I've spent just about every word in my arsenal dissecting the debacle of the Buffalo Bisons' 2009 season. It's time to look to 2010. If the folks in Flushing want to see Buffalo in 2011, here are a few suggestions I have for them to follow next year.
1). Unless you put any of them in the big leagues, keep the staff intact. My 2010 manager in Buffalo would be Ken Oberkfell, my pitching coach would be Ricky Bones and my hitting coach would be Bill Masse. I don't know if Bones will be here because he should be a legitimate candidate for a promotion to New York if the Mets fire Dan Warthen. Masse did a terrific job after replacing the overmatched Luis Natera as hitting coach.
As for Oberkfell, there wasn't much he could do with this club early on. It was overmatched on a nightly basis and injuries ruined the big-league season, thus ruining the Triple-A season. The players respond to Oberkfell and those 1,600 big-league games he played create instant credibility.
"He's a manager who knows the game and how to communicate with the players," outfielder Chip Ambres said. "If you have an uptight manager, you're uptight yourself. You're scared to make a mistake and scared of what he's thinking. He doesn't come off that way.
"The attitude of a manager rubs off on his players. As long as he's relaxed, we will be and you can go out and play. He knows what he's talking about. He has a lot of history there in the big leagues. That gives us confidence in his decision making."
Bones' staff is flirting with a team ERA under 4.00, a remarkable figure for a club nearly 30 games under .500. Jon Niese and Nelson Figueroa were legitimate options for the Mets and the bullpen had several key contributors. He joins a long line of solid Buffalo pitching coaches.
2). Get the medical staff in order. Too many players in the big leagues are calling their shots about injuries. What in the world is Carlos Beltran doing back on the field trying to go on injury rehab games? Shut him down until the spring. Guys who were initially day-to-day (think Carlos Delgado, Jose Reyes, Fernando Martinez, John Maine) suddenly disappeared for the season and needed surgeries.
There were far too many injuries in spring training, too. Andy Green and Ramon Martinez were supposed to be Buffalo's double-play combination. Angel Pagan was going to be the center fielder. None of them started here. Guaranteed this club wouldn't have gone 2-17 if they had. The New York media has vilified Mets trainers and doctors. The organization needs a total overhaul in this area.
3). Sign minor-league free agents quickly. The Mets brought in many players but waited until well into January before signing them. You wonder what their development budget really is with the organization clearly tight-fisted in the wake of the Bernard Madoff scandal. They skimped on draft pick bonuses, moved their fall instructional league from Florida to the Dominican Republic and don't forget the sudden release of Buffalo veterans like Wily Mo Pena, Javier Valentin, Bobby Kielty and Emil Brown. That saved some money too.
4). Keep pushing the pipeline. Big prospects like catcher Josh Thole (who made his big-league debut Thursday in Denver), first baseman Ike Davis and infielder Ruben Tejada should be ready to debut in Buffalo next season. Martinez and Nick Evans should start the season here and be ready to be all-star types.
"There's definitely more prospects coming and I think there's some good six-year free agents you've got to go after," Oberkfell said. "We need to go after them early and I think we realize that after all the injuries."
5). Keep the lines of communication open. This is already happening in the wake of the firing of dictator, er, Vice President Tony Bernazard. When I asked Oberkfell about him last week, he said they got along fine and he never had a problem with Bernazard. Then he immediately listed the problems he had that clearly were all Bernazard's doing.
"I can see the difference maybe in the communication going on with more people getting involved," Oberkfell said. "It's not a case of one guy really doing everything. Who knows who will be in charge? I'm just following the chain of command and going through [farm director] Adam Wogan and it's going well.
"As a player development staff, we'll have more say in different players. They will come to us more asking, 'What do you think about this guy?' rather than just saying, 'You've got this guy and that's what it is.' "
6). Make sure there's a full team here. Cleveland always made sure the Bisons had 23 or 24 players for games. The Mets did not. Binghamton is four hours away. Get some Double-A guys here. Sign more independent league guys if you need to. A Triple-A team can't expect to win with only 20 or 21 players. That leaves no options on the bench and thin bullpens.
7). Make winning important. Every Mets official all the way up to COO Jeff Wilpon talked about how important it was to win in Buffalo. But it seemed like lip service. If it wasn't a priority this year, it had better be priority one next year after your Triple-A team and your Double-A team have the worst records in their leagues.
Get players who are mentally tougher. The Bisons went into the weekend with just three wins when trailing after six innings and 0-61 (0-61!) when trailing after eight. That's a white-flag mentality.
Tell the players to stop complaining that it's cold and windy here in April and May. Too much of that under-the-breath grumbling in the clubhouse this year. It's cold and windy in Scranton and Syracuse, too. And in plenty of places in the big leagues. Wrigley Field is no Shangri-La in April.
Ex-Bisons manager Eric Wedge says he'll know before the end of the season whether he'll return as Indians skipper next year.
Wedge has one year left on his contract, but his job status is being evaluated by the Dolan family ownership.
"If I was told today [that he was being fired or retained], I wouldn't do anything differently the rest of the way," Wedge said Wednesday in Detroit. "That's not who I am. I want to put us in the best position to be the best team we can be next year regardless of whether I'm here or not."
Around the horn
*Alex Rodriguez visited a Baltimore school Wednesday giving an anti-PED lecture. He's been doing the talks quietly and requested the media not come when word leaked.
*Curt Schilling, of course, is not quiet. He floated on his blog that he might want to replace the late Ted Kennedy in the U.S. Senate. Bloody socks are not qualifications, dude. Although a big mouth might be.
*All minor leaguers must wear the Rawlings S100 batting helmet next year to help cut down on concussions. David Wright wore the oversized dome last week before ditching it while it was being adjusted for size. Cracked Indians infielder Jamey Carroll: "It feels like a Don Beebe football helmet. It's about two times as big because of the extra padding."
I think he meant Mark Kelso. The helmet is the Gazoo look the Bills' safety once wore.
Props to the Bisons for the way they honored the Buffalo Fire Department's loss. The team served box lunches in Coca-Cola Field between the funerals for attendees and the team wore BFD caps for the first game of the final homestand. Classy moves.
*Yes, the Bisons' record-low attendance figures were down nearly 800 a game from last year -- a drop of more than 60,000 tickets sold. But the team had to be pleased with the way things finished. From July 18 to the end of the season, the paid crowd was more than 10,000 on nine occasions and more than 9,000 four other times.
*The Bisons Booster Club end-of-season awards: Ambres (Favorite Player), Kyle Snyder (Favorite Pitcher) and Mike Lamb (Unsung Hero).