1. We are now well into the second season of the Sandy Alderson Regime in Queens. What tangible changes have you seen, and when do you expect them to start bearing fruit at the big league level? In general, how do you feel about the work Alderson and Co. have done so far?
So far, so good for the Sandy Alderson regime through the first year plus. As a fan, I think the greatest change has simply come from the rational decisions that they make and that's a huge breath of fresh air in comparison to the Minaya regime. For starters, they're concentrating on building through the farm system with young players and in years past, all of the young guys on the roster now likely wouldn't be starting (or with the organization at all). The previous regime loved their veterans and while there are some vets mixed into this team, this regime has mainly let the young guys play and learn from their mistakes. Beyond that, the farm system has changed rather dramatically. Under the Minaya regime (Tony Bernazard, specifically), the Mets often rushed their prospects through the system (take a look at the Minor League Baseball Reference pages of Ruben Tejada or Fernando Martinez and you'll get a sense of how quickly these guys got pushed). Under Paul DePodesta, who runs the minor league side, the team has slowed everyone down and they've been more apt to send guys a level below where you'd think they should be instead of a level or two ahead, as in years past. Also on the minor league side, the Mets finally became more aggressive in the draft, taking more high upside high school talent and going over the commissioner's slot recommendations. The 2011 draft looks to be a strong one and coupled with the acquisition of Zack Wheeler from the Giants and some of the players left over from the previous regime, the team is starting to build a strong base of young pitching.
At the Major League level, the obvious change is that the team has shied away from the big splash, which was the previous regime's specialty. Some of this has to do with the Wilpons' money issues, some also has to do with how far the team is away from contention but it also is based on the philosophy of the guys in charge. They are going to build from within, they'll bring in moderate pieces on short term deals to fill holes (Frank Francisco, Jon Rauch) and they'll look for under the radar guys (Chris Capuano, Chris Young) to try to get some bang for their buck. It doesn't always work (D.J. Carrasco was abysmal last year, for instance) but the cost is certainly not as prohibitive as it is when you throw buckets of money at the remains of Luis Castillo or when you bid against yourself for Oliver Perez. It seems like this regime is somewhat open to making bigger signings but only if they make sense and only once they have the means to do so (as in the team is winning and drawing well). Overall, I'm happy with this regime. Have they been perfect? No, they haven't (for example, nobody is excited to see Miguel Batista make more starts). But I think they're doing a pretty good job guiding this club through some lean years. With some of the young guys in the system getting closer and with the albatrosses of Jason Bay and Johan Santana likely coming off the books after 2013, there's hope that this team can really compete in the relatively near future and it's nice to finally see a light at the end of the tunnel.
2. The mythical "National League Scout" recently referred to Johan Santana as a "rich man's Jamie Moyer." Definitely hyperbole, but how has Santana's approach changed since his return from shoulder surgery, and how would you project his performance for the rest of this season and beyond?
I hadn't heard that quote before but like you said, that's definitely hyperbole. Don't get me wrong: Johan Santana doesn't throw as hard as he did back in his glory days with the Twins, but he's routinely in the 86-90 range with his fastball. Of course, Santana's bread and butter has always been his excellent changeup, which has looked as sharp as ever early on this season, making the 86-90 look a lot harder than it actually is. Beyond the loss of velocity, his approach really hasn't changed all that much. The changeup is still the same. His command can get a little spotty at times, though I imagine some of that is an effect of the surgery and that he's still working his way back. He also seems to get tired a little quicker than he did prior to the surgery, though he did throw seven innings for the first time on Saturday. But he's mostly looked like the same Santana and that's a huge relief, considering Mets fans had no idea what to expect coming into the year.
Looking ahead, the obvious concern is stress on the shoulder and whether he stays healthy enough to continue pitching. This shoulder surgery is one that really nobody has successfully come back from before Chien-Ming Wang did it last season, so we're in uncharted waters here. To get these six quality starts out of him is a huge boost though, considering our expectations were very low.
3. What are your thoughts on Terry Collins' tenure as manager? The expectations have been pretty modest thusfar, and the team has mostly performed near its expectations. Do you see Collins as a "steward" of sorts until the new regime can accumulate enough talent to really compete for a title, or do they intend to stick with Collins for the long haul?
Overall, Terry Collins has been average through his first year and change as the Mets' manager, which I'm certainly happy with compared to some of the more inept managers in the recent past (Hello, Jerry Manuel). He has his weaknesses, as most managers do and most of them are in the on-field machinations: he's often too strict with lefty/righty matchups, he uses the bullpen a little too much and he goes through periods of time where he's bunt-happy (though he typically does not bunt all that often with position players). Where he's at his best, ironically enough, is the off-field stuff. By all accounts, the players really like him because he's very open with them and he sticks up for them. He's very complimentary of his players, even when they're struggling and that was something the Mets have missed in recent years, when players were routinely thrown under the bus (hello again, Jerry Manuel). It's also pretty ironic because Collins had a reputation of being quite the opposite when he was managing in Houston and Anaheim in the 90's, to the point where the players railed to get him fired in Anaheim (and he eventually re-signed before the season ended). So it's nice to see that he's improved himself in that regard and that the changes have stuck.
As far as his future goes, I'm really not sure whether he's in this for the long haul or not but he hasn't done anything to warrant being fired, so I imagine his leash is pretty long at the moment. The team has been surprisingly fun to watch the last year and a half and while most of that is on the players, I think Collins does get them prepared to play everyday and that's a big part of the job. When he was hired, there was a large faction of the fanbase who wanted ex-86 Met Wally Backman to get the job and while there are still some people out there who call for Wally, those calls have sort of died down. I think people have grown to like Terry. He has his faults but he does a lot of things well. Also, he apparently has a friend who wrestles bears, which is pretty cool too.
4. The David Wright situation is an interesting one, and one that Phillies fans are watching closely. He has a lot of trade value, but with the option to void the 2013 contract option in the event of a trade, Wright would essentially be a free agent after the season should the Mets ship him out of town, thus reducing his trade value. Do you think it would just benefit the Mets to keep him past this season, with an eye on wrapping him up long-term in the event the team gets its financial house in order? Or something else?
The question about Wright's status has come up often in recent months and the answer is pretty simple. They've got him under control through 2013, so there's really no reason to move him this season, unless they're completely blown away by some team's trade offer. As you alluded to, if he is dealt this season, he's able to void his option for 2013, making himself a free agent. However, if the Mets hang onto him, they could conceivably exercise that option and then deal a full season of David Wright (along with the draft picks he'll likely net his former team, as per the new CBA) for a much larger bounty, if that's what they choose to do.
Personally, I have a feeling he gets locked up at some point later this year or next offseason. While they could probably get a really nice haul of prospects in return for him, especially if he keeps hitting like he has to start this season, David Wright is still a fan favorite and a great hitter, too. He's young enough that you could imagine he'll keep producing a few years, so while a $100 million contract may be a bit risky, I think he's a very important cog if this team has playoff aspirations in the next few years as the young pitchers come up to the majors. Beyond that, the show to the fans here is important, especially after the Jose Reyes debacle. For what it's worth, Sandy Alderson recently said that he doesn't foresee David Wright playing elsewhere.
5. With the much discussed change in dimensions at Citi Field this season, what changes have you observed? Without a full season of data (or three), it's hard to tell what the actual long-term ramifications are, but have you seen an appreciable change in offense, manifested by a spike in home runs? Has this benefited the Mets, or been to their detriment?
Well, according to the naked eye, there have been a number of home runs hit already that would not have been home runs in Citi Field's old dimensions. I've seen a couple of people keeping track who have it at four New Citi home runs for the Mets and four for the visiting team, so that's been even thus far. However, I recall a couple of days ago, hearing on the broadcast that it's been tougher to score runs in Citi early on this season and taking a look at ESPN's park factors, that backs it up (though it's obviously way too early for definitive statements). The Mets have played well at home this year, David Wright's looked more like 2005-08 David Wright, Jason Bay hit a couple of home runs before he got hurt and I'm mostly happy with the changes. The blue walls also look a lot nicer than I thought they would. I do think it makes the park play more fair and it's nice not to have players crushing 410 foot outs to right center field anymore.
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