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Coleman’s Corner: Mets’ First Interviews

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Bob Melvin (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images), Wally Backman (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews), Chip Hale (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)

Bob Melvin (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images), Wally Backman (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews), Chip Hale (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)

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By Ed Coleman
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The Mets will commence the managerial derby on Thursday and Friday of this week.

New G.M. Sandy Alderson has reached out to the internal candidates in the organization, and he is in the process of contacting external candidates to set up interviews with them for next week. Brooklyn Cyclones manager Wally Backman and third base coach Chip Hale (who will interview on Friday) are at the top of the internal list – current “super scout” and former Seattle and Arizona manager Bob Melvin along with this year’s bench coach Dave Jauss will kick off the interviews on Thursday.

Virtually certain to be interviewed as well – minor league field co-ordinator and former major league manager Terry Collins, Triple AAA Buffalo manager Ken Oberkfell, and Double AA Binghamton manager Tim Teufel. In regards to this season’s coaches, pitching coach Dan Warthen has a strong chance of returning, first base coach Razor Shines will definitely not be back, while hitting coach Howard Johnson and bullpen coach Randy Niemann – both former Mets – will more than likely be re-assigned within the organization.

Backman’s candidacy may already have been elevated before his initial interview. Why? For several reasons. First, during his introductory press conference, Alderson stated that he was not opposed to a “fiery” type of manager who the fans could relate to, and with his Met background, Backman would qualify as both. Secondly, because the Mets’ fan base has eroded, they need to sell tickets – badly – and because of his familiarity, Backman may be the only managerial candidate that could help accomplish that.

Citi Field – a highly acclaimed new park – is just two years old, but Met attendance plummeted from 3.1 million in its inaugural season in 2009 to 2.6 million in 2010 – a 17.2 % downturn in year two. And thirdly, one of the strongest and best external candidates – at least in my eyes – Clint Hurdle – is one of two finalists – and the favorite – for the Pittsburgh Pirates’ managerial opening.

Hurdle managed the Colorado Rockies from 2002 until 2009. He was fired after an 18-28 start in ’09, and replaced by current Rockies’ skipper Jim Tracy, who served under Hurdle. Ironically, Tracy’s previous job was managing the Pirates. Hurdle’s greatest success came in 2007 when he led Colorado on an incredible finishing kick, winning 14 of 15 down the stretch and then 7 straight playoff wins before being swept by the Red Sox in the World Series.

The Pirates interviewed many candidates, among them Ken Macha, Dale Sveum, and John Gibbons, but their last interview came on October 14 with current Braves bench coach Carlos Tosca, so it’s obvious they’ve been waiting for someone and that someone is Hurdle, unavailable to meet with them because he’s been tied up as the Texas Rangers’ hitting instructor. The only other person currently under consideration is Jeff Banister, a long time Pirates’ organization man and relatively unknown to say the least.

When Alderson was asked what characteristics he was searching for in a manager, he cited leadership, enthusiasm, motivation and desire. Hurdle has exhibited all of those in abundance, and I believe he’s the best choice out there – but obviously so do the Pirates, and he’s the man they want. The Mets will have to move quickly if they’re interested, and I hope Alderson at least meets and talks with Hurdle before the Pirates pounce.

Other news – the Mets exercised the option for SS Jose Reyes, which means Reyes will earn $11 million for 2011. Alderson stated that working out a long term deal for Reyes in the near future is not out of the question. Reyes played in only 133 games last season because he was hampered by a hyperactive thyroid early and a strained right oblique late – but he still hit .282 with 50 extra-base hits (29 doubles, 10 triples and 11 HR) along with 54 RBI and 30 stolen bases. CitiField is tailor-made for Reyes, and hopefully he can stay healthy and take full advantage this coming season.

Alderson has reached out to Carlos Beltran and invited him to New York to meet and talk. Beltran said that he didn’t know yet whether he’d come, and further stated – “It doesn’t matter what I think. The organization is going to do what they think is best for them. The way I can control it is to have a good year. If I do, there will be teams interested in me. To me, I’d like to play in New York a few years more.”

With options being declined all around baseball, one pitcher I’d like to see the Mets have some interest in is tall righthander Chris Young of San Diego. Alderson should have some rapport with him from his Padre C.E.O. tenure, and I know the Princeton graduate who could have played in the NBA has interest in New York and could handle the spotlight and pressure with ease. Young has been beset by shoulder problems and has been plagued by walks in his career – he was limited to just 20 innings last season and walked 11. But he’s a character guy who might come relatively cheap, and the type of pitcher the Mets might have to take a chance on because of budget restraints in 2011.

The Mets announced that they will cut ticket prices on average more than 14% this coming season, and that season ticket holders will receive a 10% discount off the single-game price. The team also cut the pricing tiers down from 5 to 4 – marquee (4 games – Opening Day plus the 3 Yankee dates), premium (22), classic (25) and value (30). All told, 62% of CitiField’s 41,800 seats will have price reductions.

From the Arizona Fall League – two Mets were selected to the Rising Stars game which will be held this Saturday. Pitcher Brad Holt, who struggled for a good part of this past season, is 2-1 with a 2.38 ERA in 4 starts thus far. And 2B Jordany Valdespin, who played some spring training games earlier this year, is hitting .355 with 11 RBI in 15 games in the A.F.L.

Finally, former Toronto G.M. J.P. Ricciardi was hired Tuesday as the Special Assistant to G.M. Alderson – but he actually worked for the Red Sox for one day. Ricciardi, a Massachusetts native, had a long-standing offer from Boston G.M. Theo Epstein to join the Sox, and ended up working on a project last Friday for Epstein. Over the weekend, his mentor Alderson contacted him to convince him to join the Mets, and obviously was successful.

Ricciardi admitted that he was set to go to work for the Red Sox last Monday had Alderson not swayed him over the weekend – thus his one-day Boston tenure. Nice temp-job to stick on your resume.

C U soon
Eddie C.

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