By Mike Steffanos
I'll give the Mets some credit yesterday for trying to prove to all of us that the organization is determined to fix what has been broken over the last couple of years, but it seems to me that they've already made their first mistake of the off-season by electing to retain Jerry Manuel as manager.
While I can't blame Manuel for the endless string of injuries that sealed the Mets fate as far as making the playoffs, I have to hold the manager accountable for a season of sloppy fundamentals and three months of virtually unwatchable baseball.
The Mets dropped below .500 for the final time this season when they dropped the first game of a series against the Phillies on July 3 to fall to 39-40. Counting that loss, they went 31-52 the rest of the way. That translates to a 60 win season over a full 162 games. Indeed, it actually took a 3-game sweep of another team that was playing out the string to avoid the ignominy of a 60-something win season.
They went 8-20 in September and were swept in four series -- once each by Florida and Washington and twice by the Braves. Essentially they kept the Braves in the wild card picture for a couple of extra weeks.
For all of his faults, one thing for which I will always give former manager Willie Randolph credit is the way the 2005 Mets kept playing after falling out of playoff contention in early September.
Unfortunately for Willie, he undermined himself with his inability to deal with the New York media. While Jerry Manuel does himself a great service in that regard, I don't see any other area where his managerial skills exceed Randolph's admittedly mediocre talents as an in-game manager.
Manuel's handling of relief pitchers has been woeful, and I believe his reliance in "playing the hot hand" and running the same guys out every day sealed their fate in 2008 and had a lot to do with Parnell's mid-season struggles.
He has not shown himself adept at getting his team to play solid fundamental baseball, nor has he distinguished himself in his handling of young players.
He was not dealt a good hand with the injuries and some of the front office decisions, but his "go with the gut" decision making style compounded his problems.
In retrospect, Jerry's greatest strength in 2008 was that he was not Willie Randolph. The Mets decision to retain Randolph after the 2007 season proved to be a mistake. Keeping Jerry will likely prove to be another one. If the Mets don't get off to a fast start the speculation about his job will start immediately, and will be the same sort of distraction that Randolph's status was last year.
Even if the Mets were unwilling to spend the money on a name, they could have went with someone like Buffalo manager Ken Oberkfell, who was selected by Baseball America as their minor league manager of the year in 2005. They wouldn't need to invest a lot in either money or years to give Oberkfell a shot at a major league job.
Again, the injuries were a huge problem this year, and you certainly can't blame Jerry for that, but I do hold him accountable that the team took steps backward in fundamentals and bringing the effort.
By bringing back Manuel and all but two of his coaches, the Mets haven't done much to change the dynamic of leadership, and I suspect they will regret that. I could understand it if I could point to Manuel being an outstanding manager in any aspect of the game, but he simply is not.