Mets Managerial Woes
by Trevor Whenham - 06/18/2008
Teams in New York consistently remind us that being in the biggest and best city and having the most money is no guarantee of success. The Yankees are the team that people love to hate, but the Mets are usually the lovable losers. I don't know how lovable they are these days, but they certainly are losers. They have the second highest payroll in the league, they have serviceable players in every position and stars in most, they have sent their young prospects off around the league in the pursuit of current success, and yet they are currently two games below .500 70 games into the season. That's ridiculous.
As seems too often be the case in New York, the manager was to blame for the woes. After being left to twist in the wind for weeks, Willie Randolph was finally fired on Monday. It was inevitable, but the way they did it was ridiculous and controversial. The team was at home on Sunday and they lost. Instead of firing him then, they let him leave for a West Coast trip. They won on Monday night, but Randolph was let go anyway, along with his first base coach and pitching coach. Even worse, the announcement was made in a press release that hit the wires at 3:15 a.m.. Classy.
Jerry Manuel is the interim manager for the rest of the season. He was the bench coach for Randolph, but you probably remember him better as the manager of the White Sox for six years starting in 1998. He won 500 games there, and he was Manager of the Year in 2000, so he can manage.
The situation is laughable on several levels, and more than a little enjoyable for people like me who don't have any love for the team, but bettors need to carefully consider what impact the change in management could have on the team. As I see it there are three different possible outcomes for the rest of the season. Here's a look at all three, in order of the perceived likelihood.
Status quo - I'm occasionally wrong, but I never get very excited when a coach from within a team takes over for a departed manager. A change is a change, but I always think that the new manager was with the team already, so if he really had something profound to offer to help the situation then he already would have. If he didn't then he wouldn't be much of a leader. This is especially true in this case. Manuel was the bench coach, so he was Randolph's right hand man. He'd been working with Randolph for a while now, and he was promoted into the bench coach position, so it only stands to reason that he had the ear of the manager. Though Manuel is a decent manager is his own right, and he probably will do a few things differently than Randolph, it's hard to imagine him significantly changing the way things work. This isn't a team that is defined by its heart and will to win, so it seems very likely to me that they will keep doing the same sorts of frustrating things that have led them to be so drearily mediocre.
There is one more factor that is worth exploring. Manuel was a Manager of the Year, yet he has been an assistant with the Mets since he left the White Sox in 2003. Given his accomplishments and the turnover of managers in baseball you would think that he would be in demand for a second shot at the helm of a team. That says one of two things to me. Either there is something about him that turns teams off, or he lacks the ambition to leave a comfortable position in New York for another head job. Either choice leads me to be pessimistic about his chances of a miraculous recovery.
Quick turnaround - Sometimes a change in management can totally change the outlook and play of a team. The most dramatic recent example comes from a different sport. The Washington Capitals started last season 6-14-1 under Glen Hanlon. He was fired and replaced by Bruce Boudreau, a star coach from the minor leagues. Though the talent on the team didn't change significantly, the results certainly did. The team went 37-17-7 under Boudreau, and they made the playoffs. Boudreau was named the Coach of the Year in the NHL despite missing the first two months of the season. You can't know for sure what Boudreau did to turn things around unless you were in the dressing room, but the combination of factors he brought to the table were obviously exactly what the team needed.
That kind of turnaround isn't just limited to hockey. One thing the Capitals had is a core of solid talent led by league MVP Alexander Ovechkin. The Mets have the same thing to offer. They have solid pitching, great bats, and potential oozing from their scorecard. On paper they are a much better team than they have been, so it is certainly possible that they could turn things around and get back in contention. After all, it's not like the top of their division is running away from them - they are only six games behind the Phillies. I would believe that this turnaround were more likely if the replacement didn't come from inside, but perhaps the removal of Randolph and all of the distractions he brought to the clubhouse every day will allow for the boost the team needs.
Quit - The Mets aren't nearly as good as they should be, and ever since their collapse at the end of last season they haven't really looked like a team that cares. Now they have a very good built-in excuse to write off the rest of the season. The team is packed with talent, but I don't really see the guys that will stand up in the clubhouse and say what the team needs to hear. I don't think that a collapse is particularly likely, but I also wouldn't be too surprised if it happened. If that was the case then Omar Minaya would hit the job market pretty quickly.