Mets fire manager Jerry Manuel and general manager Omar Minaya

By Howie Rumberg, AP
Monday, October 4, 2010

Mets fire Manuel and Minaya

NEW YORK — Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon and his father Fred, the team’s owner, sat side by side and spoke for nearly three-quarters of an hour about responsibility, cultural change and thinking outside the box to bring winning back to an organization that has won little recently.

A day after the Mets ended their second straight losing season, the Wilpons were eager to get their “family business” back on track. The first act: firing manager Jerry Manuel and general manager Omar Minaya.

“We need to have some new ideas and some different thoughts on what we have here,” Jeff Wilpon said Monday.

Now comes the hard part for an organization that repeatedly has stumbled: cleaning up the mess.

Starting the season with a $133 million payroll, fifth-highest in baseball, the Mets finished 79-83, 18 games behind the Phillies in the NL East. There have been no playoff games in Queens since the Mets came one game short of going to the World Series in 2006, and Fred Wilpon is disgusted.

“The last four years have been the most painful to me, and probably the most disappointing in what is over 30 years (as owner),” he said.

The Mets plan to begin calling candidates right away to replace Minaya. The Wilpons have a habit of hiring from within — Minaya was their senior assistant GM before taking over the Montreal Expos — but not this time.

Assistant GM John Ricco was appointed head of baseball operations on an interim basis, and he will help get the process under way. Ricco said he will not be a candidate for the job and that he shouldn’t be one. He indicated they had several people they would like to contact.

The new GM will then work with the team to hire a new manager. The coaches are under contract until Nov. 1.

“We will look for leadership to reinvigorate this franchise by approaching things in a different manner,” Jeff Wilpon said. “We need someone who will promote a winning culture through all levels of our organization.”

Minaya had two years left on his deal, but he won’t be staying on in another capacity — as of now.

“The fact is that it’s not fair to give me another role,” he said. “If you’re going to bring in another GM — first of all, I don’t think the GM would want to have me aboard and vice versa.”

Speaking in the Mets’ cleaned-out clubhouse, Minaya said the possibility of talks for a different job with the Mets were for a different day.

Fred Wilpon said he Jeff, and team president Saul Katz are not capable of making baseball decisions and the new general manager will have full autonomy.

But agents and team officials throughout baseball have said that Jeff meddles in player-related business.

“Jeff’s responsibility is not to pick baseball players,” Fred said, while praising his work.

Manuel is the seventh manager this season to lose his job. The final guaranteed year of Manuel’s contract expired, and the Mets declined to exercise the club’s option on the deal.

Manuel, who finished with a 204-213 record in New York, was not available Monday.

“He was appropriately disappointed,” Jeff said.

Manuel was promoted from bench coach on an interim basis after the midnight firing of Willie Randolph in June 2008. The Mets went 55-38 the rest of the way but missed the playoffs with a loss in the last game at Shea Stadium, on the final day of the season, completing their second straight September collapse.

Still, Minaya was given a three-year contract extension through 2012 and Manuel a multiyear deal.

Minaya overhauled a wretched bullpen in the offseason. But long-term injuries to Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, Johan Santana, Carlos Delgado, Jason Bay and Francisco Rodriguez decimated the Mets’ roster the past two seasons.

“Yes, we did have injuries, but everybody has injuries,” Minaya said. “The bottom line is we couldn’t get it done.”

They finished 70-92 last year, their first at $800 million Citi Field, and Jeff put both Minaya and Manuel on notice. A promising start this year was all but wiped out by a 2-9 trip after the All-Star break.

Attendance dropped, and Rodriguez embarrassed the organization by fighting his girlfriend’s father outside a family lounge at Citi Field on Aug. 11, which resulted in criminal charges against the pitcher.

Once the Mets dropped out of contention, the decision to fire Manuel was expected.

AL Manager of the Year in 2000 with the White Sox, Manuel is among eight managers let go this year.

Bobby Valentine, who led the Mets to the 2000 World Series, and Wally Backman, a second baseman on New York’s 1986 championship team, might be potential replacements.

Minaya, who became the first Hispanic general manager in 2002 when he was hired to run the Expos, took over as GM from Jim Duquette in September 2004 and quickly enjoyed success in his hometown. He used his Latin American contacts cultivated as a scout and talent evaluator for the Texas Rangers (1985-95) to sign Beltran, Pedro Martinez, Santana and Rodriguez.

He also has been criticized for a weak farm system while signing underperforming Oliver Perez ($36 million) and Luis Castillo ($25 million) to big contracts.

“I think some of the free agent signings and turning out the way they did and the money we misspent is probably the biggest piece,” Jeff said.

Not much has gone right since losing Game 7 of the 2006 NL championship series. The Mets blew a seven-game division lead with 17 remaining in 2007 and had a 3½-game lead at the same point in ‘08.

The Wilpons insisted that the new GM will not be constricted. Fred said his businesses in general were good. The money his real estate company, Sterling Equities Associates, lost with in jailed financier Bernard Madoff’s multibillon dollar Ponzi scheme “was not in the part of the business that was running the shop.”

Still, the next GM must deal with Castillo, who has $6 million left on a four-year deal; left-hander Perez, who was dropped from the rotation May 14 is owed $12 million; and Beltran, who has $18.5 million coming to him next year after two injury abbreviated seasons.

NOTES: Longtime Mets employee Bob Mandt died Sunday at 74. He had emphysema. In 50 years with the organization, he served a number of roles, from ticket manager to vice president of stadium operations. He had been a consultant to the team since 2004.

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