The Wilpons, The Mets, and The Future: It’s Complicated

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Decisions...Decisions...Sandy Aldersen Or Josh Byrnes ?

As the San Francisco Giants and Texas Rangers get ready to meet in the 2010 World Series, the fans of the New York Mets are cautiously optimistic about the future of their team.

Either Sandy Alderson or Josh Byrnes are about to be named the team’s 12th General Manager, and no matter who gets the title, one thing is for certain; the “Mets Way” of doing business is about to change dramatically.

(The situation is  illustrated, at the left, by the amazing John Petruccio at http://mymetsjournal.blogspot.com)

Each section of the fan base has his/her favorite candidate, and to be honest, the Chicago White Sox longtime assistant GM Rick Hahn’s absence from the final round of interviews seems to be more disappointing to most.

I had, incorrectly as it turns out, had been leery of Hahn’s candidacy for several reasons, not the least of which was his standing as a University of Michigan graduate. Fred Wilpon’s decision-making in the selection of power brokers for his club has been often linked to past or personal associations. While it may be true that many — if not all — MLB clubs operate in this fashion, the elder Wilpon’s track record is less than optimal.

In any case, the point is moot. For whatever reason, the Wilpons have decided to push through GM candidates that have already served as General Managers previously. Given the task at hand, this reasoning seems logical. There are so many things that need to be addressed in this organization, only someone who has already had the responsibility of manning the reins of a franchise seems to fit the job description.

Neither candidate is perfect. To many observers, Byrnes ultimately lost his job in Arizona because he made the “mistake” of hiring a inexperienced manager to run the Diamondbacks. In a superb column by Albert Lyu for FullCountPitch.com, the decision to out Byrnes was far more complicated:

Byrnes was somehow given an 8-year extension that would have lasted to 2015, but was fired abruptly two years into the new contract. It is worth noting that Byrnes reportedly continued his support for Hinch even into this season. The timing of the firings is most concerning, as it is possible that the firing of Hinch had already been decided by the ownership, and that Byrnes was let go because of communication or insubordination problems. Whether Byrnes had an incessant support for Hinch and whether that was one of many disagreements Byrnes had with the ownership, the fans and media can only speculate. One would like to think that Byrnes was fired because he did not make decisions up to the standards of the ownership, given the financial and budget constraints that the Diamondbacks had given to him. Yet, the intentions of an organizational decision cannot be so simply defined, and the organization that Byrnes once served may be among the most dysfunctional in baseball.

Josh Byrnes is by no means the first young general manager with a sharp, quantitative background to be let go abruptly, as Paul DePodesta with the 2005 Dodgers comes to mind. Yet, the trail that Byrnes left behind and the timing of the firing in midseason speaks of the possibility of a panicked overreaction by the ownership to the lack of wins. Byrnes was given the go-ahead with big decisions this offseason and even earlier this season with LaRoche, Johnson, Edwin and Conor Jackson. Then the D’Backs all of a sudden did not feel that Byrnes should be making decisions with less than one month before the trading deadline with an imminent firesale coming along. The ownership lost complete faith in Byrnes’ leadership and process, and did not want Byrnes at the helm calling the shots as the Diamondbacks look to rebuild.

You can look at Byrnes’ transactional history and pick and choose which of his deals made sense. but ultimately, while one can criticize his decision to hire A.J. Hinch as reckless, his commitment to his manager — to the point that it cost him his job — is commendable. Whether or not his “second chance” to run an organization is now, or in New York, is a complicated question.

Far too often in Flushing, the GM and the manager have been at odds. Part of that has been timing; Steve Phillips inheriting Bobby Valentine, and Jim Duquette being stuck with Art Howe. Others have pointed out that a true chain of command has muddled the works, as the Wilpons “collegial” organizational structure has given subordinates of the GM and manager inappropriate access to ownership.

Byrnes couldn’t keep the jumble of “experts” in the Diamondbacks’ ownership and management off his back, one could ask how can he be expected to deal with the above? I’m not sure he can.

Sandy Alderson, on the other hand, would seem to be the exactly what the Mets need.

According to former A’s manager Tony La Russa, who worked for Alderson in Oakland from 1986-1997 (as quoted by the excellent Christian Red In the Oct 23rd edition of the New York Daily News), his former boss is up to the task:

What impressed La Russa early on was that Alderson “didn’t make any pretense that he had all the answers before he started to have them.”

“He surrounded himself with good men. You could tell he was learning. In the minor leagues he had great people like Karl Kuehl,” said La Russa, referring to the late long-time scout and former A’s head of player development. “You could tell that Sandy was picking their brain and learning at a major-league level. He’s just really sharp. He soaks everything up. He’s a terrific combination – smarts, integrity. And because it’s a professional sport, he’s very competitive.”

(Hat tip to MetsFever for the link)

Byrnes is intriguing, but would be far better suited to be part of Alderson’s utilmate plan of attack to fix the Mets. In fact, one might surmise that having Alderson as President of Baseball Operations, and Brynes as GM might make a whole lot of sense. All indications are that the Mets will hire only one of them. Besides, the Mets already have a President, Fred Wilpon’s brother-in-law Saul Katz. No one seems to know what role Katz plays in the overall decision-making process, but he will have a vote as to who the next GM is.

Like I said, things are going to change. How much or how little remains to be seen, because it’s complicated.

***


For those of you who missed it, Matt Cerrone of MetsBlog.com joined the broadcast of “Baseball Digest LIVE” last week to discuss the future of the New York Mets. It was a interesting interview, and with the subsequent calls and live chat questions from Mets fans, several thought-provoking issues came up. You can listen to Matt’s interview an the rest of the show here.

Mark Healey is the Online Editor Of Baseball Digest, the Founding Editor of Gotham Baseball and the host of Baseball Digest Live. You can follow him on Twitter @BaseballDigest9.

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