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Sources: Scouts' return bad sign for GM Minaya

Sources say longtime scout Sandy Johnson has agreed to return to the Mets as VP of scouting to continue assisting embattled general manager Omar Minaya after suggesting for weeks he was likely to retire, and some Mets officials believe the unusual effort made to retain Johnson is another sign of diminishing faith in Minaya.

Mets COO Jeff Wilpon is said to have thought it imperative that Johnson, who had a big hand in building winning teams in Texas and Arizona, return to boost the front office. Johnson had previously expressed to the Mets that he was likely to retire. Johnson was said by one club official to have been given basically "a blank check" to return, signaling the Mets' desperation to keep him. The vast majority of Mets scouts had their contracts renewed within the past few days with no raise, said to be the result of a bad economy and the team's poor performance.

The Mets also are looking for another senior baseball executive to join Johnson and assistant GM John Ricco and form a strong triumvirate under Minaya, who is said to by people in the organization to be on thin ice after the Mets' disappointing season. Some Mets people believe that Minaya and manager Jerry Manuel won't survive a poor start in 2010, and that the presence of Johnson and Ricco gives the Mets an alternative should Minaya be fired. One mid-level Mets official said he believed the retention of Johnson combined with a plan to hire another veteran person "sets the stage" for Minaya to be fired. Some Mets people believe the biggest reason Minaya is being kept for now is the three years and $3.5 million remaining on his contract.

Johnson's new agreement will include a scaling back of duties. The Mets are intent on hiring another experienced front office person. Former Padres GM Kevin Towers' name came up for that job, but he doesn't appear to top their list now, possibly in part because the Mets have the impression he doesn't want to leave the West Coast.

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