PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - If ever a team was in need of a fresh start, it is these Mets, whose winter makeover included a complete front-office renovation and the hiring of a new manager. But some problems are returning for 2011, along with the same baggage, and a few will arrive in a matter of days.
Oliver Perez not only performed poorly last season but showed judgment that earned abuse from teammates and fans alike. Rather than accept a demotion to Triple-A Buffalo in an attempt to solve his issues, Perez sat unused in the bullpen, a $12-million fixture on the bench. He also was one of three Mets, along with Luis Castillo and Carlos Beltran, who chose not to attend an optional visit with wounded veterans at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.
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Perez, however, is not one of the Mets' bigger problems, aside from his salary ($12 million in 2011). General manager Sandy Alderson already has said he is prepared to release Perez if he does not earn his way on to the roster. Of greater concern is Francisco Rodriguez, who remains on the disqualified list for punching his girlfriend's father last September in front of his teammates' families at Citi Field.
K-Rod avoided jail time, but it will be interesting to see how he interacts with the team upon his arrival. The Mets are relying on Rodriguez to be the closer - despite a daunting $17.5-million vesting option for 2012 based on games finished - and his behavior will come under microscopic scrutiny.
It won't be limited to K-Rod. With Jerry Manuel's laissez-faire managing style replaced by Terry Collins' more hands-on approach, it seems as though discipline will be more of a priority this season. The lack of it had been identified as one of the Mets' primary issues, but sometimes changing that culture is not as simple as flipping the calendar.
"I don't think the manager will tolerate the conduct that has existed in the past in some instances," Alderson said. "I can't judge people on occasions I wasn't present. Terry talks about responsibility to the game, and that translates to responsibility to the fans.
"At the same time, we can't make one or two people scapegoats for a situation. We need to fix the situation. You want to create a critical mass of players that fans like. Mostly, it's about what we do on the field, but it's also about how we do it."
That emphasis on character was behind the Mets' decision to sign R.A. Dickey to a two-year, $7.8-million contract, a sizable commitment, given the team's frugal offseason. The knuckleballer was a surprising boost to the rotation but also represented the type of player the Mets want as part of their core. Free-agent signees Chris Young and Chris Capuano also fit in that mold: smart, personable, team-oriented pitchers who could offer the most bang for the buck.
"I don't think winning cures all," Alderson said. "I don't think success on the field obviates behavior off the field. We're striving for something broader in terms of excellence. It's a lot easier if you're just focused on the talent. But I think we want the Mets to stand for something better than that. I expect before too long, we will."