As a team, the New York Mets have fallen woefully short of their expectations this season. At 30-31, the Mets are currently in fourth place in the NL East.
For the most part, manager Willie Randolph has shouldered the brunt of the criticism stemming from the Mets' mediocre play through the first 60 games of this season.
Randolph is not the best manager in baseball. He handles his pitchers poorly and his rapport with his players is mediocre at best.
A few days ago, Randolph dug an even bigger hole for himself by unleashing this gem about race as a factor in the criticism he has received in an interview with a New Jersey newspaper;
"Is it racial?" Randolph asked. "Huh? It smells a little bit. I don't know how to put my finger on it, but I think there's something there. Herman Edwards did pretty well here and he won a couple of playoff [games], and they were pretty hard on Herm. Isiah Thomas didn't do a great job, but they beat up Isiah pretty good. ... I don't know if people are used to a certain figurehead. There's something weird about it."
First off, the comparison to Thomas is a moot point, Isiah destroyed the Knicks with his questionable (and that is a charitable use of the word) player moves and his inability to fire up his team.
Needless to say, race was not a factor in Isiah's firing. In fact, Thomas' well publicized friendship with Knicks owner James Dolan is all that kept him as coach of the Knicks despite a sexual harassment lawsuit and a lack of production from his team. But I digress.
Randolph's shortcomings as a manager are not what have brought about the fall of the New York Mets.
Granted, Randolph is leading a team with a $140 million payroll to fourth place in a somewhat mediocre division (with the obvious exception of the streaking Phillies), but Randolph has no say in where the Wilpons' money is spent.
Mets GM Omar Minaya may have completed his coup de gras last offseason when he landed the best pitcher in baseball, Johan Santana, without parting ways with super prospect Fernando Martinez.
But unfortunately for Minaya, one great move cannot erase a multitude of miscues. At the end of last season, the Mets "shockingly" collapsed over the last few games of the season en route to a second-place finish in the East and a vacation come October.
When it happened, the Mets' demise was as surprising as it was devastating for the fans in Queens. Some place the blame for this failure to close out the season squarely on Randolph's shoulders, which is just plain wrong.
A closer look at the Mets reveals a penchant on the part of Minaya to buy injury-prone veterans who are in the twilight of their illustrious careers.
Among the most notable Minaya signings to go awry are:
- Pedro Martinez, who signed a four-year, $56 million contract and proved himself to be made of glass;
- El Duque Hernandez, who has not been the pitcher the Mets have expected him to be; and of course...
- Luis Castillo, whose four-year, $25 million contract is not becoming of a player who is hitting .258.
Moises Alou has also been injured for most of the season. At least the 41-year-old Alou was not given a long-term contract.
Conspicuously absent from this list is Carlos Beltran, whose seven-year, $119 million contract was so egregious that it puts him in the same breath as legendary busts like Mike Hampton and Barry Zito.
However, Beltran was only 28 at the time of his signing with the Mets, so the move was not quite as indefensible as some of Minaya's other signings. Then again, giving a guy who would turn 29 by the start of a season a seven-year contract for any amount of money is a risky proposition in itself.
Carlos Delgado is also aging and overpaid, but his contract was not of Minaya's design. Delgado came to the Mets in a trade for first baseman Mike Jacobs, who has hit 13 home runs as of this writing, and prospects Yusmeiro Petit and Grant Psomas.
Delgado has a no-trade clause in his contract, which called for him to earn $48 million over three years at the time he was dealt to the Mets.
The Mets' situation is not much better in the rotation, either. With the exceptions of their ace, Johan Santana, the Mets have the injury-riddled Pedro Martinez, John Maine, the horribly inconsistent Mike Pelfrey, and Oliver Perez, who sports a 5.70 ERA.
By the look of it, the Mets have an ace in Santana, two No. 3 starters in Maine and Martinez (if he's healthy) and two borderline No. 5 starters in Pelfrey and Perez/Hernandez.
The problem is not that Omar Minaya is uncommitted to pitching, far from it. After all, he owes Martinez, Perez, and Santana a combined $41.5 million this season. The real problem here is that Minaya has the nasty habit of picking the wrong guy to fill holes in the rotation.
The worst part of the Mets' pitching problems is the fact that the three busts that he signed were not expected to be worth the money that Minaya spent, even at the time of the signings.
Pedro Martinez was suffering a steep decline in productivity when he left Boston, Oliver Perez has been a mediocre player for his entire career, and Orlando Hernandez is nearing the age of 40 and has had widespread injury problems.
The Mets' collapse last season was not a fluke. It was a byproduct of a poorly constructed and aging team wearing out at the worst possible time. Last season's woes were a premonition of things to come, and while the Santana trade was a clear win for the Mets, one pitcher cannot fix the aging of an entire team.
Minaya did little to get younger in the offseason, despite the fact that his team was clearly aging. Willie Randolph deserves criticism for his moronic and inflammatory racial comments, but a manager can't make his team younger.
If you polish a turd, it's still a turd, and that's the bottom line. Unrealistic expectations were placed on a team that seemed to be in decline. Despite the fact that lead-off man Jose Reyes has regressed noticeably as a player, the Mets were not a contender before the Santana trade and they didn't become one after it.
Unfortunately for manager Willie Randolph, however, he seems to be in line to go to the guillotine for a crime that he did not commit, while the real culprit, Omar Minaya, emerges from the wreckage largely unscathed.