June 17, 2008

The Mets fired Willie Randolph last night following their 9-6 win over the Angels (at 3:15 in the morning eastern time, no less), and if that sentence reads strangely, it should.

The timing was even more peculiar given the schedule. The Mets were home all last week, played a rain-created doubleheader on Sunday, then flew to Anaheim on Sunday night. To make Randolph, pitching coach Rick Peterson and first-base coach Tom Nieto fly to California for the privilege of working one more day and being let go is, at best, ham-handed. Moreover, firing Randolph after one of the team's better wins -- a road game against the team with the third-best record in baseball -- is strange timing. It's completely unclear to me why Randolph had to go last night, as opposed to Sunday before stepping on a plane, or while the team was on a (however brief) winning streak.

Of course I've been the one arguing that Randolph deserves to keep his job, and I stand by that. He has improved tactically, doing a better job of handling a high-maintenance bullpen. He has played this season shorthanded from Day One, as the bets made by GM Omar Minaya on high-salaried, high-risk players, the ones that worked reasonably well in 2006 and less so in '07, failed completely in '08. Moises Alou has played in 15 games. Pedro Martinez has made four starts. Carlos Delgado has killed the team: .242/.321/.407 with poor defense. The Mets' bench, loaded with veterans, is awful: Only Ramon Castro and the injured Angel Pagan have a .300 OBP or .350 SLG. The Mets have been in position to win a number of games over the past few weeks, only to see the bullpen, most notably Billy Wagner, cough up the game. Randolph, like any manager, bears responsibility for his team's performance, but when you look at what he actually does, what he has had to work with and the performance of the roster core, it's difficult to argue that he is the problem. A quarter of his payroll has no-showed; that's hard to overcome.

I am not arguing that Minaya needs to be fired, either. I am saying that firing Randolph doesn't change anything for this Mets team on the field, and what it does for them off the field reeks of letting the media make decisions for you. The best argument for firing Randolph is that the constant coverage of his job status was a distraction for the players. However, that has nothing to do with Randolph or the players -- it has to do with a voracious media filling column inches and air time, a group that entered the 2008 season with its sights set on Randolph. The amount of time spent questioning Randolph's ability, versus the amount focused on the absences of Alou and Martinez, or the collapse of Delgado, or the execrable bench, is a bad joke. There's no analysis of baseball or the Mets or any thought process at all; it's just creating a story and then beating it until something happens.

This isn't quite the Dodgers of 2004-05, whose general manager, Paul DePodesta, was the target of media criticism from the day he was hired and who was let go largely because the Dodgers owner had no plan other than to pander to that media. (How's that working for you, Frank?) No, this is something a bit less blatant, but no less insidious. Randolph is out of a job today because a storyline was created, the Mets weren't savvy enough to get out in front of it, and the situation snowballed. Omar Minaya may have made the phone call, but it was the media that made this transaction.

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