Anxious Optimism

The recent announcement that Jerry Manuel and Omar Minaya will officially not be returning to their positions in 2011 has me anxious but relieved.

I have already gone through the list of potential replacements that the Mets will undoubtedly go through as they search for a new hierarchy to govern the team and its decisions, and while it’s unfortunate to see good baseball guys like Manuel and Minaya get fired, it was time for a change.

But even with this sense of relief, something frightens me.

This new General Manager (GM) and Manager will quite possibly be the most important hirings the Mets have made in their entire existence.  Is this statement a little dramatic? Yes. Is it the truth? Yes.

Let me explain. The current Mets team is a difficult roster to work with. They are not a team full of grizzled old veterans (that’s our cross-town team) and they are not a team that is full of young prospects who have barely seen the lights of the major leagues and are rebuilding. They are in-between.

While they may be an in-between franchise, the Mets only have one direction to go in – forward.

Our new GM must have a vision from day one, and stick to that vision. We can’t have a patchwork franchise that we had over the last few years, and cling to empty promises that “one more player” will bring us to the promised land.

As the team moves forward, they have to realize that rebuilding is not a true option. This team is built around two key players – David Wright and Jose Reyes. Both of whom are in their prime, and are two of the top players at their respective positions.  But it is important that the next GM acts fast. Wright and Reyes are extraordinary talents, and their prime years should not be wasted due to the ineptitude of the front office. The new GM should not trade Wright and Reyes, but rather be smart about the players they use to build around them, which is no easy task.

Not only are the players of the Mets in this liminal state, but the franchise itself is becoming irrelevant and the butt of jokes. In a town where winning is everything, the hip, explosive, interesting team of 2006 seems like a lifetime ago. The Mets’ attendance at Citi Field was down this year, and the Mets have become fourth or fifth fiddle to other sports teams in town.  The Mets’ management won’t only be looking for a new GM for next season; they will be looking for someone who will be able to transform a franchise. They will be looking for a savior.

The Mets wishlist for their GM is currently around seven people, all of whom have interesting characteristics thats make them attractive. The list is believed to include White Sox assistant GM Rick Hahn, former Twins GM Terry Ryan, former Oakland GM Sandy Alderson and former Cleveland/Texas GM John Hart.

I do believe this team needs an overhaul – but not a rebuilding fire sale type of overhaul.  I think that the core of this team (for the most part if you read my last column) is actually pretty solid. It’s the periphery players that need to change. The new GM needs to be able to change the way this team is seen, run and acts.

When our next GM begins to put their touches on the makeup of this team, I hope he or she recognizes the importance of character.  The Mets need players who are gritty, play the game hard and don’t take losing as an option. The 2008, 2009 and 2010 teams all were devoid of a true presence of character, where as the 2006 team was full of it. Players like Paul LoDuca, Cliff Floyd, Pedro Martinez and Billy Wagner all played with their heart on their sleeve, and made the Mets a force to be reckoned with.  These are the kind of players the Mets need to fill the gaps in their roster with.

The new GM needs to be able to find players that will give the Mets a sense of swagger and identity that we have lacked since 2006. We need to find players that will drill Chase Utley in the back for sliding into second like he did two weeks ago, instead of talking about it to the media and then saying they slid into second harder the next day.

Most of all, our next GM needs to find a true leader of the Mets. The new architect of the team will have to be able to wipe away the cloud that Carlos Beltran’s strikeout in 2006 cast over the team. He will need to recreate the Mets psyche, brand and public view.

We have a few players like this on the roster right now. Chris Carter and Josh Thole are two young players who seem to truly care about the game. Especially Carter, who has the nickname “The Animal,” due to his incredible work ethic and approach to the game.  These are the types of players the Mets need to use to fill in their roster.

I am an advocate of sabermetrics and the “Moneyball” approach to running a baseball team, but the Mets need something more than that. The Mets need someone who incorporates both a traditional and progressive view of baseball, and can apply these concepts to the mess of a roster the Mets have – which is not a trivial task. But, I have hope.

So yes, Mets fans, a new era of Mets baseball is about to begin. We have had to put up with the same mediocrity for the past four seasons, and I’m sure you are just as tired of it as I am.  We can hope that our next Manager and GM duo have a vision for this franchise, and can somehow unlock the potential that was evident all those years ago.  If they don’t act soon, it might be too late.