Jerry Manuel’s First Move: Less Batting Practice for Mets

The last time we discussed teams doing less batting practice, it was during the playoffs when the Angels were pimp-slapped by Curt Schilling in Game 3. Needless to say, they didn’t perform well. And that brings us to Jerry Manuel, the newly appointed manager of the Mets. One of his first moves as the team’s skipper was to cut down on the amount of batting practice the players take before games.

Jerry Manuel wants quality swings during batting practice, not mind-numbing repetition. The Mets normally go with four shifts of eight swings each, and then rotate groups. Manuel has chopped those in half after noticing a lot of tired swings in games.

Well, nobody ever said Manuel wasn’t an independent thinker. Somehow having the team practice less isn’t exactly the message I would think you’d want to be sending to the media. But if it produces results, that’s all that matters. Besides, Manuel’s approach is quality over quantity. Not that rounds of eight swings is anything too much to begin with. Whatev. I doubt this was a change that really needed to be instituted.

Omar Minaya Gave Willie Randolph Extra Time Because He’s African American

I’m glad Omar Minaya held his press conference so he could answer a lot of the questions regarding the firing of Willie Randolph. For instance, it explained why Minaya waited until the first day of a road trip and why the news came overnight. Additionally, there was one element of Minaya’s news conference that stood out to me, aside from the fact that he talked out of both sides of his mouth: race had a large role in Minaya’s decision. Omar made it well-known that Randolph was given plenty of time and chances because he’s African American, and because he had a vested interest in seeing Randolph succeed. Just read some of the things he said, or watch it:

“Willie was my hire. It was my decision, and I decided to fire Willie. It was my decision. A tough decision, but it was my decision. And it’s a tough one. I say it’s tough. Why? Because I hired him, one. He is the first African American manager in the history of New York baseball. I’m the first Hispanic general manager in baseball. When you have that bond, there’s a connection. And myself, giving Willie that chance to manage, it took me time to make this decision. It wasn’t easy, but it had to be done.”

“I have vested interested in Willie Randolph doing good … because I hired him. Willie Randolph is a reflection of my judgment. Like myself, I went to eight to ten, 12 interviews. Willie Randolph went to 12. He was not given an opportunity. I felt he should be given an opportunity. I feel as a general manager, to give the first African American an opportunity in New York, it’s important to the history of this franchise, and even more important, it’s important to our ownership. And to me, this is a very tough decision.

So there you go. If you were ever wondering why Randolph wasn’t canned at the end of last season, where it was certainly called for, it’s because Minaya wanted to give Randolph as many chances as possible to succeed. Ditto for why he hadn’t been fired any one of the other bagillion times there was a rumor he would do so over the last six weeks. I think it’s understandable that Minaya felt this way, but I’m surprised he actually admitted it in public. I think it’s actually worse in the end that Minaya fired him in the middle of the season instead of just giving him the year. But I guess he’s trying to do anything now to save his skin.

Mets Finally Fire Willie Randolph

Wow, this is nuts. Imagine my surprise to happen upon this story, the night after a Mets win no less. The Mets have apparently announced the firing of manager Willie Randolph, ending weeks of speculation that he would be canned. I guess now we know why Omar Minaya made the trip out to the West Coast. And if you thought Randolph’s head would be the only one chopped, you were wrong. In a massive purge, pitching coach Rick Peterson and first base coach Tom Nieto were also fired. Jerry Manuel will serve as interim manager, with three other men joining the staff (mostly promoted from the minors).

I just can’t understand the timing of this move. Why now? Why after a win? Why the day after the team started a road trip? Why not last week, why not after getting swept by the Padres? The timing doesn’t make sense to me in either the short-run or the big picture. If you were going to fire the guy, I have maintained, you should have done it after last year’s collapse. That was enough ammo to bring out the execution squad. It’s like a death penalty; you preside over such a debacle, you should be gone. But if you decide to hang onto the guy and let him try again next season, give him a legit shot. Don’t just bag him and make his life miserable for 70 games with the team injury-plagued and hovering around .500. What would you prefer, to be up 15 at this point like last year and have everyone recounting stories of the collapse?

Since the Mets decided to give Willie another shot, which was probably a bad idea to begin with, they did Willie and themselves a serious disservice by not giving him the full year. Now things are a mess and a new group of guys are coming in. At least the speculation about job security will be gone for the moment. Additionally, who’s to say the below average start was all on Willie this year? I do believe that Pedro, El Duque, and Moises Alou were all Omar Minaya signings. Aging players who spent serious time on the D.L. this year can’t exactly help Randolph on the field. And Willie’s not the one who signed Delgado to a big deal, a player who’s massively underperformed. Sure people can rave about the payroll, but that doesn’t mean it was all money well spent. Some of this falls on Omar, and if the team fails to right the ship, he’ll be gone, too.

Note: In his press conference on Tuesday to explain the process, Minaya said that he decided on Sunday night he was going to fire Randolph but wanted to sleep on the decision. Minaya didn’t change his mind and by Monday morning he was set on firing Willie, and only waited until after the game to do so. Minaya also didn’t show any favoritism towards individual reporters, sending a blanket statement to the press.

Omar Minaya Acquired Johan Santana for Prada Shoes

There’s an expression that exists to describe one-sided trades saying a player was traded for “a bucket of balls.” I’ve never really seen that happen, but I do know that Mets GM Omar Minaya got Prada shoes in the Johan Santana trade. Allow me to explain. Johan Santana is this edition of Sports Illustrated’s cover boy, and inside the magazine, Lee Jenkins writes the story of how Johan was acquired. As the tale goes, Mets’ COO Jeff Wilpon doubted Omar Minaya’s ability to trade for Santana, so he bet Minaya and promised him a pair of Prada shoes if Omar could pull off the deal. Now far be it for me to challenge Minaya’s taste in footwear, but seriously, Prada shoes? The last time I remember those being relevant was in Legally Blonde, when they were used as a key piece of information to tip Elle off that the pool man was gay. Anywhoo, as soon as the trade was completed …

[Omar] drove to Richards, a clothing store near [Minaya's home] in Greenwich, Conn. He ordered a pair of black Prada lace tips and had them shipped to Port St. Lucie. When Minaya arrived at spring training, the shoes were waiting for him.

All I have to say … if the Mets get off to a shaky start, will Omar be tapping his feet at Johan in his “last season Prada chews.” Wow, just wow.

Johan Santana Does Not Make the Mets a World Series Winner

Sorry to deflate the balloon of all you Mets fans out there — and I know there are many of you — but I don’t think this trade (if it goes through) will mean a ring for your team. By acquiring the top pitcher in the game, you have become even more of a contender than you were before. But even with Johan Santana, do you still give the edge to the Mets over the Diamondbacks in the playoffs? That would be hard for me to do. Furthermore, the seminal Johan Santana moment for me — and this coming from one of his top fans going back many years — is when he got out-pitched by Barry Zito Game 1 of the ALDS at home, getting bombed on by the Big Hurt. I know Johan’s beaten the Yankees at Yankee Stadium in the playoffs, but I haven’t seen him rise his game in the post-season the way Josh Beckett has. And the Red Sox have Beckett, making them my favorite to win it all almost every year.

I’m not saying Johan Santana isn’t a great pitcher, and I don’t want to knock him down. I just have a really bad feeling about him leaving Minnesota. The four-year $80 million offer the Twins made seemed pretty good to me. I know Johan will probably bag $150-160 million guaranteed and be set for life (not to mention be on a well-funded, more competitive team), but I have a really bad feeling about him playing somewhere else. I don’t think he’ll be the same; I can see the extra media attention, pressure, or even injuries plaguing him. I really think staying in Minnesota for the four years and $80 million, plus another 3-4 year deal after that for an additional $75 million or so was probably the way to go rather than what he’ll likely get from the Mets. It’s not often that stars from small-market teams work out well when they sign monster deals with New York teams. I just hope Johan does well enough to the point where he’s going to Cooperstown wearing a Mets jersey.

And as far as the trade on the Twins’ side goes, it’s far too early to tell how this will pan out (if it goes down). You need at least five years to see what becomes of the four prospects they’re receiving. I’m being told Minnesota didn’t even get the Mets’ top prospects, but nobody can really comment until we see how they all pan out. What I do believe is that the Twins could have received a few major-league ready players from either the Red Sox or Yankees, but they didn’t pull the trigger. If you believe those reports (which nobody outside the actual negotiations really knows), then I think Aaron Gleeman summed it up best saying Smith slow-played a monster hand and didn’t get paid off. That seems about right to me. Oh yeah, and check out Johan’s Baseball-Reference page while you’re at it to see his post-season stats. Gleeman also sponsors the page and his comment there is hilarious.

Morning Paper: Congrats to the Mets!

Mets fans, get your NL East division title T-Shirts! [Deuce of Davenport]

Price listings on fire (insert coach) .com sites [100% Injury Rate]

ESPN censoring talk of picking up NHL coverage? [Awful Announcing]

Pamela Anderson marrying Paris Hilton sex tape star? [Hollywood Tuna]

ACC football porn names, always a crowd pleaser [The Extrapolater]

Quite possibly the best hit of the weekend [The Ghosts of Wayne Fontes]

Tongan rugby team being discriminated for hair color [SPORTSbyBROOKS]

Chad Johnson/Randy Moss tale of the tape [Christmas Ape at KSK]

Hilarious blog post title, believe me [Dlisted]

Diamondback rookies get their balls hazed off [AZ Sports Hub]

Baseball Preview: New York Mets

Last year’s record and finish are in parenthesis with projected improvement/decline indicated by plus or minus.

New York Mets (97-65, 1st in NL East) -7 games

Get Crunked: How’s this to start — it’s an American League lineup in the NL. That work? No? OK, it’s an AL East lineup in the NL. There you go. Their lineup and power is so ridiculous it’s not fair. Start things off with Jose Reyes who has tremendous power for a leadoff man, astounding speed, and has learned to lay off bad pitches, making him an MVP candidate. Carlos Beltran hits as well as he plays defense and runs the bases, which is to say awesome. Carlos Delgado is a slugger at first base. David Wright is a good all-around hitter and defender at third base. Moises Alou can still crush the ball in left field. And Billy Wagner is one of the better closers in baseball.

Party Foul: The rotation is garbage — for a first place team. I guess it’s befitting of a New York team and seems to be the common trend in the Big Apple. The big reason is because Pedro’s hurt, and they unexpectedly lost out on free agent Barry Zito. Losing Guillermo Mota to the suspension and Duaner Sanchez to injury severely hamper the bullpen as well. If you look at the pitching staff as a whole, it’s safe to say that it’s only average.

Jose Reyes, an elegant combination of power and speed

What’d my GM do: He failed to bring in a front line starter which will hurt the team come playoff time. He traded Brian Bannister to the Royals for Ambiorix Burgos, which will probably benefit the Mets more than KC. Acquiring Burgos was especially key now that Sanchez has gone down with the broken shoulder. Minaya also brought in Moises Alou on a one-year deal. I don’t care how old Moises is, even if he’s 50, just roll him into the batters box and he’ll crush a double. In all, it was a quiet off-season in Flushing.

Lay it on me Straight: The hitting is so head-and-shoulders above everyone else in the NL, it will automatically win the Mets 90 games. The pitching staff, both starters and bullpen, leave a lot to be desired. But the hitting is so good, the Mets are guaranteed to make the playoffs.

So where my boys gonna finish right now: They’ll be in first place, and it’s a credit to Minaya for spending his money wisely on Delgado, Beltran, and Alou, and the development of Wright and Reyes. Just don’t expect the division to be wrapped up in August like it was last year.

Can we be better than that: I think 93-94 wins is the ceiling for this year’s team since they don’t have Pedro, and the pen’s a little worse off. It’ll be another successful year for the Mets, just not a repeat of ’06.