Here’s the the final part of the interview I did with Steve Popper of the Bergen Record.
JD - Should the Mets get off to a slow start in 2008, and find themselves hovering around .500 and in third place at the All Star Break, should either Willie Randolph or Omar Minaya be worried about their job security?
SP: I think Willie Randolph might want to worry this time around if he starts 0-1. Clearly, he was dangling at the end of this season and the pressure is on him now. While some people think now that Minaya and Randolph are tied together, I disagree. I think that Randolph is on the hot seat, whether it’s deserved or not. And I think if things don’t go right, he could be gone quickly. He hasn’t made many friends in the organization during his time here. But, he also guided the best team in the National League through the 2006 season before Beltran looked at that third strike in Game 7 of the NLCS and then was 7 games up with 17 to play last year. So he’s done something right.
JD – I’ve never seen a team make so much out of their first base coaching position as the Mets have this decade. Now that Tom Nieto has earned the job, at least for the time being, are we supposed to consider this an upgrade or get as excited as Omar and Willie seem to be about this change? Am I missing something, or is there more to this position than meets the eye?
SP: No, you’re not missing a thing. The main job of a first base coach is to pat a player on the butt, take his elbow pad and then point him toward second base. Well, maybe it’s not that simple, but if Rickey Henderson could do it last season, I think it’s not brain surgery either. Nieto is well-respected in the Mets’ clubhouse and will do just fine there.
JD - Who will cover first base should Carlos Delgado not be ready to start the season, or if he has another extended stay on the disabled list? I thought Shawn Green did a fine job covering for the Mets last season, but as I glance at the Mets roster now, all I see is Mike Carp in the minors who doesn’t seem to be ready yet, and then you have reserve players Marlon Anderson and Damion Easley who have played less than 15 games combined at first base in the last two years. What are your thoughts?
SP: Maybe this should be a bigger concern than the fifth starter spot. Delgado insists he’ll be ready and 100 percent healthy after rehabbing the broken hand. But will he be better than last year? He’d better be or the Mets are in trouble.
Shawn Green actually was a very good alternative last year, hitting better than Delgado much of the year and despite having not played there in years, was a better fielder, too. I think for now the thought will be to rely on veterans like Anderson and Easley.
Some baseball officials think that Fernando Martinez may eventually wind up at first base, but he’s still a little bit away from the major leagues.
One last question for you…
JD - Where do the Mets currently rank in the NL East and do you believe they have enough talent and depth to win the division?
SP: Despite all the criticism, I think that the Mets are still the class of the NL East. I think that the Braves are going to take a step backwards. Losing Renteria and Andruw Jones will be a huge blow to their lineup and even though I think that Jones was slipping, he still was among the best defensive centerfielders in the game. There are questions in the starting rotation and the bullpen.
As for the Phillies, let’s remember a few things. The Mets were coasting most of the year before that September collapse and give the Phillies credit – they took advantage by winning almost every day. But I think that the move of Myers to the starting rotation takes him from the role that he seemed to flourish in. And if Brad Lidge had troubles handling the mental toll in Houston, wait until he gets a load of facing the Phillies fans while pitching in that launching pad.
I think the Mets have some holes to fill – they need to either pull the trigger on a deal or get a growing-up performance from Pelfrey and Delgado better be back to normal — but I still think that they should be the favorite going in. Last year the Mets predicted internally that it would be a fight to the finish and they were right. I think you can expect the same this season – a close race with Philadelphia – and I think that the Mets might have them by a nose right now.
Thanks again for taking some time out of your day to answer a few questions for Mets Merized Online.
You can check out more from Steve Popper everyday at his blog Amazin’ Stories!