In the wake of yesterday’s news conference for Terry Collins, and the media blitz that followed, thought I’d turn the tables a bit and provide some reheated leftovers before Thanksgiving. So here are a few of my impressions from yesterday’s events:
-- Bravo to Sandy Alderson and Terry Collins for not pretending to speak authoritatively on how to fix the Mets “clubhouse problem” because they admitted to not setting foot in the room last season. Makes sense to me. Better to talk to the returning players, and coaches for that matter, to get a feel for what may have to be changed moving forward. As my colleague Ken Davidoff pointed out today, the clubhouse issues are actually more of an accountability problem throughout the organization – not a clash of roster personalities, which is what a clubhouse problem usually involves. The Mets themselves get along just fine for the most part. What they seem to lack at times is a competitive fire - and that is inexcusable. Collins should help to stoke that, and for those players that fail to live up to those expectations, Alderson now has the authority to do something about it. That should mean no more free rides on the Mets’ dollar.
-- Sorry, but I’ll never understand why Jose Reyes keeps getting demonized for animated handshakes or celebratory dances. Why is that the Rangers can make antler signs on their helmets – while standing on second base! – in the middle of a playoff game and it’s considered fun or cute. But Reyes can’t do a handshake with a teammate at the top of the dugout steps? I agree with Collins. If another team has a problem with Reyes – let’s say the Phillies for instance – then let them do something about it other than talk. The Mets badly need an attitude transfusion, so they should worry less about what everyone thinks and more about winning baseball games. And if your best player – and yes, Reyes is exactly that when healthy – likes to get fired up, then so be it. As usual with the Mets, the focus is never where it should be. Maybe Alderson and Collins can change that.
-- The Mets aren’t going to be fixed with kneejerk reactions to public opinion, so Alderson is correct to take a measured approach in evaluating the roster. Obviously, I’m talking about Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo, the two anchors that dragged the Mets to the bottom last season. There is no benefit to simply jettisoning either player during the winter, especially since Alderson has yet to see either one on the field. At this point, I’ve seen plenty of both, and that’s led me to believe that the Mets will be better off without them. But Alderson has to find a way to minimize the $18-million hit the team would take by releasing them, if that’s possible. The good news? This is the last year remaining on both contracts.
-- I listened to Alderson this morning on WFAN’s Boomer and Carton show and here’s my take: finally, the Mets GM sounded a little winded. Alderson has seemingly been working non-stop since he was introduced Oct. 29, a schedule that has included teaching his sports business course at Cal-Berkeley every Monday. Not only that, Alderson – in the middle of his first major hire for the Mets – had to deal with the death of his father, John, last weekend. I don’t know how he did it all. Alderson is less than a month into the job, but from what we’ve seen so far, he’s backed up the claims from former colleagues that he’s the ultimate professional. Still, I can’t help but think these past few weeks have been an eye-opening experience for him as far as the New York media is concerned. From daily briefings at the GM meetings to making the rounds on the radio, being the GM of a New York baseball team is exhausting, and there’s really no other job that can prepare someone for that.
-- When asked if Francisco Rodriguez would be the Mets’ closer in 2011, Alderson smiled sheepishly and said yes – even though he looked like he wished there was an alternative. The Mets appear to be stuck with K-Rod’s brutal contract, which will lock in a perfectly attainable vesting option of $17.5 million for 2012. Just the thought of that must made Alderson shudder, though he put on a brave face yesterday.
“Yeah, 2012 factors into our thinking in 2011,” Alderson said. “It would be disingenuous to say otherwise, but going into the season, he’s our closer. If he pitches well, he’s valuable to us. If he pitches poorly, we probably don’t have to worry about it.”
The vesting option is based on games finished – not saves – and the Mets could always try to sidestep it by using Rodriguez in a set-up role. Or even trade him to a team with a closer that would use him in the eighth inning. But with K-Rod’s recent legal problems, as well as coming off thumb surgery, looks like the Mets will be stuck with him.
-- I thought Collins performed well at yesterday’s news conference. He deftly handled all of the questions thrown at him, and repeatedly offered a mea culpa for his failure to manage the clubhouse during that messy period that led to his resignation from the Angels in 1999. Even so, yesterday’s event was a big fat softball compared to what happens when the stakes get raised during the season – or even when decisions or incidents need to be handled in spring training. Personalities don’t change that much, especially in the middle of trying circumstances, and Collins will be tested in this job, early and often. Personally, I like some character, some spark, some energy, and Collins definitely has that. But the pressure here can be very uncomfortable at times – immeasurable higher than Anaheim and Houston, for that matter – and none of us know yet how Collins will respond to that. His history suggests it could get messy and that’s all we can go on at the moment. But we can also give him the benefit of the doubt, and take him at his word that he’s become more patient in the 11 years since the Angels’ meltdown. Alderson chose to take that risk. Let’s see if it pays off.
To those of you that read this far, Happy Thanksgiving, and I probably won’t check in again until Dec. 5, the eve of the winter meetings. After a hectic past two months with the Mets, I think we could all use a breather. Enjoy.