NEW YORK -- Jerry Manuel was in a joking mood.
"I was trying to get 15 years on my deal," the New York Mets manager said Saturday. "They cut it down."
Manuel's "interim" tag was removed Friday night when the Mets gave him a two-year contract that guarantees him more than $2 million and includes a club option for 2011. Now he must figure out why the team collapsed in each of the last two Septembers and find a solution that gets New York back in the postseason.
"We have to grow from every time that we get as close as we get and don't make it, and we have to review and kind of marinate on why we don't make it," Manuel said during a conference call.
"My job is to make sure that each guy is clear with his responsibilities for not being there, for us not making it," he said. "I have to look at myself first, and we have to kind of look at the team and see where we failed, why we failed and talk about it as a group and grow from it."
On his first full day as the Mets' long-term manager, Manuel forcefully attacked the SABR-type mathematical analysis some have fixated on in recent years.
"You get so many statistical people together, they put so many stats on paper, and they say, well, if you do this and you score this many runs, you do that many times, you'll be in the playoffs," he said.
"That's not really how it works, and that's what we have to get away from. And that's going to have to be a different mind-set of the team in going forward. We must win and we must know how to win rather than win because we have statistical people. We have to win because we have baseball players that know and can understand the game."
Manuel took over when Willie Randolph was fired on June 17 and Mets had a record of 34-35. He loosened Randolph's stricter clubhouse atmosphere, and the Mets rebounded to take a 3½-game NL East lead in September. But they lost 10 of their final 17 games and were eliminated from postseason contention on the final day of the season for the second straight year.
In 2007, the Mets wasted a seven-game division lead with 17 to play.
For Manuel, the key is teaching his players to execute in the key situations.
"We have to put a value on say, moving a runner over. We have to put a value on getting a bases on balls. We have to put a value on infield back, [getting a] ground ball that's sufficient to score a run," he said. "Those types of things have to be accented in order for us, in my opinion, to kind of get to the next level."
The American League Manager of the Year in 2000 with the Chicago White Sox, Manuel inherited a core group anchored offensively by David Wright, Jose Reyes and Carlos Delgado, and a starting rotation headed by Johan Santana.
While the big offensive trio had respectable statistics or better, they didn't stop the September slide. Manuel said spring training will be a time of teaching, for him to give "clarity" to players on his methods. Execution in the clutch is his emphasis, and the Mets likely will bring in new offensive players, most likely in the corner outfield spots.
"You don't see a lot of guys that have statistical numbers play well in these championship series," Manuel said. "What you see is usually the little second baseman or somebody like that carries off the MVP trophy that nobody expected him to do. That's because he's comfortable in playing that form of baseball, so therefore when the stage comes, it's not a struggle for him."
The other key is to address the flammable bullpen, which flopped when Billy Wagner missed the final two months of the season because of an elbow injury that will sideline the closer for most, if not all, of 2009. Mets relievers were 2-for-6 on save chances in the final 17 games, combining for a 6.23 ERA and a .335 opponents' batting average.
"I couldn't tell you how much is salvageable and how much is not. I do know that I've been without a couple pair of shoes," Manuel said. "Our job is to get people back in their roles that we think that we signed them up for, and then evaluate from that point of view. But to put them in roles that they're not accustomed to is sometimes an unfair evaluation."