Mets part ways with Manuel, Minaya
COO says team needs someone to 'promote a winning culture'
NEW YORK -- Throughout his managerial tenure, one beset by injuries and inconsistency, Jerry Manuel often made light of his tenuous job status. "I'm still here!" he liked to bellow, whenever rumors surfaced regarding his future.
General manager Omar Minaya employed a more reserved strategy. Though Minaya politely answered questions regarding his own tenuous position with the Mets, he never broached the subject himself. Minaya was more guarded.
In the end, both tactics led to similar results. The Mets announced on Monday that they will not exercise the 2011 option on Manuel's contract, and that they have relieved Minaya of his duties as general manager.
"Last year, I said that we would put together a championship-caliber team on the field," Mets COO Jeff Wilpon said. "We failed. Today, we let our GM and manager go. We are all responsible here. Ownership is responsible. Our general manager and manager are responsible."
"Our family has owned the New York Mets for a very long time," CEO Fred Wilpon said. "We've had a lot of good years and too many poor years. That's painful. But I must say that the last four years have been the most painful to me."
Mets assistant general manager John Ricco will head the baseball operations department until the team hires Minaya's replacement, at which time the managerial search can begin. After the Mets name a GM, they will also discuss changes to their coaching staff, though a source indicated that hitting coach Howard Johnson, pitching coach Dan Warthen, third-base coach Chip Hale and bullpen coach Randy Niemann are all in good standing. Johnson and Niemann, in particular, will receive job offers from the Mets, even if they don't retain their current positions.
Though the Mets did discuss the possibility of having their former GM remain with the team in another capacity, Minaya said that it would not be "fair" to impose himself or his views upon his successor. Indicating that he could eventually return to the club with the next GM's blessing, Minaya will spend this winter with his family.
Minaya, who joined the Mets prior to the 2005 season and inked a four-year extension in October 2008, will still collect the close to $2.5 million remaining on his contract and has complete freedom to interview for jobs elsewhere. His most significant splashes came early in his Mets tenure, when Minaya signed outfielder Carlos Beltran, right-hander Pedro Martinez and closer Billy Wagner to sizable free-agent contracts.
More recently, Minaya engineered the deal to bring Johan Santana to Flushing, prior to the 2008 season.
"I've been in this town long enough to know that you're expected to win," Minaya said. "Ownership has, as far as you look at our payroll, given me the payroll to go out there and get the job done. I know the players have tried. The coaches have tried. Everybody has tried. But the bottom line is, it wasn't done."
Manuel, who left Citi Field without speaking publicly, completed his Mets tenure with a 204-213 record. Taking over from Willie Randolph in the early-morning hours of June 17, 2008, Manuel quickly endeared himself to fans with his forthright nature and philosophical approach. He led the Mets to a 55-38 record over the final three and a half months of that season, then dropped his interim tag by earning a two-year contract with a third-year option to remain in New York.
From that point forward, team health issues and inconsistencies marred Manuel's body of work. Considered one of the National League's top clubs entering the 2009 season, the Mets endured injuries to almost every key regular on their roster, finishing with a losing record for the first time in five years. Though the Mets improved in 2010, flirting with a .500 record for most of the season, they did not make enough progress to appease upper management.
"We thought we were on the right track," Fred Wilpon said. "2006 was close. And then we had a number of years after that when we were close and we couldn't close it, and two very, very bad years after that. We invested a lot of time and energy and passion, as well as resources that we offered. We didn't win. We didn't get where we wanted to get to and where our fans wanted us to get to. We made investments that didn't prove out to be great investments. And we have to correct that."
Manuel, the 2000 American League Manager of the Year, has posted a 704-684 record in nine combined years managing the White Sox and Mets. Between those positions, he spent time as a bench coach for the Mets under Randolph. Prior to his managing days, Manuel also served as bench coach for the Marlins under Jim Leyland and third-base coach for the Expos under Felipe Alou.
"I think he was appropriately disappointed, knowing the failure of the team, and it fell on him somewhat, with the general manager," Jeff Wilpon said. "But he very much wanted to finish the job and handled himself in a totally first-class manner, and we wish him well."
Seemingly inevitable throughout the second half of the summer, Monday's shakeups mark the beginning of what will be a busy offseason for the Mets, who now must begin the process of interviewing and hiring replacements. Among the possible candidates for Manuel's job are former Mets second baseman Wally Backman and Bobby Valentine, who managed the Mets from 1996-2002. For Minaya's job, former D-backs GM Josh Byrnes, White Sox assistant GM Rick Hahn and former A's GM Sandy Alderson lead the list of possible replacements.
Ricco will assist the Wilpons in the GM search, which began in earnest on Monday afternoon. Already, the Mets have whittled an initial list of more than 30 candidates to down to a half dozen or so, who will imminently engage in a two-round interview process. Though a source indicated that Ricco himself is not a candidate, the assistant GM will help integrate his new boss upon arrival.
Regarding the search for that person, the Mets insist that they have no preconceived notions of what qualities they want their new GM to possess. They will simply listen to each candidate, make their decision, and then help him usher in a new era for the organization.
"The bottom line is winning," Fred Wilpon said. "It's more painful when you lose with two very good people -- very good, high-character men. It's more painful. But the bottom line is, you have to win in this town, and that's what we have to do in 2011 and beyond."