Lay Off Willie

Forget yesterday’s reprieve, Willie Randolph is managing his last games for the New York Mets. Omar Minaya and ownership are using Randolph as the primary scapegoat for last season’s collapse, and the disappointing start this year. Few players have come to his defense, contrary to the Yankees treatment of Joe Torre. All Mets management did yesterday was hang yet another distraction over a team that struggles to handle adversity. The team is a ticking time bomb set to explode, the only question is where and when.

Randolph certainly deserves some of the blame. He is the manager, the team is underperforming, and appears unmotivated, that has to reflect on the job he’s doing – to an extent. However, this season’s demise started in the offseason. Minaya had a chance to fix an old, inconsistent pitching staff that collapsed in September. Johan Santana solved the big problem, an ace starter, but he stopped there. Minaya counted on Pedro Martinez to return as his #2 starter after missing over a year. He projected El Duque as the fifth man, someone who is known to take lengthy in-season sabbatical. That left the mind-bogglingly inconsistent Oliver Perez and still young John Maine to shoulder the load when the other two broke down. Inevitably, both Martinez and Hernandez broke down – even quicker and less productively than I imagined – leaving Maine and Perez to shoulder the load. Disappointing Mike Pelfrey has performed poor in taking over the fifth spot. Minaya created this mess, or should I say, left it.

Look at the position players, same story. Moises Alou is a top tier hitter, even at his advanced age. However, he’ll never be mistaken for Cal Ripken. Last season Carlos Delgado’s imminent demise was obvious to anyone watching. Luis Castillo is a questionable contract. Maybe he’s good for this year, but four years at that money?

You expect Wright, Reyes, and Beltran to play at an All-Star level. Outside of that core, Minaya handed over a team with a number of question marks, filled with inevitable problems. Outside of Ryan Church’s emergence, every question mark has become a resounding negative. The core players, who are supposed to carry the team when they struggled, need carrying themselves. Minaya and Randolph can’t do anything about those three, the rest of the issues come back to Minaya, the real fall guy here.

Randolph is not the best in-game manager, he’s certainly not Joe Torre off the field, nor is he a fiery personality like Lou Piniella. Still, I ask you to find a manager that would do much better with this crew. The team had unrealistic expectations. They are not a 100-win team, maybe 90 wins if everything broke right, which it hasn’t. The Mets are better than their current record, just not as good as people think they should be.

I heard a good point, Wilpon may hold off the firing because Randolph is a coach on the All-Star team at Yankee Stadium. If that actually played into the decision, it’s a disgrace since the team should come first, but I’m not counting it out. Odds are Randolph does not finish the season because this Mets team is not going to markedly improve.

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Wagner Bashes Teammates – Again

Shea is slowly turning into the Queens version of the Bronx Zoo. Manager on the hot seat, fans growing restless, team performing poorly, and for the second time in recent weeks an outburst by the outspoken closer. Two weeks to the day after calling out Oliver Perez as mentally weak and not giving 100%, Wagner pointed out how Carlos Delgado, Carlos Beltran, and Jose Reyes, among others, quickly disappear when the going gets tough, leaving Wagner and David Wright to answer the media after tough losses.

Wagner is absolutely right. Anyone who follows New York teams, and New York media, knows that group of well-paid position players on the Mets has craftily avoided representing the team in the media – to put it nicely. Does Wagner help matters by spouting to the media about it? Absolutely not. He’s the type who no filter between the brain and the mouth, whatever he thinks, he says. Call it honesty, call it being up front, call it stupid. Anyway you slice it, Wagner just escalated an already shaky situation.

His comments are dead on, everyone in that organization probably feels the same, but saying as much could hurt the team. I love it, great fodder for commentary, made great radio yesterday, another plot line heading into a subway series with both trains running off the track. The Mets, specifically Delgado, Beltran, Reyes, et al., will either respond to Wagner and step up, or these comments will enhance the rift.

If Randolph started the season on the hot seat, following the 2007 collapse, the temperature continues to rise. He has no control over Wagner, but it hints at Willie losing the clubhouse. While Randolph deserves some blame, Minaya deserves more for the gaping holes he left on this team, and the players deserve the most. All three aforementioned players are hitting under .260, and Delgado and Beltran’s combined home run total equals role player Ryan Church. They are tremendously underperforming, based on past performance and those gaudy salaries they earn. Stand up, face the music, answer the tough questions – don’t give Wagner the opportunity to throw you under the bus.

As bleak as everything sounds, New York sits 2.5 games behind surprising Florida in the NL East, far from insurmountable. One five game win streak, and all is forgotten. The bigger problem is on the field. This team looks far from putting together any win streaks. Outside of Maine and Santana, the starting pitching has disappointed – as we expected if Pedro went down, and El Duque went on annual hiatus. Add Luis Castillo to the list of lowly offensive performers, and it adds up to major lineup trouble – thank god for Church and Wright, or who knows how bad it would be. Not shocking when you consider the Mets relied on perennially injured Moises Alou.

Off losing three of four to lowly Washington, the Mets stumble into the Yankees series in need of a boost from Santana on Friday night. If the avalanche of negativity continues this weekend, WIllie could be in trouble sooner rather than later, and things could get ugly at Shea. Wilpon may not need a wrecking ball to destroy the Stadium after the season, at this rate fans may take the liberty.

Oh by the way, lost in the hoopla, Mike Pelfrey threw a gem, flirting with the first no-hitter in franchise history. You may have missed that part.