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Getting Back To Work

Mike SteffanosTuesday, March 20, 2007
By Mike Steffanos

After a day off yesterday, the Mets kick it back into gear tonight with a game against the Orioles. Another good start by Mike Pelfrey will really put him in the driver seat for the fifth starter's job. I have to admit that I was hoping for Chan Ho Park to win the job out of camp and for Pelfrey to come up a month or two into the season. I really do think it takes a lot of pressure off a rookie when he breaks in with a club during the season rather than right out of camp. Still, it's hard to make a case for Park or any of the lesser candidates for the rotation with less than 2 weeks to go before the games start counting.

Yesterday I talked about a couple of articles that didn't impress me very much. Here are some recent ones that I really enjoyed:

In Sunday's New York Post, Kevin Kernan offers up a terrific profile of John Ricco, Tony Bernazard and Sandy Johnson, the guys behind the scenes who have contributed greatly to the successful makeover of a moribund Mets franchise. I like Omar a lot, and respect what he has accomplished here, but it's important to acknowledge that no one can do a huge job by himself. It's a credit to Minaya that he isn't afraid to surround himself with talented people:

Yes, Minaya's Men are a unique group. While so many teams have gone to the young guns' approach to leadership, the Mets have one of the most diverse leadership groups in the game. That is their strength and a big reason why they have gone from a team that was lost on the field to one of the more highly regarded franchises in the game.

Whenever the Mets make a move - big or small - it is discussed at length between Minaya, Bernazard, Ricco and Johnson. Four different backgrounds, four different opinions.

Ricco, 38, is the assistant GM. He came over from the Commissioner's Office, where he was the director of the contract salary administration. He looks quiet and studious, but can be sarcastic. He is the joker of the group. Think Eddie Haskell from "Leave It To Beaver."

Bernazard, 50, is VP of development, a former second baseman who spent 10 years in the majors. He was a special assistant with the Players Association, often sitting across the table from Ricco. Bernazard brings passion, knowledge and history.

Johnson, 68, is VP of scouting, the baseball lifer who first hired Minaya as a scout with the Rangers in 1985. He has seen it all and is not shy with his opinions. No one knows the 48-year-old Minaya better than Johnson. "You could see right away he was a people person," Johnson says of when he first hired Minaya.

Minaya the people person is not afraid to surround himself with talented people.

"We all came from different backgrounds and that's a credit to Omar," Ricco says. "He does that in all walks of life, he brings people together. You got the former big-league player in Tony, you got the grouchy, old scout in Sandy and you got the bookworm in me, and somehow we not only co-exist, but work well together. We are constantly coming at things with different views and that's what gives us strength."

... When Omar and his front-office team first came together in November of 2004, they knew where the franchise stood.

"The Mets were an irrelevant organization," Bernazard says of that time. "Players did not want to come here. That's one of the first things I told Omar, I heard it all the time. I was in tune with the players. We had to change that."

They did just that, signing Pedro Martinez. Since the Red Sox lost Pedro, they have been swept away in the first round of the 2005 playoffs and finished in third place in 2006 while the Mets have been moving forward. "We have to keep pushing," Bernazard says.

"You voice your opinion," Johnson says of the meetings. "Hey, don't ask me if you don't want answers. It's pretty informal and we just shoot from the hip. That's the way I've always done it. I'm not changing now, for cripes sake. I'm on the back nine."

"We argue over everything," Ricco says.

"I allow them to express their opinions," Minaya says with a chuckle. "I cherish experience and track record and I also value statistical information, bringing in young guys. I think it's important to think outside the box. I always tell them, 'Don't be afraid to disagree with the general manager.'"

Contrast the above with the way the franchise had been run for over a decade before Minaya was hired. The changes to this organization go much deeper than good trades and marquee free agent signings. Not only is it fun to be a Mets fan now, but I feel fairly secure for the first time since the 1980s that it's likely to still be fun 2 or 3 years down the road.

In a similar vein, MinorLeagueBaseball.com's Kevin T. Czerwinski discusses the keys to the Mets' successful efforts in scouting and developing Latin American ballplayers, while John Delcos of the The Journal News highlights the team's efforts to teach Mets minor leaguers more than baseball skills.

House Update
Regular readers of this blog know that Lisa and I are in the process of buying a house. It dragged on for a while, thanks mostly to negotiations over removal of some asbestos that turned up, but finally the closing is set for Friday.

Literary Happenings
Pete Hadrinos, who wrote the terrific book The Best New York Sports Arguments, will be appearing at the Barnes & Noble bookstore at 86th street and 2nd Avenue tonight at 7 PM.

Geoff Young, author of the Ducksnorts blog who was kind enough to share a scouting report on Chan Ho Park with us a while back, has published the Ducksnorts 2007 Baseball Annual. According to Geoff:

It features analysis and commentary on the current San Diego Padres, as well as some historical information and lessons the organization can learn from other successful "small market" teams around MLB. The book runs 193 pages and includes a foreword by Padres CEO Sandy Alderson.

Good luck, Geoff.

About Mike: I was the original writer on this web site, actually its only writer for the first 15 months of existence. Although I am grateful for the excellent contributions of my fellow writers here, I have no plans of stepping back into strictly an editorial role. I started this thing in the first place because I love to write and I love the Mets, and blogging here keeps me somewhat sane. If you haven't had enough already, more bio info can be found here.

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Comments (7)

Pelfrey's line tonite against the O's: 5 IP, 7 hits, 1 ER. If he ain't in the rotation, there'll be a lotta ticked-off Met fans...

Great news on yer house, Mike & Lisa! Is it too much to hope you'll be moved in by Opening Day? If not, life goes on; just don't over-extend that ancient body and let some younger studs do the heavy lifting.

Congratulations on the house Mike and Lisa!

The article on Minaya's army is a great read and a nice glimpse into the Mets brain-trust. I finally have faith we'll be under proper guidance as an organization for years to come.

Pelfrey just had another great outing tonight. Once again, he found himself in some trouble here and there, but was poised on the mound and got himself quietly out of each inning but the first. His use of offspeed pitches tonight kept Orioles hitters completely off balance with his wicked sinker. I love seeing a power pitcher use his brain and not try to strike everyone out. This kid is a keeper.

And how about Joe Smith? Say what you will about his lack of experience, the kid's stuff is plain nasty. I have no doubt he will be a major contributor this year, whether it be out of the gates or a few months into the season.

The present and the future both look bright.

Final: Mets 6, O's 1. Out goes the bad air, in comes the good.

Discuss amongst yerselves...

Congrats on the house! That's a big deal. I hope you enjoy the time you spend living there.

What goes for Pelfrey and Smith also goes for Milledge in my book. I've been high on him since I watched him rip up AA. He's had a torrid Spring and deserves some kind of assurance that he'll be brought up to the major leagues very soon. Granted, Shawn Green is a veteran and deserves his respect for that, but you'd have to be crazy to hold Milledge back any longer.

Mike - Have fun on Friday. You and Lisa make sure you bring plenty of pens with plenty of ink, because all you'll be doing is signing things for an hour and a half.

Just make believe you're autographing copies of "Mike's Mets: The Book" at Barnes & Nobles in Hackensack.

As for "Minaya's Men", think back to previous GMs' regimes. Think on how many of them, if any, actually had fun running the Mets. I wonder how many of them actually had an inner circle, made up of guys who weren't just yes men, to whom they actually listened. That's a key to success, for me. If you enjoy what you do for a living, and aren't afraid to admit you don't know everything, you'll probably do your job much better than most.

Back in the old days I held the opinion that Steve Phillips had a job because he spoke that corporate non-speak that reminded Wilpon of home. The man could use more words to say less than anyone I had ever seen; maybe that's the way they talk at Shearman and Sterling.

Great story by Kevin Kernan, which is something I don't get to type often. It's interesting to read of Minaya's decision-making team. Anderson's name is somewhat familiar, and Tony Bernazard is known to anyone who read the old Bill James abstracts; he was one of those players regularly mentioned as a smart player, better than his reputation (in other words he could take a base on balls and had a wide array of midlevel skills). But I didn't know about the four man team, and I certainly didn't know that Omar had hired the first man to hire him into the baseball world. It says a lot about both men, doesn't it?

Regarding Pelfrey, I agree that bringing him up with the season is in progress might be the safest, most stress-free approach. But, forgetting the immediate needs of the team for a moment, I can see advantages to having him on board and starting from the outset.

For one thing, Pelfrey will be pitching wherever he lands; I doubt the strain on his young arm will be very different whether that occurs here or in New Orleans.

My thought was more along the line of career management and the building of the franchise "brand." As had been discussed here before, the Mets are a team with a history of some success but few long term stars; damn few, in comparison even with some of the other expansion teams. Well, having Mike log a full season in the majors for his rookie year is a small move to begin correcting that. Some day I want to be able to look up the records of my favorite team and see a number of player entries like the Reds have with Barry Larkin, like the Yankees have with Williams, Jeter, Riveria and Posada. The Mets should want that, too; it's how you build tradition, presence, permanance. It's how your team carves out territory in a city you share with another team with a record of massive success. If Mike starts the year in the rotation and has a good season over 175 innings or so, then hey: we've got another young star. THAT is something.

Your team gets to be a permanent force in the baseball universe by signing and developing good players such as Milledge, Gomez, Martinez, Pelfrey and Humber, and then playing them when they prove they are ready. Turning a young player into a frequent flyer between the farm system and the big club doesn't help his development or the team's net value, any more than would trading Milledge for this year's version of Mlicki and Paul Byrd, or taking a promising young shortstop and moving him to second to accomodate an unknown import. In deciding matters such as this, your team shouldn't ONLY consider the impact on the team's image -- but you're crazy or foolish if you don't consider it at all.

The Yankees put up with some growing pains from Bernie Williams. Remember ol' Deer in the Headlights Bernie, lost at the plate, getting thrown out on the basepaths? The Yankees treated him like be belonged and eventually he did.

In this matter alone I think the Mets should emulate the Yankees.

Geezer - A lot of work needs to be done before we move in. We're hoping for May 1.
Salman - Thanks for the congrats. Can't argue with you on Smith.
Matt - Thanks. I think Green gets one more chance to prove he can hit in April. If he could recover some of his former power he could balance the lineup. Unless they trade him for a pitcher, it's only a matter of time before Milledge comes up, anyway.
NostraDennis - I've always found that truly gifted people surround themselves with really smart people who disagree with them sometimes. Minaya proves the point.
dd - great comment. I'm certainly not against Pelfrey winning the job out of camp.

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