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Friday, October 01, 2004

They've Got To Be Kidding

Reasonably good news for Mets' fans is that the Mets hired Omar Minaya, their one-time assistant GM and current GM of the Washington Generals (nee Montreal Expos) to be their head of baseball operations (supplanting Jim Duquette). Read all about it here. Minaya made lemonade out of lemons to a certain degree in a relatively low-pressure situation in Montreal. Now he's in the big-time, and each decision, each Rule 5 pick-up, non-roster invitee to Spring Training, acquisition of a utility infielder from Seattle, among other things, will be scrutinized constantly and daily. And, for the most part, in English. Loud, sometimes profane, English.

Reasonably bad news is that two names have loomed prominently in the discussions as to who might replace Art Howe as the next Mets' manager. The first is Jim Fregosi, who last managed the Phillies in the mid-1990's and has served in the "special assistant" category to a variety of teams over the years. You might recall that Fregosi went to SF as a special assistant to the GM during the early days of Dusty Baker's tenure there, and I recall reading a newspaper article at the time indicating that Fregosi was hired as a manager in waiting should Baker fail. Well, you know how that turned out. Jody MacDonald pointed out on WFAN yesterday that there are tons of reasons why the Mets shouldn't hire Fregosi (MacDonald was in Philadelphia on WIP Sports Radio when Fregosi managed the Phillies), and he served up one of the best ones: how could the Mets make him manager given that he was the key player they acquired when they traded Nolan Ryan to the Angels? Funny point. (The cognoscenti will recall that Fregosi went to the same HS as Barry Bonds, for whatever that's worth). Fregosi caught lightning in a bottle with the 1993 Phillies, but his tenure in Philadelphia, outside of that magical season, was undistinguished and rife with losing season after losing season. And, for what it's worth, he battled with the Philadelphia media. If he thought that the Philadelphia media was tough, he hasn't seen anything yet.

Fregosi is old news, but in the history of baseball managers have gotten recycled time and time again. So it wouldn't be a shock if he gets another managing job. But it's also a reasonable bet that he won't turn into another Joe Torre (who had a losing record as a manager when he got the Yankees job), either.

More recent old news is that Bobby Valentine's name has surfaced as a prominent candidate. For those who are suffering from an overload of their short-term memory, Bobby V. was Art Howe's predecessor and reportedly a royal pain for those who played for him. And now Omar Minaya may want him back. I'm not so sure that a manager will really sell tickets. I doubt that Pete Rose as manager brought people into the park, and I can venture that while the Phillies' fans were happy that after Terry Francona's easygoing style they were happy to see their old warrior, Larry Bowa, get the job, Bowa himself didn't fill the seats. I do, however, wonder whether an unpopular managerial choice will keep people away. And, even if not an unpopular manager, how about a lackluster, uncreative choice?

There are plenty of bench coaches out there who deserve a shot at managing, and the Mets should examine those choices closely. It would be great for them if they could hire a proven winner in Lou Piniella, but if they cannot get Sweet Lou to return to NYC, they should look for the brightest managerial prospect out there and give him a chance. That would be the smart move, because this Mets team isn't primed to win next year or even the year after. The lineup has many holes, some of the starting pitchers are old, and they traded away a lot of prospects to get Kris Benson and Victor Zambrano, neither of whom are first-line starters, notwithstanding some of the public wishful thinking that says pitching coach Rick Peterson is a magician and can make the average cabbie from Brooklyn into a front-line starting pitcher.

They should look for proteges of managers of the most successful teams. Look for people who have sat next to or near Joe Torre, Felipe Alou, Mike Scioscia, Dusty Baker, Bobby Cox, Jack McKeon and Tony LaRussa. There are plenty of coaches out there who deserve a chance, and you have to remember that someone somewhere has given every rookie manager a chance. Even in places like New York, where expectations are high.

If you're a Mets' fan, you have to wonder why the hometown Orange and Blue aren't interested in this guy, this guy, this guy, this guy, this guy, this guy, this guy, this guy, this guy, this guy, this guy or this guy? There is a popular Mets' alum (hint: he's a bilingual coach for the Cardinals) a lesser known Mets' alum (hint: he's an acting manager) and a one-time employee of the Mets' organization (hint: he's the right hand of the best-known cigar-smoking manager in the majors) among the group. All are good candidates.

The Mets need to spruce up their organization from top to bottom. They are off to a good start with Omar Minaya, but sprucing up doesn't mean to bring back the old cedar hangars into your drab-green painted closet. It means bringing in someone with a good track record and with promise, and some of the coaches I have linked to above will do just that. And once Omar Minaya settles on his manager, he needs to rebuild his roster, straighten out his infield defense, find some pitching prospects to populate the minors and figure out what to do with a few gimpy, aging hitters. And then he needs the Wilpons to figure out what to do about their venue.

The Mets need to look to the future in the big way. In rebuilding their organization, they have to avoid the temptations of the past.


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