Mailbag: What changes are to come?
Beat reporter Marty Noble answers questions from Mets fans
I agree with the decision of Omar Minaya not to fire Willie Randolph. I believe Randolph deserved another chance. This was his first experience in a pennant chase; the Mets ran away with it all in 2006. My question is, what about the coaches? It has been said that Howard Johnson has been very good for David Wright, and the offense was pretty consistent down the stretch. But I would have thought with all the postseason experience Rickey Henderson had, he could have helped prepare the team a little better. Do you think he had a positive impact on the team, and should he should be brought back next year?
-- Adam G., Danbury, Conn.
In the last days of the pennant race, a number of players -- Wright and Paul Lo Duca most conspicuously -- said "This is on us" and "We did this to ourselves" and exonerated Randolph. So, you are not alone in your sense of what happened. At that same time, no manager who endures a collapse of this magnitude is completely without fault. But Randolph's role in this collapse was relatively minor and indirect.
The bullpen was the primary culprit. I'm sure that I'm not the first person to point to that.
I never have seen one component of a Mets team perform so poorly for so extended a period, except for the offense of the teams of the late 1970s and early 1980s and the pitching of the teams of 1993-96. And in those respective instances, there were few periods of effective production and effective pitching.
In contrast, the 2007 bullpen was mostly reliable until mid-summer, and then it ran off the road. Part of the problem was the inability of the starters to pitch deep into games, but in that regard, the Mets were no different from other supposedly quality teams.
I thought moving Jorge Sosa to the bullpen was a good move. His performance as a starter had soured. And he performed well as a reliever for a while. But it was shortly after his move that the 'pen fell apart. Relievers began to complain -- privately -- about how they were used. And it did become more difficult to predict who would step from the bullpen in a given situation.
Randolph said from the beginning of the season the roles of the relievers would be less defined than they became in 2006. The pitchers involved seemed to suffer from the absence of definition in August. Randolph wanted outs and didn't believe defined roles were essential. Though he didn't say it, he seemed to adopt Dallas Green's bottom-line philosophy about roles:
"You want to know your roles?" Green said, in early 1995. "OK. If I put you on the mound, get somebody out. If I put you in the batter's box, get a hit. And if I put you in the field, catch the ball."
The pitchers didn't respond to the situation; it became an issue for them. And even if they were wrong to feel that way, it was the way they felt. I don't think Randolph addressed their feelings. And that's as much blame as he deserves for the bullpen's considerable shortfall. But there was no rule that prevented the relievers from getting outs, even when their roles weren't clear.
Now, about the coaches: Unless Jerry Manuel is hired away, I don't suppose any change will happen other than Henderson not returning. My impression is that the club had no intention of retaining Henderson as a full-time coach when he was appointed at the All-Star break. And I'm told that hasn't changed.
Henderson worked informally with the players -- Jose Reyes, Carlos Gomez, Lastings Milledge, Ruben Gotay. There wasn't a specified time he would spend with certain players as there was for Howard Johnson and the hitters. But this sense that he was somehow responsible for Reyes' steep, second-half decline is without merit.
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The first signs of Reyes' decline predated Henderson's arrival. Twice in the Mets series in Detroit, in June, Reyes was guilty of lack of hustle. And exactly what could Henderson have done to prompt Reyes not to cover second base as happened repeatedly in the second half?
I heard an interview with Randolph on WFAN from October 3. He said Minaya is in the clubhouse after games to discuss strategy and things that can be done differently during the game. Is that the GM's job? I think that the front office should stay out of the clubhouse after games. That is why there is a GM and a manager. What are your thoughts on this matter?
-- Rick H., Union, N.J.
The presence of the general managers in the clubhouse is relatively new to the game and more widespread than I recall it in the '70s and '80s with the Mets and Yankees. Frank Cashen, the Mets GM in the '80s, wanted a club executive -- Joe Mclvaine or Al Harazin in those days -- with the team on the road. Few other clubs made a practice of that at the time.
General managers generally are more visible these days before and after games. It can become a sensitive issue, as you might expect, if the manager and the GM aren't getting along or if the manager believes the clubhouse is his domain. But general managers certainly have the right to be in the clubhouse and, before the game, on the field. And, to some degree, they relieve the manager of some of his pregame duties with the media.
All that said, I'm not sure managers generally are comfortable with the everyday presence of general managers and their assistants, with the notable exception of Bobby Cox and John Schuerholz in Atlanta. And I think Joe Torre and Brian Cashman are comfortable with each other. Which is not to say a problem exists between Randolph and Minaya. I've never heard Randolph question Minaya's presence or right to be in the clubhouse or indicate any sense of trouble. I can't say the same about Bobby Valentine and Steve Phillips.
Is there any chance for happiness for Lastings Milledge with the Mets? He obviously has a great deal of talent. But will he ever get the chance here? Randolph seems to hate him. None of the pitching staff ever protected Milledge when he was regularly pummeled by fastballs from other teams. I think it is an absolute disgrace the way that young man has been treated. What is your take?
Also, everyone is clamoring for the bullpen to be blown to smithereens. Getting rid of everyone and starting over is very unlikely. Who do you think the Mets should hang on to and who will be gone?
-- Pete S., Clinton Corners, N.Y.
Milledge can find happiness in New York -- if he remains with the Mets. And he would be well-advised to demonstrate whatever happiness he does experience more discreetly. Whether the Marlins had a right to be offended by his on-field celebrating Sept. 29 isn't the issue. And what role that offense may have played in a seven-run inning the next day is an unknown.
But Milledge has been told more than twice to cool it. He hasn't heeded the advice as much as he might have. Moises Alou's productive hitting -- and that of Shawn Green -- in September made playing time in left and right field less available to Milledge. And Milledge's troubles in right field combined with Gomez's superior speed and arm prompted Randolph to start Gomez in right when the Mets faced a left-handed starter.
And I had zero sense that Randolph hates Milledge. He often made a point of defending him.
I don't believe what you consider a lack of retaliation by the Mets pitchers is that at all. Milledge typically is hit in the hands, wrists and forearms -- and he does crowd the plate. Because he is hit doesn't mean opposing pitchers are aiming to do so.
Much of the criticism directed at Milledge in two seasons has been prompted by his own missteps. But he seems to have made progress in that area and on the field. Knowing the number of outs would be helpful in the latter regard.
Now, for the bullpen: I don't suppose the 'pen will be nuked. Certainly Billy Wagner, Aaron Heilman and Pedro Feliciano will not be jettisoned. I believe Jorge Sosa can be of use if he ever learns to mix his pitches. And we haven't seen enough of Joe Smith to know what he will be. I can see Scott Schoeneweis returning; he does have a contract. Another long man will replace Aaron Sele -- probably not Dave Williams or Jason Vargas. I don't see any way the club can bring Guillermo Mota back. Nor do I see another club clamoring for his services. In his 1 1/2 seasons with the Mets, I've never understood Mota's presence on the roster.
I am undecided on whether I want Tom Glavine back for next season. Although he came up small in his last three starts, he did provide many quality starts during the course of a very long season. If I had to make the decision today, I would say no to his return, simply so Phil Humber would get a chance to make the rotation. Do you have an opinion?
-- Fred S., Doylestown, Pa.
My sense of it is that the Mets will be damaged by Glavine's absence if it comes to pass next season -- and I think it will. How will they replace the 189 innings, 13 victories and the 3.88 ERA he produced in his first 31 starts? Based on what they showed in '07, neither Humber nor Mike Pelfrey is ready to win 13 games, approach 200 innings or produce an ERA lower than 4.00 in 30 starts.
If the Mets had 10 more players with Glavine's professionalism and resolve, their season would've extended beyond 162 games. Moreover, what I heard on WFAN Tuesday morning in the Mets clubhouse stunned me. One of the brothers of the drive-time alarmists said he never wanted to see Tom Glavine in a Mets uniform again. Be serious.
This may sound a little crazy, but what about a deal that sends Carlos Beltran to the Braves for Mark Teixeira? The Mets have their outfield of the future with Milledge, Gomez and Fernando Martinez, and Teixeira would add some stability to the infield, making both Reyes and Wright better.
-- Sean C., Brooklyn, N.Y.
Yes, the Braves need a center fielder. But they never would make that deal -- even with a pitcher thrown in. You can make an argument that the production of Beltran and Teixeira is comparable and that both are Gold Glove winners. But Teixeira is three years younger. He also has played 162 games in two of the last three seasons.
Beltran appeared more willing to play hurt late in the season after some urging from Moises Alou, and that bodes well for next season if a carryover happens. But I can't believe the Braves would have an interest in dealing Teixeira, and Beltran's contract includes a no-trade provision.
I can't find this anywhere, so I hope you can help me. When does Scott Kazmir become a free agent? All we hear about as possible big-name pitchers are Johan Santana and Dontrelle Willis, who hasn't been exactly stellar for quite some time. Is Kazmir a free-agent possibility for the Mets in the near future, or is he signed to a long-term deal with Tampa Bay?
-- Dan S., Harleysville, Pa.
Kazmir has three years, 42 days of big league service. Six years are necessary for free-agent eligibility. A service year equals 172 days.
I'm a lifelong Met fan, dating to 1962. But I must have missed word of what happened to Duaner Sanchez. I know he was in a cab accident in 2006. I read he's on the 60-day disabled list. Is he ever coming back?
-- Ken G.
Sanchez came to Spring Training in less than good shape and incurred the wrath of Willie Randolph when he was late for his limited workouts. He made one brief appearance on a mound -- not in a game -- in late March and experienced pain. Examination detected a hairline fracture of a small bone, the coracoid, in the front of his right shoulder. It was repaired, and Sanchez missed the remainder of the season. He is expected to be in Spring Training.
With all of the possible free agents that will be available in the offseason, what free agents should the Mets target to become stronger next season? What are the chances of acquiring Willis? And what will the Mets have to give up to get him?
-- Andrew T., Elmira, N.Y.
Willis isn't an attractive pitcher after his disappointing 2007 season. He had a 5.17 ERA and, for the second straight season, a losing record. Since his 22-10 season in 2005, Willis has won 22 games and lost 27 in 69 starts. He has pitched more than 200 innings for three straight seasons and he doesn't turn 26 until January.
But the Mets would have to consider him fixable -- more than Victor Zambrano was -- before considering a pursuit of a trade for him.
Also, there is a possible issue about him now. Ron Darling mentioned it on the last telecast of the season Sept. 30, that as Willis has grown, his body has become wider and thicker, and that the change has affected the movement of his pitches.
Former Mets GM McIlvaine made a similar observation about Dwight Gooden in the late '80s, that changes in his physique robbed him of the whipping arm action that had made his fastball so effective in 1984 and 1985.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.