That's Debatable with Rob Neyer
Is Willie Randolph to blame for the Mets' problems this season, or is he a scapegoat for underperforming players and bad decisions by the front office?
THE CASE AGAINST WILLIE RANDOLPHPerhaps the Mets simply haven't recovered from their historic collapse last September. They had a seven-game lead on September 13, but lost 12 of their last 17 and six of their last seven, falling one game short in the final standings. Afterward, everyone said all the right things, but the Mets this spring have played like a team with a serious hangover. Willie Randolph obviously doesn't have much control over the roster, but when you see a listless, mistake-prone team it's hard to not wonder if the manager's getting everything possible out of that roster. And is the roster really so deficient? We know the Mets have the National League's highest payroll, and before this season all the numbers suggested the Mets would win 90-some games.
THE CASE FOR WILLIE RANDOLPH
THE VERDICTOf course Randolph's a scapegoat. Pitching coach Rick Peterson and first-base coach Tom Nieto are scapegoats, too. When a franchise jettisons the manager and his coaches, the message is loud and clear: "Blame them, not us." Is that fair? It rarely is. One thing I've noticed over the years, though: When a team wins, the manager generally gets a great deal of credit. More to the point, while the Mets' losing record might not be -- almost certainly is not -- strictly Randolph's fault, it's fairly obvious that something had to change. Willie Randolph might be a fine manager, but he does not seem to be the right manager for this team, right now. Maybe this team isn't good enough to win, no matter who's calling the shots in the dugout. But there's only one way to find out.
Every week, we'll give you the topic and then we'll have one of our writers stopping by to debate the issue with you. To suggest a topic for "That's Debatable," go here. Or check out the full archive.
Dan (Harleysville, PA)
If he was going to be fired win or lose last night, why have the guy board the flight at all? Is there something in the way they won last night that Omar decided he didn't like?
Rob Neyer (12:01 PM)
That was odd, wasn't it? Granted, when you fly first class the cross-country flight's not so bad. But all the way across North America for one game, and a firing? You have to feel for Tom Nieto.
Devin (Green Brook, NJ)
Where does this rank historically as far as "most mismanaged transitions"? Have talk go on for weeks, fly out to California, win, get canned - has to be pretty high up there, right?
Rob Neyer (12:03 PM)
Yeah. And as others have pointed out, what made it worse was all the leaks from ownership and upper management. It's been the continuing uncertainty that ultimately made Randolph's position untenable.
Well this certainly wasn't surprising, although I had hoped that the Mets would wait until after this season to fire Randolph. Does anybody think that the Mets will play well with all these black clouds around the clubhouse and ownership? Plus the Phillies are playing very well at the moment. Who knows? Maybe even the young Marlins could finish ahead of the Mets by now.
Rob Neyer (12:07 PM)
It's certainly possible, though I think it's worth noting that this team won 88 games last season, added Johan Santana, and looked like a first-place team entering the season.
Bill Rhoden of the NY Times has a great article about how dysfunctional the Mets are ... and the highlight for me is how they handled the Ryan Church concussion situation. That team is so desperate for wins that they've put a player's health in jeopardy. Without the front office or the coaching staff stepping in, I think it's fair to say that they are both to blame - for flat out incompetence.
Rob Neyer (12:08 PM)
Well, the Mets aren't the first team to mishandle an injury, or (specifically) a concussion. But that episode did point to a general lack of forward thinking that I'm afraid does tell us something about the organization.
Brian: Round Rock/Austin, Tx. aka - Clean88GT
This year's Mets, Mariners, and Tigers are the poster children for why people should refuse to believe a team is going to be a contender because they have a 100 or 120 million dollar payroll. Bavasi and Minaya in particular have been derelict in their roster-creation duties to the point that the in-tune fan with a copy of Baseball Prospectus can see where the problems are before they do. That's not even mentioning how putridly handled the Randolph firing was...disgraceful.
Rob Neyer (12:10 PM)
It's funny that you mention Baseball Prospectus. Because while I had the Mets winning (I think) 95 games, whoever wrote the Mets chapter in BP this year finished with this: " ... the Mets will suffer more disappointment in 2008, only this year it will start on Opening Day."
Adam (San Diego, CA)
How much does Willie's racial claims factor in to this decision? It seems that sped things up quite a bit and I perceived it as a guy who was lost & frustrated, didn't have the answers, and was grasping at straws to deflect accountability away from himself. If I was a higher up with the Mets, that definitely would have been a red flag issue for me. (Plug for ESPN Mag...Steven A Smith's article around this was very good).
Rob Neyer (12:11 PM)
I don't think it helped and it might have hurt some. But the losing record was the killer. And last fall's collapse.
Would someone please offer an explanation as to why Peterson too? Its pretty obvious the BP is in shambles (a management problem as well) but didn't Glavine always give this guy credit for reviving his career?
Rob Neyer (12:12 PM)
I don't know if Peterson deserves any blame, but he's a strong personality, and I know some of the pitchers in Oakland weren't sad to see him leave. He'll land on his feet, and soon.
Chris (Boston MA)
Perhaps the Mets issues have less to do with Randolph's decisions in the dugout and more with Minaya's method of contructing the roster. Diversity is a great thing--and what I'm about to say is in no way meant as a knock against Hispanic players--but I took a look at the Mets current 25-man roster and it currently has 14 Hispanic players on it. A part of me wonders if Minaya is more interested in a player's ethnicity, than whether or not their personality and particular skill set is what the Mets need.
Rob Neyer (12:14 PM)
Well, that charge has been leveled many times, and perhaps there's some truth to it. But that still doesn't account for the fact that this team, on paper at least, was supposed to win 90 games this season. At least.
Todd (Charleston, SC)
What are the chances the Mets actually turn this thing around? Can Manuel lead the team to a playoff berth?
Rob Neyer (12:16 PM)
There are only three teams ahead of the Mets in the WC standings, and I believe they'll still be in the hunt in September.
Justin (Queens, NY)
I believe your assesment was correct when you said "Randolph may be a fine manager, but he does not seem to be the right manager for this team, right now." The Mets need a disciplinarian, someone who won't be afraid to bench Reyes after he has a mental gaffe (then smiles) or tell Delgado he isn't playing verus lefties. I suggest Keith Hernandez manager for next season.
Rob Neyer (12:18 PM)
Specifically, I don't think Hernandez has any interest in managing. Generally, I think the Mets should hire someone -- if they don't keep Manuel -- who's actually managed before, even if only in the minors.
How was this team supposed to win 90 games? They have Wright/Beltran/Reyes on paper with Alou (he's more fragile than paper)/Castillo (couldn't hit a ball through paper) and Delgado (umm...can't think of a paper analogy) who was done last year. This roster is horribly constructed - and don't even start on the bench. This is all on Omar.
Rob Neyer (12:21 PM)
Here's what I can tell you, Nick ... Before the season, I looked at five "computer" projections -- that is, projections based on data rather than blue sky -- and all five showed the Mets with somewhere between 92 and 98 wins. One thing I've learned over the years is that if you try to outsmart the data you're usually going to be wrong.
Dave, Forest Hills, NY
Hey Rob, According to Mike Francesa, Keith Hernandez specifically told him he would be interested in managing the team if he was asked.
Rob Neyer (12:22 PM)
Oh. I'll be shocked if the Mets ask.
Willie was passed over so many times for a manager job... What is he feeling today... does he just sit back and laugh?
Rob Neyer (12:23 PM)
I don't have any idea what he's feeling. Among other things, maybe a little bit of relief? When you take a job in New York, you know what happens if you don't win.
While we can't blame Randolph for acquiring Schneider in the off-season, we CAN blame Randolph for starting him over Castro, right?
Rob Neyer (12:25 PM)
I suppose, but it seems fairly clear that the organization simply views Castro as a backup. They must really dislike his defense, yeah?
Andrew (Golden, CO)
Now with Willie Randolph "on the market", so to speak, do you think managers such as Ned Yost or John McLaren should be watching over their shoulders?
Rob Neyer (12:28 PM)
Randolph's not getting another job this season. He'll continue to draw his salary from the Mets through 2010, so I'll bet he takes some time off, waits for the perfect offer.
Ari (West Orange, NJ))
I was listening to ESPN radio this morning on Kellerman's show and he had Wally Backman on talking about him being their new manager next year. What is your opinion on the likelihood of that? Personally, I don't think it would be a bad idea..
Rob Neyer (12:31 PM)
Everything I've read about Backman makes me think he's got a lot of the things you'd want in a manager. I just wonder how many skeletons are in his closet.
Mario (Queens, NYC)
Willie's been on more championship teams than everyone in the Mets organization combined. Aside from the horrendous handling of his dismissal, it was simply the wrong move. There are no legit managerial alternatives, so it was clear that it was just a shot across the bow to shake things up and deflect responsibility. While I've been an Omar fan to this point, I'm now glad to see that he's now directly next in line for a canning if the team continues to falter. By the way, what are the stats on a team making the playoffs after a mid-season managerial change?
Rob Neyer (12:35 PM)
How is Jerry Manuel not legit? He's got experience, and a career winning record as a major league manager. Seems to me there are few *more* legitimate options than Manuel.
It's not Willie's fault, but someone had to go. I don't think this is a popular view, but I don't think the manager has a huge effect on the team. There are very few great and terrible managers in baseball. The biggest impact he can have is to get fired.
Rob Neyer (12:36 PM)
Agreed. I think the only real risk here is that Willie Randolph *might* be one of the great ones ... but what are the odds, really?
Hi Rob. A lot of Mets' relievers broke down over the last two seasons in critical times (Wagner, Heilman, Mota, Sosa). How do you rate Randolph at managing the Mets bullpen? How much do you think that contributes to getting the most out of a team?
Rob Neyer (12:37 PM)
I don't follow the Mets closely enough to know. What I do know is that a lot of intelligent Mets fans have criticized his bullpen tactics, though that's probably true just about anywhere you go.
The Mets should go against every inkling of their beliefs, tendencies, and beliefs- and hire Wally Backman. Pull a George Costanza, and just do the opposite. He's exactly what this team needs.
Rob Neyer (12:38 PM)
Perhaps. If the Mets don't make a strong second-half push, Manuel's probably gone. And maybe Backman is just what the millionaires need.
Russell NY, NY
So does this mean the Fire Minaya clock starts ticking? I hope it does. He left this team aged, in shambles, and w/ very little in the way of prospects. Basically everything he said he wouldn't do when he took this job. Also would love to see Hernandez as a coach.
Rob Neyer (12:42 PM)
As I noted earlier, it's not often that a GM is fired in the middle of a season (Bavasi being an obvious exception). But yes, I suspect that if the Mets don't do well over the next few months then Minaya's outta there.
Jason (brooklyn, ny)
If Francessa said it, then it has to be true, right? I'd be intrigued by Keith as a manager, but you're right that they need experience. Someone suggested Showalter. What do you think?
Rob Neyer (12:43 PM)
I used to be a big fan, but he simply didn't get it done in Texas. Would I give him another shot? I'd sure think about it.
Kevin (South Huntington, NY)
What does Manuel bring to the table that Randolph didn't? It seems as though they have a lot in common - both AL guys who would be learning on the job how to manage an NL team, both had one year of success in an otherwise mediocre managing career, both seem almost too calm. I feel they should have waited until someone better came along, thoughts?
Rob Neyer (12:44 PM)
You know what? I'm not sure this team needs a radical change. The biggest problem with Randolph might simply have been the uncertainty surrounding him. Maybe it wasn't his personality but his presence that was the problem.
I hear Gary Carter is available.
Rob Neyer (12:46 PM)
So he says. If I were making a list, Carter would be near the bottom.
Justin (Massena, NY)
Well, if the Keith Hernandez for Manager '09 campaign is starting here, I'm throwing Ron Darling in for Pitching Coach. Those two, as broadcasters, have at least made watching the blunderous Mets games really entertaining this year.
Rob Neyer (12:50 PM)
Yes, but as a TV watcher I must vociferously protest. Don't free Mex and Ronnie!
I don't know who to finger point at - Minaya gave Luis Castillo a 4/25$ contract, but Randolph is the one batting him second. I'm so confused.
Rob Neyer (12:52 PM)
It's funny, I was completely on board with the anti-Castillo sentiment ... until I noticed this morning that he's got a .368 on-base percentage. I'm far from his biggest fan, but Castillo's not the problem. Not this year, anyway (the contract's still a joke).
Jeff G (NY)
Other future Met mgr candidates lists have to include Lee Mazilli. But for a real 180 degree turn, what about someone like Larry Bowa?
Rob Neyer (12:53 PM)
There is sometimes value in hiring a hardass. But Bowa takes it too far, and I wouldn't let him anywhere near the manager's chair.
Hi Rob, My recolection of Jerry Manuel as a manager was that he was prone to panicky and reactionary behavior. He removed Keith Foulke from the closer role in May because a shaky start to the season and never put him back despite a season in line with the 2 sandwiching 40+ save seasons. I know the 7th inning can be just as important or more than the 9th and closer usage is pretty foolish, but do you think Manuel thinks that?
Rob Neyer (12:55 PM)
Hey, Manuel's no savior, and you're absolutely right about Foulke.
Since nobody else can think outside the box with this hire.....how about Bobby V?
Rob Neyer (12:55 PM)
Eric, Bobby V's actually been suggested by a bunch of people; it's just that your question is the first I've posted about him. Valentine seems to be pretty happy where he is.
how about Keith Olbermann?
Rob Neyer (12:56 PM)
I'm afraid he's too busy saving the country.
Don't worry Rob, the Mets will still win 100 games and prove all the computer numbers right.
Rob Neyer (12:57 PM)
They don't need to win 100, but 92 would be nice. To do that, they only have to go 58-35 the rest of the way. No problem!
To steal a line from your colleague Bill Simmons, The Mets need a VP of Common Sense. From Kazmir to Castillo to bringing back a 73 yr old Left fielder, there have been plenty of decisions that someone should have questioned.
Rob Neyer (12:59 PM)
Among all the recent moves that Minaya's made, I would say that bringing back Alou at $7.5M is the least defensible.
Willie (Portland, OR)
Why are GM's given more leeway thay managers? I mean the GM's are the guys sign the players, the managers can only work with what they're given.
Rob Neyer (1:02 PM)
I'm sure that if managers could fire general managers, the managers would get more leeway. Well, I think we've solved it! Thanks for all the questions, and presumably I'll be doing a "normal" chat at some point next week.
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