Adam Rubin of the NY Daily News was good enough to join us on the KinersKorner. We look back at 2009 and ahead to 2010 for the Amazins.
Thanks Adam for speaking with us at the Korner. It has been a long and tumultuous season for you and the Mets, and I hope we can take this opportunity for some perspective.
Obviously injuries were an issue this season. The Mets are staying with the same medical staff and trainers, but are talking up “better communication and processes” as a way to correct the problem. Are they doing too little?
Adam Rubin: I would suggest that the organization’s culture is the biggest issue, and that can be changed without personnel alterations. Players spoke highly of the Hospital for Special Surgery doctors, but almost uniformly said that they were pushed to play though injuries that would have landed them on the DL had they been with other organizations. Case in point: J.J. Putz was told by Dr. David Altchek he needed to have a bone spur removed from his elbow. The Mets advocated a cortisone shot. Putz had the injection, struggled for a month, then needed the procedure anyway. The two players who were treated conservatively —Ryan Church and David Wright— both put the negative physical effects behind them when they returned from the DL. Church was almost placed on the DL by accident, because Carlos Beltran had needed a cortisone shot at the time and Church was deactivated as a way to get another outfielder onto the roster. Public pressure to put Wright on the DL after his concussion perhaps influenced that sound decision.
What in your opinion was the turning point from this season being a disappointing injury-plagued season to an embarrassing 70-win season?
Adam Rubin: I’m not sure I can define one moment. In a three-week stretch in July the Mets dropped from one game to 10 games behind the Phillies.
The Mets talk about accountability, yet retained the GM, manager, and most of the coaching staff. Do they realize how this rings hollow to the fan base, and do you have any idea why they’re giving this group another chance?
Adam Rubin: I don’t see how returning substantially the same staff and roster will result in excitement among the fan base, but 2010 clearly is make of break for Omar Minaya and Jerry Manuel, so the change may be coming soon.
How much should we read into the Mets talking to JP Ricciardi, Kevin Towers and Wally Backman? From the outside looking in, it almost appears like the Wilpons are forcing Omar and Manuel to hire eventual replacements to make for an easier transition.
Adam Rubin: Clearly those people would be capable of stepping into the GM or manager’s role if someone were fired next season, so perhaps there’s merit to what you’re suggesting. However, Minaya’s closest advisers are rapidly disappearing—Tony Bernazard (fired), Sandy Johnson (likely retiring), Ramon Pena (dismissed) — so why not hire competent people? Backman’s credentials are impeccable, and I’m sure if he’s assigned to Binghamton that would be a boon to the Double-A club’s marketability, which would be a nice gesture after this year’s woeful season there.
The Mets fired Tony Bernazard and several high-ranking members of the minor league front office and managerial staff. Are you encouraged or discouraged by the moves made so far?
Adam Rubin: I can’t really say either. I can’t say there’s been any surprise. Mako Oliveras, the Double-A manager, was brought into the organization by Tony Bernazard. The reviews of Julio Franco as a manager were poor. One scout asked me, “What is he teaching them—how to style after they hit a ball?”
Let’s move away from off the field and talk a little bit about the players and personnel on it.
Wright had a disappointing power season. Should Met fans believe this is an off year for the young star or is he going to not be the power star he showed the previous seasons?
Adam Rubin: He may not reach 29 homers, his average of the previous four seasons, regularly again, but I expect improve power numbers next season. He was largely unprotected in the lineup and did get away from pulling balls, even though a lot of his power is to right-center. He and Jeff Francoeur will join Howard Johnson in Florida for a couple of weeks this offseason to try to rediscover their swings. I also believe Wright felt a lot of pressure to carry the team, which didn’t help. And the ballpark was a factor more so with Wright than other players because of the stark differences between Shea Stadium and Citi Field in right-center. I don’t know what the final number was, but hittrackeronline.com at one point determined Wright was deprived of eight homers by the new dimensions.
Jerry had to work with a AAA squad essentially, but the fundamentals of this team was severely lacking. How much blame should be attributed to jerry and his coaches, and should the Mets fans expect better or more of the same?
Adam Rubin: Lou Piniella had no success instilling baseball fundamentals in Angel Pagan either and eventually gave up, so it’s primarily on the players. While I wouldn’t advocate Jerry Manuel upstaging players, I would have preferred him being more punitive with playing time though after transgressions.
Are the Mets thinking depth or star power when planning this offseason? Most fans doubt they have the resources for both.
Adam Rubin: I don’t think the Mets are particularly fixable this winter. Any team with Jose Reyes (provided he’s healthy), Carlos Beltran, Johan Santana, David Wright and Francisco Rodriguez won’t be abysmal. However, the Mets should have the third or fourth best rotation in the NL East next year, depending on how you evaluate them versus the Marlins.
There is about a net of $30 million coming off the payroll, and I firmly believe the payroll will go down slightly this winter. How can it not with fewer tickets undoubtedly being sold this winter? Jeff Wilpon only maintained he would continue to have one of the game’s highest payrolls. You can shave $20 million off the payroll and that would still be true.
I think Daniel Murphy will be the first baseman, and the Mets will seek a power-hitting left fielder as well as a replacement at catcher for Brian Schneider—maybe Bengie Molina. I just don’t see the Mets outbidding teams for Matt Holliday or Jason Bay.
The Mets also will need an eighth-inning reliever and a second lefthander for the bullpen. Obviously, a top-tier starting pitcher would be beneficial to avoid the same reliance on Mike Pelfrey, Oliver Perez and John Maine.
Can all that be achieved if the Mets only spend $15-20 million on free agency? No way.
And I don’t foresee much of a farm impact in 2010. Jenrry Mejia could be a bullpen factor, but I would hesitate to predict that. And Ike Davis getting promoted midseason would mean Murphy is faltering.
Pelfrey may have been the most disappointing performer this past season. Was it Verducci syndrome? Bad defense? Lack of control? Lack of secondary pitches? No one seems to have an answer. Where do the Mets stand with Pelfrey and where should they?
Adam Rubin: I don’t think there was an innings-count effect, which is what the Verducci Effect says. I think it’s a combination of confidence and control. 2010 will be big in defining what type of career Pelfrey will have. Jerry Manuel tells Pelfrey his peers are pitchers such as Matt Cain. We’ll see.
Fans of yours are familiar with your work with Baseball America and know how knowledgeable you are of the farm. What prospects that maybe some fans do not know about should we keep an eye on?
Adam Rubin: Lefthander Juan Urbina, Ugeuth’s son, hasn’t thrown a pitch yet in a professional game but everyone is incredibly high on him. The biggest sleeper may be righthander Kyle Allen. Mike Antonini will get a look in spring training as a potential lefthander for the major-league pen.
Once again thank you for your time and I hope you have an enjoyable offseason.
Posted by Robert Z