So what now? There is no shortage of candidates for the general-manager position, one the Wilpons vow will be hired first and then allowed to pick his—or her, if oft-mentioned Dodgers assistant G.M. Kim Ng is truly a candidate—own manager. (This is surely sad news for Brooklyn Cyclones manager and Mets icon Wally Backman, who has been lying in wait for the job all year.) The Wilpons have vowed to hire someone outside the organization, which is encouraging. The hot veteran names are Sandy Alderson, the architect of the champion A’s teams of the eighties and the mentor to Moneyball hero Billy Beane, and John Hart, a former Indians and Rangers G.M. who’s now an intelligent daily voice on the MLB Network. Josh Byrnes, unjustly fired by the Diamondbacks earlier this year, would bring an infusion of energy and a welcome sabermetric bent to the Mets, though he might be afraid he’d run into the same front-office interference that plagued him in Arizona. This month’s playoffs will show off two other intriguing candidates: Tampa Bay senior vice-president Gerry Hunsicker, a former Mets minor-league director, and the sentimental favorite, Rangers general manager Jon Daniels, a 33-year-old wunderkind who just happens to have grown up in Bayside.
The Wilpons promise autonomy, but they don’t promise to stay out of the baseball side of operations entirely, which has led to communication issues in the past and will certainly be the biggest concern of any new hire. It was a little disconcerting when Fred Wilpon felt obliged to remind reporters that “this is a good job.”
It still is, if whoever takes over is willing to wait awhile. For all the talk that the Mets still have plenty of resources and a clear—and reinvigorated—desire to win, next year’s Mets won’t look all that different from this year’s, no matter who is hired. When you allow for arbitration raises for a few prominent Mets—including knuckleballer R. A. Dickey, who improbably might have been the team’s best pitcher this year—the payroll could be at $130 million before the Mets even think of signing any free agents. (Which is its own blessing; it’s considered the weakest free-agent crop in years.) The new G.M.’s immediate priority won’t be to make over the big club; that won’t be possible until after the 2011 season, when the contracts of Beltran, Luis Castillo, and (finally!) Oliver Perez expire, dropping the payroll by nearly $40 million. Instead, it’ll be exercising organizational control, top to bottom. It’ll be determining the futures of young players like Fernando Martinez and Wilmer Flores, protecting priceless assets like starter Jenrry Mejia, putting in place a plan for the lower levels of the system that might take years to pay off but will be more than worth it when it does. Mostly, the Mets need someone who is distinctively and indubitably in charge—and someone with a lot of patience.
The Mets need their fans to have patience, too. After the last four years, it’s perfectly understandable why that might be asking a lot, but the notion that the Mets should go out and start doing whatever it takes to win immediately is exactly what got them into this mess in the first place. This is going to take a while, and it’s going to take the same painful downward adjustment of expectations from fans that the Wilpons just went through. That the team is lowering ticket prices next season is a welcome start and another tacit admission. We’re all gonna go through this together.
What the Mets and their fans needed was this clean break. The Mets will not be disappointing the next year or two: They will just be a mediocre work-in-progress. That might not be the most inspiring slogan on the season-ticket-renewal packages, but it’s a lot more inspiring than a picture of Minaya still plodding forward like nothing is wrong. The Mets had a little run there, with a few highs and a lot of heartache. It’s over. That everyone now understands it, and is willing to do what it takes to fix it, is the first sign of genuine hope the Mets and their fans have had in several years. It’ll be hard, what’s ahead of us, but hey, ya gotta believe.