Monday, October 1, 2007

Omar's Legacy and Willie's Woes

The state of Willie Randolph's job security is once again the eye of the storm among Met fans following the plunge. My vote remains consistent, and that is not to fire him. Willie is calm and Willie is dedicated, somewhat of an anomaly in the history of the usually neurotic franchise.

I am not in any way denying his shortcomings as a manager. Plainly, he has some difficulty grasping the intricacies of NL baseball, most notably in dealing with pinch-hitters and the bullpen. I don't really take issue with who he uses out of the 'pen or when he uses them, as the pickins have been pretty slim, but rather
how he uses them, and how he pinch-hits. Yesterday, for one, I'm not convinced that pinch-hitting Sandy Alomar and his sparkling .143 BA with one man on, thereby limiting Sosa's contribution to 1.2 IP, was a good idea. (If you don't recall, Alomar flied out)Too many times you will see a reliever enter a game to bail someone else out of an inning, only to be pinch-hit for in the bottom of the frame after throwing 1/3 of an inning. I suppose what I'm getting at is that Willie needs to learn to double switch, and he needs to not overvalue certain pinch-hitters (eg. Alomar, Newhan, Franco) when he needs to get what he can out of the 'pen.

Again, I don't question his ability as a motivator and mood-setter. In hindsight there were some things he could have done differently in this regard: slap Reyes around, slap Milledge around, communicate more with the pitching staff, etc. The thing is that he has had so much success in his managerial career, for 11 years as an assistant in the Bronx, and 3 years here, that "if it ain't broke don't fix it" probably came in to play. Up until the last week of the season, no matter what problems he had seen, his team had done nothing but win, and it seems as if the fear of damaging that held him back from making any major statements. I can understand that, right or wrong, and I think it's something that he as a manager can draw from in the future. He will never be fiery; it's not who he is, but let him fail more times than not before you pin him as a loser.

The same kind of delusion can be attributed to Omar. "If it ain't broke...". To me this offseason defines Omar's career. He arrived pre-05 with an overflowing wallet to play with and a store to shop in stocked with big new toys. I can't take away from the success of his moves that year, but to be fair, signing Pedro and Beltran were kind of no-brainers if one had the money to spend. The following offseason he impressed me a little more, but again, he didn't take many gambles. He finagled his way into the right moves. That I give him credit for. Last offseason, he was confident in the assertion that he had built a machine that had perhaps gotten unlucky in losing to the lowly Cards, so he stayed the course and didn't change much; went ahead with a patchwork rotation/pen.

Beyond that, the constant reliance on the proven vet vs. the up-and-comer proved lethal. I have been a defender of Shawn Green's, mostly because I don't see any reason to kill him like people have done, but the insistence on holding Milledge back only stunted the flow of the offense. Gotay was never given a chance to show what he could do pre-Castillo trade as a full-timer, after doing nothing but hit in his small chunk of work. Look around baseball: Pedroia, Buchholz, Ellsbury and Delcarmen in Boston; Joba, Kennedy and Hughes in the Bronx; Tulowitzki in Colorado; Braun and Gallardo in Milwaukee; it goes on. What were Mota, Sele or Brian Lawrence giving you that Humber couldn't have? When your vets aren't bringing you to that next level and you have potential in-house options, you have to give the youth a chance, especially with a cushion in the division like they had up until 2 weeks ago. But Omar and Willie stood pat, going with their guys, trying to ride out the wave. That didn't work, and now major, major moves have to be made to change the culture of a team that took a nosedive.

I don't blame Omar or Willie yet. Omar built the machine that brought the Mets back to relevance and Willie ran it. But now can they fix it?

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