10/28/2003 5:54 PM ET
Duquette has master plan for Mets
New GM plans to build around pitching and defense
By Kevin T. Czerwinski / MLB.com
The Mets introduced Jim Duquette as their 10th general manager Tuesday. (Marc S. Levine/NY Mets)
• Mets announce Jim Duquette as general manager
NEW YORK -- Jim Duquette has a blueprint in his mind of what he wants to do to make the Mets a better club.
Taking that blueprint from the conceptual stage to reality, however, will be no easy task. Yet, as Duquette officially assumed control as New York's general manager on Tuesday, he made it perfectly clear that each step he and his yet-to-be hired lieutenants take will not follow the same "spend big, spend often" path that contributed to the Mets' ineffective play the past two seasons.
Duquette and principal owner Fred Wilpon laid out a game plan that was alternately vague and definite during an afternoon press conference at Shea Stadium, one in which both parties said that the Mets would rebuild through pitching and defense. Before Duquette gets too involved, however, with rebuilding the team on the field he will set about rebuilding the organization's front office.
Both he and Wilpon spoke at length about a pair of super scouts/talent evaluators that Duquette would be hiring in the near future. A cavalcade of names has already been mentioned, among them are Marlins' senior vice president Fred Ferreira, Pirates special assistant Bill Singer, former White Sox GM Ron Schueler, Cincinnati's special assistant Al Goldis, Atlanta's Jim Fregosi, Toronto's Bill Livesey and Boston's Bill Lajoie.
Duquette declined to confirm whom he was eyeing but said there were about a half dozen names on his short list and that he was busy procuring permission from their respective clubs to speak with them. Wilpon said that whoever is hired would report directly to Duquette. The Mets had spoken to Montreal general manager and former Mets assistant Omar Minaya about the job but he turned them down even though he would have reported directly to Wilpon.
"When Omar and Carmen Fusco and Dave Wallace were here surrounding [former GM] Steve [Phillips], we had a very close team," Wilpon said. "They all left and we didn't replace them. It was a big mistake and we're not trying to make that mistake again. One thing we have really missed is surrounding our GM with gray-haired baseball talent who will challenge and offer advice."
The advice any future hires have will concern the expected influx of fresh faces. Duquette eschewed the practice of chasing older, high-priced players through free agency and trades. He pointed to the signing of Kevin Appier several years ago as the start of a "snowballing process", saying Appier was severely overpaid, adding that the process continued right through the signing of Pedro Astacio.
Both Wilpon and Duquette more than hinted that New York would more than likely stay away from the ultra-high profile free agents, regardless of age, opting to build more through mid-level free agents and non-tenders. Patience will be the key, according to the new GM. Should the market on the big-ticket free agents turn out to be depressed then Duquette would be more than willing to throw a line in that pond.
He also said that he wasn't necessarily going to pursue rebuilding through trades either and that a final number for the payroll had yet to be set. Currently, the payroll is just a shade over $60 million, depending on what happens with Mo Vaughn's contract and his insurance policy. The $60 million currently includes the part of Vaughn's salary that is not covered by insurance. Wilpon also pointed to Vaughn's situation as a contributing factor in the payroll, which looks like it will fall somewhere between $90-$100 million.
"The road map for next year and beyond will focus on pitching and defense," Duquette said. "Especially defense up the middle. We want people with good plate discipline as well. We don't have any one person in mind. We have to keep our options open because the process is fluid. The main thing is that we really have to focus on solid makeup guys, guys who can play in New York and the fans can identify with.
"We have to be more diligent in gathering information on players and we have to explore all avenues to improve the makeup of players we acquire. We had a quality front office model in 1999 and 2000. We had some quality guys and evaluators and we have a void to fill in that area."
Duquette said that his primary concerns on the field are -- in no particular order -- second base, outfield, starting pitching and closer. He said moving Ty Wigginton to second base is an option but not the first option. If a No. 1-type starter isn't available, then money might be spent on a "Steve Trachsel kind of guy" to fill out the rotation.
Jose Reyes, however, will remain at shortstop. So any attempt to sign a Miguel Tejada or Kaz Matsui would mean asking them to switch positions to accommodate Reyes, an accommodation that either player would likely not fill.
Mike Cameron's name is already being mentioned as a possibility in the outfield but Duquette is going to wait for the non-tenders to become available during the first week of December before making any decisions.
This and that: Lefty reliever Royce Ring, who could be in the mix for the closer's job, was officially named to the U.S. Olympic Team on Tuesday. He will be part of the Frank Robinson-managed squad that will go to Panama next month to play in a qualifying tournament for next summer's Olympiad in Athens. ... Duquette said that Cliff Floyd's surgically repaired heel is progressing and that he feels no pain. ... Reyes' severely sprained ankle that he suffered at the end of August took longer to heal than anticipated and he just started to field grounders off the bat. He will remain in Florida working with the Mets' staff through the end of November. ... Duquette added that he is interested in bringing back captain John Franco but admitted that at Franco's age, there are questions regarding what his role would be.