The “Save Willie” Post

Everyone is throwing their two cents in on the Willie Randolph controversy, so I guess I should add my perspective. I’ve avoided comment on Willie’s situation for some time now because, in reality, there is no easy answer here. Fire Willie, and, yes, the demons of last year might be exorcised. But on the flip side, a mid-year managerial shakeup could drive the team apart. Of course, it has been extensively reported that the Mets clubhouse is divisive as it is, so maybe this wouldn’t hurt as much as it could.

If I have to pick a side, and I feel like I do, I’m more on the “Keep Willie” side. It’s not that I have complete confidence in the manager. I agree with Willie’s critics that he doesn’t motivate the team enough. I’ve commented on his poor managerial decisions in the past. But, ultimately, the responsibility for this year’s mediocre play, in my view (and I know a lot of people will disagree with me here) belongs to Omar Minaya, not Willie.

Sure, this team is made up of a bunch of All Stars. Sure, the payroll is among baseball’s highest. But that doesn’t mean that this team automatically deserves to be counted among the best in baseball. If the last decade has taught us anything, it is that payroll does not equal performance. Sure, I’m a Moneyball fan, but that doesn’t mean that I’m delusional. Time proves that the most successful teams employ general managers who have a strong eye for player development, augmenting homegrown players with free agents. It’s not a theory, it’s a fact. And the fact is that Omar has depleted the Mets farm system, trading away players like Brian Bannister, Heath Bell, Mike Jacobs, and Jeff Keppinger for players who haven’t pulled their collective weight.

I’ll save the rest of my argument for a later post about the many failings of Minaya, but suffice it to say that Willie didn’t come into this season with a whole lot to work with. The best teams in baseball have significant depth. The Mets came into this season depending on Moises Alou, Orlando Hernandez, and Pedro Martinez. There was no backup plan. It’s not Willie’s fault that left field has depended on a plethora of mediocre players including Marlon Anderson, Endy Chavez, Fernando Tatis, and now Trot Nixon. It’s not Willie’s fault that the bullpen stinks. It’s not Willie’s fault that Ryan Church wasn’t placed on the DL after sustaining his second concussion of the year. It’s not Willie’s fault that players such as Nick Evans and Chris Aguila were counted on to put up big league numbers.

As I’ve said, I believe the Mets should retain Willie through the end of the year. But, regardless of what the ownership decides to do, it needs to act now. It’s not fair to anyone–the players, the coaches, the fans–to take a day by day approach to the manager’s job. I can’t even begin to imagine the atmosphere inside the clubhouse right now. As if playing in New York isn’t stress enough, this situation must be horrible to deal with.

At the end of the day, the teams who win the World Series always look like they’re having a lot of fun. Statisticians might say that team chemistry is imaginary. But I say that’s false. If a team isn’t having fun off of the field, it won’t be having fun on the field either. This state of limbo is surely helping no one. Omar and the Wilpons need to get their act together and make a decision now. And that decision should be to keep Willie Randolph as manager of the New York Mets.

-Jonathan Kraft


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