Without big finish, Minaya could be out as Mets GM at year's end
Omar Minaya got a seemingly firm endorsement from owner Fred Wilpon
Kevin Towers and Jon Daniels are experienced GMs the Mets might target
It will be a surprise if Kirk Gibson isn't brought back as Diamondbacks manager
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 na´ve 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.