FanShot

NYT: Q. & A. With Ron Darling

7

Q. What happened to the Mets this year? A. In June they were 11 games up [over .500] and they were so good to watch. The fans were really enjoying the team. And then it went away. I don’t quite know why. So this year seemed to some like an utter disaster. But in spring training, Gary Cohen, Keith Hernandez and I felt they were a .500 team. If you don’t put them under the microscope where they play in this town and try to stay relevant compared to the Yankees, there were some successes. Jon Niese certainly showed he was a major league starter who will get better. R.A. Dickey was one of the great stories of the year. Angel Pagan became a player that almost every team would want as their center fielder. And Ike Davis had the second-best season as a rookie in Mets history behind Darryl Strawberry. Jason Bay had a tough year even before the concussion, but he played the game the right way and the energy he brought was so evident. Q. What about next year and beyond? A. I think they’re handcuffed for next season because of the salaries on the books. They can’t give young players like Nick Evans and Lucas Duda that much time because they’re set in the outfield. What they need is a game plan. The Mets play in one of the few ballparks where you have to account for it when planning your team. You need pitchers who throw strikes and guys who can catch the ball and play smart. When was the last time you head someone say: "I know what it means to wear a Mets uniform. I know how to play the Mets way"? They need to teach smart baseball and good defense so when you get to the big leagues, you know what is expected of you. Right now the Mets can look at the players you have as they move up to each level and try to build a perennial winner in a few years, or you can try to piecemeal it together, trying to find the elixir in the free-agent market. They’re not going to pay Cliff Lee. And starting pitching is not one of their problem areas. They’re set in the infield, except at second base; Luis Castillo’s salary is the one I think they’ll have to eat. Another question is whether Josh Thole is ready. I think they need to get a veteran who can help teach him but also who can play 50 games. And they need middle-relief help and to figure out what is happening with [Francisco] Rodriguez. Hopefully, after what has happened in the last four years — can you believe it has been four years? — they are trending toward having a game plan. If you told the fans what you were doing and communicated with them, you could revitalize and energize the fan base.

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