '09-'10? While nobody will be asking for another big fish (and apparently there's not much out there), the Mets are going to need some solid pieces to support the Big 5 ... especially if they're planning to continue the Daniel Murphy Experiment at first base. But are the Wilpons going to continue to hide behind the Madoff losses? Are they going to use the excuse of injuries to say "well, we don't really need much because Reyes and Beltran will be back?"
And scarier still, are the Wilpons going to stop spending the way they did with Pedro and Beltran all together because now they have their shiny new ballpark? Will they continue to give us retreads like Freddy Garcia thinking that fans will continually flock to Citi Field for succulent cheeseburgers and mediocre baseball?
This offseason, which unfortunately I'm already thinking about, will answer all those questions. Those answers had better be the right ones.
And it would probably be better for all of us if those answers didn't include Jose Valentin batting sixth.