At the end of a 92-loss season that Jeff Wilpon described as "totally unacceptable," the Mets held a news conference Monday at Citi Field to promise sweeping changes and significant improvements for 2010.
But the only two people to take the fall for the 2009 debacle were Sandy Alomar Sr., the team's 66-year-old bench coach, and Luis Alicea, the relatively invisible first-base coach. Alomar Sr. was removed from the coaching staff and will be offered another position in the organization; Alicea will not return.
The Mets announced that hitting coach Howard Johnson, pitching coach Dan Warthen and bullpen coach Randy Niemann will be retained for 2010. In a surprising move, they also kept third-base coach Razor Shines, but for a different role next season. Sandy Alomar Jr., formerly the catching instructor, also will be moved, possibly to first-base coach. He could even replace his father as bench coach.
Just as the Wilpons had promised, Jerry Manuel and Omar Minaya will return, but they do so without a safety net. Manuel is heading into the final season of his two-year, $1.5-million contract. Minaya, though just starting his three-year extension, also has been put on notice.
"We demand better, we expect better and our fans deserve better," Wilpon said. "Ownership is dedicated to delivering a championship-caliber team. It is our belief Omar and Jerry have the expertise and deserve the opportunity to help us get there. Once again, we'll be providing Omar with one of the highest payrolls in all of baseball to address our needs.
"We have significant challenges ahead. Omar and Jerry must step up, and we are confident they will."
Wilpon would not reveal what the organization plans to spend for 2010 and pledged to be a player in the pursuit of top free agents this offseason. The Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme, in which the Wilpons reportedly lost between $300 million and $700 million, has haunted the team, but it is unclear how much that will be a factor as they try to clean up the 2009 mess.
"What the payroll is - we didn't necessarily spend well with $147 million this year, so I don't want to say what it's going to be," Wilpon said. "Last year, we started the offseason with a $135-million payroll and it went up to $147 [million]. We didn't have that as a plan."
As for sticking with Manuel and Minaya, the Mets' COO dismissed 2009 as a "one-year thing." Wilpon also said he does not see a need to make any changes in the medical department, from trainers to doctors from the Hospital for Special Surgery.
At one point, the Mets had $88 million tied up in 13 players on the disabled list, and six had season-ending surgery. Two members of the core, Carlos Delgado (hip) and Jose Reyes (hamstring), never returned from early injuries.
"We are changing our medical protocols to better treat and prevent injuries," Wilpon said. "Injuries are not an excuse. In the past year, we have done a poor job of communicating medical information to all of you in the press and our fans. I take responsibility for that and plan to oversee the improvement and communications going forward."
Wilpon deferred questions about the front office to Minaya, who is planning more changes to his scouting staff. The GM said Rafael Perez, the team's director of international player development, will be promoted to help fill the void left by the recent firing of Ramon Peña, a Minaya special assistant who was in charge of Latin America operations.
"They're very good baseball people, but I'm going to be looking at all personnel for us to try and get better," Minaya said. "I'm going to look at any way we can improve ourselves."
As for the coaches, Manuel said he was unhappy with a number of areas. Defensive lapses in the infield, especially the problems turning double plays, led him to dismiss Alomar Sr. He said he had to dump Alicea and switch Shines because of their poor handling of baserunners.
Asked why he was allowed to return, Manuel picked a curious time to inject some comic relief into the news conference. "Depending on how you feel about the mix that we had, some might say 70-92, I should be the Manager of the Year," he said, laughing.
"I'm just joking. But no, it was a failure. We didn't live up to expectations, period, and that's my responsibility."