How appropriate. Thanks in large part to Hurricane Sandy, this post is long over due. Finally, I present you with Part II of Sandy Alderson’s Tenure in Review.
Sandy Alderson has created a puzzle involving his field manager’s status, and that of his coaches, his minor league staff and structure, and prospects left behind by the prior regime. Only he knows how to arrange the pieces. But he won’t do it until the 2014 season. There is one very telling fact which reveals the General Manager’s machinations. I’ll get to that shortly. First, the disclaimer. This is all my opinion and is intended for entertainment purposes only. Right?
Speaking free of the financial restrictions forced upon this team, here’s my attempt to piece together Sandy Alderson’s plan for the 2014 season and beyond. PART ONE of Sandy Alderson’s tenure in review focused on 324 games of baseball and how each position evolved, or not, in the two seasons under the General Manager. In this installment, I’m delving beyond the General Managers attempts to keep the team respectable while his boss reconciles the team’s finances. This is where the true rebuilding of the Mets is taking place.
Of the candidates Sandy Alderson considered to manage the Mets, he settled on the Old School and peppery Terry Collins. Despite a 151-173 record as field general, most fans concur he is doing a fine job despite the organization’s particular circumstances. Did Terry Collins misspeak when he insinuated the team perhaps might have quit late in the 2012 season? Maybe. Please call out the team on that issue in the locker room. Do not offer that to the media. Problem solved.
Otherwise, where the media is concerned Terry Collins manages the press like Willie Randolph and Jerry Manuel could not. Terry Collins refuses to be marionette’d by them, for he is no one’s puppet. Terry Collins has effectively kept the sharks at bay because he bites back. It was torturous to listen and watch Willie and Jerry get manipulated and cornered by the media into nightly entanglements. Terry Collins has not and will not entertain anything of the kind. The media knows it, and therefore do not press the current Mets manager too overbearingly, or disrespectfully for that matter. I personally love that dynamic about Terry Collins. He and Sandy Alderson handle the media very effectively. It has been one of the most significant changes over the prior regime.
While his record with the Mets sits below .500, he still sports a lifetime 224-197 managerial record. I do not think the explosive Terry Collins of Anaheim ever went away. I just believe Terry learned how to express himself more effectively. Communication is everything and Mr. Five Hour Energy has managed to slow his brain down just enough to get a message across instead of resorting to fireworks. As Mets fans, what we also saw was Terry Collins embracing a group of young players who were already familiar with each other through Terry’s previous work in the Mets minors levels. In 2012, that translated into a much more compassionate Terry Collins who still held his players, as well as himself, accountable.
Entering the 2012 season, Sandy Alderson picked up the first of two club options to retain Collins. He likewise picked-up Terry Collins’ option to return again for the 2013 season. Beyond that, Sandy Alderson has not engaged in any discussions with the Mets manager regarding another contract or extension. Unless a deal is struck first, the GM is essentially allowing Terry Collins to enter Spring Training, and even the regular season, as a lame duck. So what gives about his contract? Not coincidentally, the Mets have exactly one player; Jon Niese; who is under contract for the 2014 season. I think that is a very insightful detail. If 2014 is indeed the year of major roster upheaval, it seems the General Manager wants to likewise keep his options with regards to the manager open as well.
Dan Warthen is the only coach held over from the prior regime. He twice managed to escape Sandy Alderson’s axe. When the GM assumed control of the club, he wiped out the existing 2010 coaching staff, except the pitching coach and Chip Hale. For the 2011 season Sandy Alderson’s assembled coaching staff was comprised of Dave Hudgens as the hitting instructor, Ken Oberkfell on the bench, Mookie Wilson at first, and Jon Debus in the bullpen to go along with Hale and Warthen. At the end of the season, Alderson fired them with the exception of Warthen and Hudgens this time. The new staff additions consisted of Tim Teufel at third base, Ricky Bones in the bullpen, and Tom Goodwin at first. Sandy Alderson did not wield his axe this off-season, and has instead already announced the entire coaching staff will return in its entirety.
Wally Backman remains a hot commodity in Flushing. Most fans would like to see him manage the big club. He was twice considered a candidate and in 2011 became a finalist before Collins was handed the job. As outlined above, maybe 2014 will finally present Backman with an opportunity. For now, he continues to serve penance in the Mets minor leagues for a few past transgressions. And may I add, he has served the organization well. No one doubts Wally has a feel for winning, and is cut from old school cloth and practices hard nose ways.
Prior to Sandy Alderson, and even Omar Minaya, and dating back to Steve Phillips, Binghampton-AA became a place where talent met apathy. We are now closing in on two decades since the B-Mets won a title. It has been twelve seasons since their last division flag. Problem is, Brooklyn has enjoyed tremendous success over the last eleven seasons. Frustratingly, all that success never translated at Binghampton. Between 2005 and 2010, the B-Mets played .443 baseball. Omar Minaya recognized this and tried addressing the mid-level impediment. However, when we look back in hindsight, we find a string of insignificant and ineffective contributors at the helm.
One of Omar’s initial moves was to promote Ken Oberkfell to AAA. Omar then went through Jack Lind in 2005, Juan Samuel in 2006, and from 2007 through 2009 Omar employed Mako Oliveras as manager of the B-Mets. Rhetorically speaking, what else have these three men contributed to the Mets, and where are they today? Mako Oliveras in particular managed them for three seasons, and compiled a 188-236 record, good/bad for a (coincidence) .443 winning percentage. The culture of sub-mediocrity ultimately blew up like Mt. Vesuvius, as Binghampton was the scene of Tony Bernazard’s infamous shirt-ripping eruption.
Finally, Sandy Alderson recognized and identified some problems in the system. Tim Teufel must have found favor with the current GM. He is now a graduate of the new progression through the minors. Developmentally speaking, he and Wally Backman have given the Mets minor league teams common direction. Prior to his promotion as third base coach, he managed at Brooklyn-A, Binghampton-AA, and then Buffalo-AAA. Wally Backman has followed the same route. He managed St. Lucie-A, Brooklyn-A, Binghampton-AA, and this year will pilot Las Vegas-AAA. Between the two, Backman and Teufel have provided continuity and forwarded the organizational philosophy. Many current young Mets are quite familiar with them both. If not Terry Collins, in these two perhaps lies the next manager of the Mets. Sandy Alderson certainly seems to be positioning the managerial structure within the organization in that direction.
Back to Binghampton’s situation, Pedro Lopez will return for a second season as manager. He is the fourteenth manager of the B-Mets since the 1992 season. He was promoted within the Mets system when Wally Backman was elevated from Binghampton and named manager of Vegas. Previous to Binghampton, Pedro Lopez managed all the Mets lower level clubs. Brooklyn, Kingsport, Savanna, and St. Lucie are all on his resume. He might have originally been put in place by Omar, but Pedro is the latest to follow the new model, although he won’t be leap-frogging Wally Backman anytime soon.
In my opinion, Ken Oberkfell for long was part of a failed minor league culture while managing two Mets affiliates in New Orleans and Buffalo. Despite interviewing for the vacant managers spot in 2011, I’m almost positive his promotion from Buffalo-AAA to bench coach was more geared towards ultimately firing him. And it was about time. Nothing personal of course. But in the span of three short years he went from managing Buffalo, to being the Mets bench coach, to managing in the Dominican Republic (which he always did), then resorted to piloting the Newark Bears of the independent circuits, to being out of baseball. In baseball, a precipitous fall like that does not happen by accident.
Dating back since the mid to late 1960’s when Joe McDonald set the Mets minor league operations in motion, the farm system has been a well oiled machine all through and up until Steve Phillips and Jim Duquette squeezed the final prospects out of a spent operation. After David Wright, Jose Reyes, and Scott Kazmir, the well went dry until Omar Minaya lubed the gears again and drafted or signed many of the current crop of young players. Upon his arrival, Sandy Alderson initiated a renaissance effort to return the Mets farm system to its former productive rate of output and proficiency. I’d be doing Paul DePodesta and J.P. Ricciardi a disservice if I didn’t mention them at this point. But please be patient, I will get to them in Part III.
With the 13th overall pick in his first (2011) June Amateur Draft with the Mets, Sandy Alderson selected a nineteen year old outfielder named Brandon Nimmo. With the 44th overall pick, he selected RHP Brad Fulmer. And within the top 100 players selected, the GM drafted RHP Cory Mazzoni in the second round. In the 2011 draft, Alderson wound up selecting five pitchers with his first six picks.
In the 2012 draft, Sandy Alderson concentrated a bit more on positional players. With the twelfth overall pick, the GM selected SS Gavin Cecchini. At number thirty five overall, he selected C Kevin Plawecki. With the seventy first overall pick, he drafted 3B Matthew Reynolds, and four selections later (#75 overall) he picked RHP Theodore Stankiewicz.
These represent Sandy Alderson top seven picks over the last two seasons. Only Stankiewicz went unsigned. As a result, the Mets will have the 84th overall pick of the 2013 June Draft as compensation. In the first round, the Mets will make the eleventh overall selection. In the second round, they will have the 47th overall selection.
In 2012, four Brooklyn Cyclones were ranked among Baseball America’s Top 20 New York Penn League Prospects. Brandon Nimmo made the list at number eleven. Luis Mateo who was signed by Alderson in 2011 as an amateur free agent out of the Dominican Republic ranked number five. Hansel Robles started pitching for the Mets in 2009 in the Dominican Summer League. He ranked number twelve. Phillip Evans was selected by Sandy Alderson in the 15th round of the 2011 draft. He placed eighteenth on Baseball America’s list.
In Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects of 2012, Zach Wheeler ranked #35, and Matt Harvey ranked #54 on the list. Harvey was drafted by Omar Minaya in 2010, and in a stroke of real moxie, Sandy Alderson acquired Wheeler for Carlos Beltran. For the 2011 season, Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects listed three Mets players. Jenrry Mejia placed #44, Wilmer Flores was #59, and Cesar Puello was ranked seventy seven. All three are traceable back to Omar.
As Sandy Alderson’s selections and free agent amateur signings begin to populate the lower minor leagues, Omar Minaya’s 2008-2010 selections still rule the middle to top levels. Many of the current Flushing Mets were just part of the first wave of prospects arriving as scheduled. Their arrival was designed to coincide with many of the clubs expiring contracts which Sandy Alderson has since mostly purged. Regardless, the second wave is generally due by the 2014 season. And there is that year again. The 2014 season apparently is when all the organization’s current efforts are designed to finally advance the organization.
Forget Omar’s downfall. We know the story well. What he left behind are now Sandy Alderson’s assets. Within them are players not mentioned here, but who are none-the-less worthy of a serious look. There are others; a few pitchers; the Mets are flat out relying on. So far, Sandy Alderson has hoarded his prospects – all of them. Partly because a plethora of injuries forced many into action, and partly because the Mets financial situation prohibited the classic three-for-one deal.
In 2014, several of Omar’s players will be nearing arbitration eligibility, while wave two will be ready (more or less) for their rookie campaigns. By then, Sandy Alderson will have some more definitive opinions regarding the current players recently called up. The team projects to be young with a high cohesion factor. Because of the new organizational familiarity shared between players and staff alike, all personel should be fully in tune with each other. This detail by itself is not the proverbial orange and blue brick road. But when you take care of the little details, bigger and better things come together.
To that end, Sandy Alderson will have three in-house candidates vying for the 2014 managerial position. That is a good development for fans as competition breeds success. Sandy Alderson will have another harvest of prospects to sieve through, and decide on the best to bring home and which ones to bring to market. Hopefully by then the Mets will be sporting one of the more promising starting rotations in the league. And perhaps the Club owner’s situation is considerably less dire, and the pursuit of key components, and essential elements that could not be farmed and might otherwise cost a premium to obtain, can begin in earnest.