Mets general manager Omar Minaya's job situation isn't nearly secure at season's end, despite what some misinterpreted as an iron-clad endorsement from team owner Fred Wilpon nearly three weeks ago.
In reality, the Mets very likely need a big finish for Minaya to retain the GM job, people familiar with the situation say. A decision is expected on Minaya and manager Jerry Manuel -- who is more commonly known to be on the hot seat -- shortly after the season. The Mets enter play Tuesday night at 62-62, 10 1/2 games out in the NL East and eight games behind in the wild card race.
"I focus on doing my job today, and that's all I can control,'' Minaya said by phone when asked about his chances for staying in the GM job for 2011.
Asked earlier this month by a New York Post reporter as to whether Minaya will be back as GM in 2011, Wilpon responded, "Is the sun going to come out tomorrow?" Many took that to mean Minaya was safe but though he's a tough guy with a big heart from Queens, he isn't naïve enough to believe Wilpon's fleeting, almost forced words meant he would definitely be back. It wasn't a ringing endorsement, it was a running endorsement -- Wilpon reportedly was hustling away at the time he responded.
While Manuel has been perceived to need a big year because he lacks a guaranteed contract for 2011 (the Mets hold an option), Minaya has been seen as far safer. He was thought by many to have an excellent chance to keep his job because of his strong relationship with Wilpon and a contract that guarantees another two years at about $1 million per year, slightly higher depending on bonuses. However, that $2 million or so total isn't viewed as a significant enough sum of money alone to sway ownership, and the Mets' very up-and-down season and a strong likelihood that they will not make the playoffs has put him in clear peril, several sources say.
Minaya has been around New York most of his life, and he understands the score, even if no one is saying it publicly. He surely also understands a big finish is a boost he probably needs.
Minaya would likely be reassigned to another position if he isn't kept as GM. He is well-regarded in the organization and around baseball for having a keen eye for talent, being an outside-the-box thinker and a team player.
Some possible candidates to replace Minaya could include ex-Padres GM and current Yankees consultant Kevin Towers, whose record looks even better with the Padres flourishing this year, and in-house candidates John Ricco and Wayne Krivsky. Superb ultra-experienced former GM Pat Gillick would be an interesting thought if he'd do it. (Mets scout and former Diamondbacks manager Bob Melvin is seen as the leading candidate to replace Manuel, though Wally Backman, a former Mets second baseman and currently the manager for the organization's short-season Single-A Brooklyn Cyclones, can't be discounted.)
Rangers GM Jon Daniels is said to have an out in his contract and would seem to make an ideal candidate after rebuilding the Rangers with an emphasis on scouting and development plus some key trades and free-agent signings (Daniels, who is from Bayside, also happens to be a Queens product). But it's hard to imagine new Rangers ownership letting Daniels leave, and new owner Chuck Greenberg called keeping Daniels "critical.''
Towers (who could be in contention for other GM openings this offseason), Daniels (the Rangers pay very well and he's believed to make more than Minaya) and especially Gillick would command high salaries.
Minaya had some big early years with the Mets (his Mets teams are still more than 40 games over .500) but they aren't approaching ownership expectations by playing .500 baseball so far this year even though that marks a stark improvement with a lowered payroll (but still one of the highest in baseball) from their 70-92 record of a year ago.
Despite a mostly disappointing last year and a half for the Mets, in many ways Minaya is suited for the job he fills. He has shown a very thick skin in the face of harsh criticism (like every GM, he doesn't hold the purse strings and thus doesn't have the final say-so over some decisions) and talented first-round picks such as pitcher Mike Pelfrey and first baseman Ike Davis bring a better future than many thought. But the disappointing recent record will likely be the determining factor, and that doesn't bode well for his chances to stay as GM.
Minaya had great initial success as GM of the Mets, leading ownership to bestow a three-year extension that guaranteed about $1 million per year after the 2008 season. But things haven't gone as planned the past couple years. Injuries have played a role, but while some of the smaller signings (R.A. Dickey, Hisanori Takahashi) have proved prescient, a few of the bigger ones have been anything but, including Luis Castillo ($24 million, four years, Ollie Perez ($36 million, three years) and so far Jason Bay ($66 million, four years). Francisco Rodriguez ($37 million, three years) has performed well -- though not as well he did with the Angels -- as closer but embarrassed the club recently by hitting the grandfather of his children outside the family room at Citi Field, an incident which led to his arrest and caused a season-ending thumb injury. The Mets' payroll of about $130 million is among the highest in baseball but down more than 10 percent from last season. Team higherups are said to be especially annoyed about the big contracts that haven't panned out (though in fairness, every major market team has one or two or three of those).
Wilpon's words were probably intended to be kind, but they may prove to have been spoken too soon. Mets ownership is not happy with a season so far that appears to be falling short of their expectations following the disastrous 2009 season. Plus, Wilpon isn't the lone decider. Club COO Jeff Wilpon and partner Saul Katz have a say, too.
Minaya knows things change, and that the well-intentioned Fred Wilpon once gave manager Bobby Valentine a much more concrete vote of confidence in 2002 before changing his mind and firing Valentine a few weeks later. That is a common occurrence in sports where owners are frequently pressed about the status of high-profile department leaders when teams don't meet expectations. There really is no good answer for an owner if a particular GM or manager may not be back because an owner can't very well make any sort of mixed sentiment public, rendering so-called votes of confidence almost totally meaningless. So if Minaya doesn't totally discount what Wilpon said, he knows not to take it too seriously.
Fred Wilpon has been known as a strong supporter of Minaya's for years. But Minaya is in daily contact with his bosses, and knows more than one rushed sound bite from his boss might suggest. Those behind-the-scenes talks surely have been more revealing and have taken on a more detailed and different tenor than that brief interview Wilpon gave to the New York Post. That should come as no surprise considering that interview consisted of one answer at one particular time.
• Expect Manny Ramirez to be claimed by some team when he likely goes on waivers before the Aug. 31 waiver deadline. "He can still swing the bat," one scout said. He just got back from the disabled list for the Dodgers, but he may prefer to DH at this point. The White Sox were interested before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, are still very much in the race and feel they still need a hitter for the middle of their order. The sides didn't come close to working out a deal last time (a person with ties to the Sox said they made two offers and received no counters, but the Dodgers apparently didn't like the idea of paying most of the money when they were in the thick of the race). The Dodgers have fallen back a bit now, and a waiver claim would save them more than $3 million.
• New Orioles manager Buck Showalter, who has gone 12-8 since taking over in Baltimore, has almost done too well. Because of the Orioles' immediate improvement under him, they are now behind the deserving Pirates in the race for next year's No. 1 draft pick.
• The Diamondbacks say they will interview manager and GM candidates. But it would be a surprise if Kirk Gibson isn't retained as manager. He's the fiery type they were looking for following intellectual A.J. Hinch, and it can't hurt that as a player he was the leader of the Dodgers, the team where D-backs president Derrick Hall was P.R. director. The explanation given by some for the dismissal of former GM Josh Byrnes is that it was a case of two good people (Hall and Byrnes) just not seeing eye to eye, including over Hinch (Byrnes wanted to keep him). Interim GM Jerry Dipoto also has a decent chance to retain his job, though Towers and Yankees scouting director Damon Oppenheimer are seen as candidates there.
• The Padres seem like a logical fit to hire the well-respected Byrnes for their front office. He worked for owner Jeff Moorad in Arizona and with GM Jed Hoyer in Boston. Several teams have called Byrnes already.
• Lou Piniella is a strong Hall of Fame candidate, despite a bad tenure with the hometown Rays and two bad years with the Cubs (following two good ones). He mostly did great work, especially with the Mariners, and his 1990 World Series title with the Reds is one of the most improbable ever. My unofficial Twitter poll found 144 people think Piniella deserves a spot in Cooperstown and 73 say he doesn't.
• The Mariners probably make the most sense for Valentine. Padres bench coach and former catcher Ted Simmons reportedly is under consideration, which makes sense since he worked in Milwaukee when GM Jack Zduriencik was there. Simmons is a very smart man and it's a wonder he hasn't been given more managerial opportunities already.
• The Giants' claim of Cody Ross looks a little bit like overkill after they'd already added Pat Burrell and Jose Guillen in-season. It was very likely a block to prevent Ross from going to another contending team and they still need offense. Ross could help but the Blue Jays' Jose Bautista, who became the first player to reach 40 home runs this season, would have helped a lot more. Many people agreed that San Francisco shouldn't give up starter Jonathan Sanchez for a big hitter, but with Bautista under contract for 2011 at a reasonable $6 million, he would have been worth a steep price, especially with the Giants having such strong and deep starting pitching.
• Carlos Delgado , who signed a free-agent deal with the Red Sox but was batting just .231 with no home runs in five games, should maybe consider retirement. He hasn't played in the majors since May 2009 and is now on the minor-league disabled list. The time for him to go to the Red Sox was 2004, when they had a trade for him but he vetoed it, not now. It didn't hurt Boston to give it a shot, though. This isn't the year for the Red Sox to have traded their best prospects; better to try a patch job and hope for the best. They've somehow remained in the race.
• Based on his 2010 performance, Todd Helton is another who should consider retirement. He is batting just .257 with four home runs and 23 RBIs in 85 games.
• MLB's other owners are finding entertainment value in the divorcing McCourts' constant sniping and countercharges, and while MLB bigs would like a change in ownership there, it's hard for them to force it. It could come with the divorce, though, if the party that wins the team doesn't have the money to keep it. You have to wonder whether legal bills could be a factor. The divorce trial is set to start Monday, providing more entertainment fodder for other owners.
• The Pirates admitted to making $34.8 million over the last three years, according to the Pittsburgh Review-Journal in anticipation the Associated Press was about to report similar findings. The Pirates are in a bit of hot water with MLB for this. But they are just one of a few small-market teams that needs to stop using baseball as a piggy bank. In no other business is bad performance rewarded like this. The Marlins, whose baseball people must be brilliant, actually made about $50 million in one year. You could look at this as good business. But the big-market teams that are subsidizing them don't see it that way.
• Congratulations to commissioner Bud Selig, who joined hall of Famers Hank Aaron and Robin Yount with a statue at the home plate plaza at Miller Park. A host of big names, including Yount, Paul Molitor, Rollie Fingers, Al Kaline and Frank Robinson and old friend Joe Torre, the Dodgers manager whose team is in town, were expected to attend Tuesday's ceremony in Milwaukee.
• Glad to see Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully, 82, will be back for yet another year of superb announcing, which will be his 62nd season. He's still at the top of his game and his profession.