Gammons: Loyalty begins to pay off for Mets

Gammons: Loyalty begins to pay off for Mets

It wasn't enough that the Phillies had lost 15 out of their past 22 games after Jamie Moyer was shellacked in Boston on Friday night. No, as one Phillies fan lamented on Saturday morning, "We have fallen below the Mets ... the Mets."

Obviously, Philadelphia's issues are not intractable. But, the fan's despair was based upon perception. Look, the Mets' season turned into a nightmare last year as they lost 92 games. Then, for two winter months, they had a public-relations issue, after an offseason of signing Jason Bay and not signing a veteran pitcher or big-name catcher. The season opened, and there were the pitching melodramas of Oliver Perez and John Maine. Then, Jose Reyes' thyroid trouble, which was coupled with Carlos Beltran's operation, rehabilitation and communication issues.

Since the middle of the 2009 season, when the Tony Bernazard situation singed much of the organization, it seems most of the conversation about the Mets has been about who should get dismissed and when. General manager Omar Minaya has been on the media's firing line since the fiasco of the post-Bernazard press conference. Last summer, Minaya's ill-advised tiff with a journalist hurt his media standing.

"I've said all along that if we can stay close, we will get better as the season moves on. I think we are starting to see that."
-- Mets GM
Omar Minaya

Then, when they were struggling earlier this season, president Jeff Wilpon flew to Atlanta for a much-publicized meeting with Minaya and manager Jerry Manuel that turned Manuel's job into a day-to-day condition on the back pages, as well as bringing back the win-or-else status of Minaya's job.

And yet, when the sun rose on Saturday, the Mets were a game ahead of the Phillies and just a game-and-a-half behind the Braves. While Perez and Maine are a combined 1-6, Mike Pelfrey stands at 8-1, likely headed for the All-Star Game. R.A. Dickey, whom Minaya signed this past offseason after three years of pursuit, went 4-0 in his first five starts. Jon Niese, out of their farm system, threw a one-hitter Thursday and is 3-2, with a 3.61 ERA. International signee Hisanori Takahashi has a 3.69 ERA entering play on Saturday.

Ike Davis, who was playing in the Class A Advanced Florida State League at this time last year, is hitting cleanup, and with 20-year-old Ruben Tejada at second base, the Mets' entire infield is homegrown, add that with Reese Havens running up a 1.062 OPS for Double-A Binghamton. The two veteran catchers the team signed when the Bengie Molina sweepstakes fell apart -- Rod Barajas and Henry Blanco -- have 13 homers between them. Jeff Francoeur, acquired last season for Ryan Church -- whom the Braves have since released -- has brought energy, a positive clubhouse presence and a .735 OPS/.325 OBP that is part of his DNA. Angel Pagan has been an adequate fill-in for Beltran, the Mets' best player.

"We have a long way to go, we all know that," said Minaya, who remembers that one year ago today the Mets were four games over .500 but 26 under the rest of the season. "But this season is different. I've said all along that if we can stay close, we will get better as the season moves on. I think we are starting to see that."

Sometime, somewhere, Beltran will get back. Reyes is a lot better than a .308 on-base-percentage leadoff hitter. Bay is going to start hitting home runs, and has a .780 OPS that will only improve. Soon, 20-year-old Jenrry Mejia, signed as a kid for $16,500, could go back to the Minors, where he'd build up his innings to come back for the last two months as a starter. Oh yes. For weeks, David Wright's worth was tied to his strikeouts, but his .884 OPS among NL third basemen is surpassed only by Ryan Zimmerman and Scott Rolen.

"Once we get our lineup in place, we should be a much better offensive team," says Minaya. Indeed, they are currently tied for ninth in the National League in runs, 13th in OPS, 13th in on-base percentage.

No one is suggesting that this is a 100-win team, but it is not the 1962 Mets, as some suggested. The farm system isn't the best, but it isn't a laughingstock, and there have been limited resources due to ownership's loyalty to the Draft-slotting system. Yet there are more prospects on the way: Outfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis is hitting .284 at Double-A Binghamton, and second baseman Jordanny Valdespin is hitting .309 at Class A St. Lucie. Ownership, meanwhile, signed off on using their first Draft pick this year on North Carolina pitcher Matt Harvey, despite the fact that inking the Scott Boras client will likely force the club to go beyond the Commissioner Bud Selig's slotting parameters for signing draftees.

The Mets need Mejia to get innings, and ownership has signed off on trading for a veteran starter, more likely a Jake Westbrook than a Cliff Lee. But if Reyes and Beltran are healthy, mixed in with Wright and Bay, then they can be competitive in what is shaping up to be a very competitive NL East.

If they are going to be competitive, then Mets ownership needs to learn that when things go wrong, do not listen to the talk shows or read the back pages. Stick with the people you hired, the people with whom you share decisions. When the Mets win, there are general managers and scouts across the game who cheer for Minaya, who in turn only wants due respect for "the scouting and development people who have worked their tails off and deserve respect."

People up and down the Mets' organization are fiercely loyal to Minaya, because he accepts the heat and deflects it from those who work for him. The blame game is the first sign of dysfunctional leadership. Loyalty is a sign of real leadership, and as the Mets woke up a game in front of the Phillies this weekend, it, not all the injuries that devastated last summer, is a reflection of the core reality of Omar Minaya's organization.

Peter Gammons is a columnist for and analyst for MLB Network. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.