NEW YORK -- The New York Mets announced changes Friday that were mostly semantic and procedural -- changes in title, changes in assignment, changes in who reports to whom. Unannounced but hardly unnoticed was a change in philosophy that will have greater impact than the upper-echelon promotions afforded Al Harazin and Gerry Hunsicker.
Harazin will assume the general managership of the club and Hunsicker will continue his "fast-track" ascent through the organization. The next jump is to assistant vice president. Those changes will take place the day after the season ends, the same day Frank Cashen relinquishes the title of general manager he has held since early 1980.
The change in philosophy -- a change forced on the club by its dreadful performance this season -- will be more subtle, but it will become apparent nonetheless when Harazin begins negotiating for free agents to repair this broken team. "Aggressive, we will be aggressive," the general manager-to-be said. And when is the last time you heard such words from any Mets executive?
Even last winter, when the club pursued and eventually signed Vince Coleman as a free agent, it never struck such a bold public posture. "But when you're 18 1/2 games out -- or whatever we are -- you're forced to make changes in the way you operate," Harazin said. "We hope to make some major changes . . . I don't know that we're in the best position to make trades. I want more chips. The best way to improve our position is in the free-agent market. You want to build up your assets so you're in a position to make a deal."
Harazin, 49, made his points strongly Friday. Whatever his title, whatever his role, his responsibility is "to preserve and enhance" what Cashen has built. He announced his intent to speak with the agent representing potential free agent Frank Viola two days after the season. He identified Dwight Gooden and Howard Johnson -- and no others -- as players "it would be hard to trade."
He spoke with the utmost respect and affection for Cashen, the man who gave him his first job in professional baseball. He called Cashen a "dinosaur," and acknowledged his favorite word in his new title is "general" because he welcomes the diverse challenges the game-industry presents.
"There aren't many dinosaurs left, not many true 'general' managers," he said. "I always told Frank I didn't want to run part of something. I wanted to run the whole thing like he has."
Cashen, 64, was to have made this move at the end of last season, but the unexpected and unnerving departure of Joe McIlvaine to the San Diego Padres postponed the moves. As recently as January, Cashen indicated he would retain his current titles through next season. But that, too, changed. People close to Cashen suggested he has become disillusioned with parts of baseball -- dealing with agents, the collapse of the team and that he found it more difficult than he expected to adjust to the delay caused by McIllvaine's departure.
He is to retain the titles of chief operating officer and senior executive vice president and work at the business of baseball for another year. Then he will "step out" -- his words -- and become a Florida-based consultant. But make no mistake, his influence will not decrease, even if he chooses not to exercise it.
As part of the responsibility he has retained, Cashen will determine just how much money Harazin will have to offer Viola -- probably not too much -- and to Bobby Bonilla, the prize of this year's free-agent class.
Harazin said "rebuild" is "too harsh" a term for the challenge facing him and Hunsicker. But he preferred to say the organization wants to prove to the fans that 1991 was an aberration, noting that only Johnson had produced up to legitimate expectations. Hunsicker was not so delicate. "I'm not sure that an aberration was all that happened this year," he said. "We have to look at everything and decide which players are capable of rebounding."