Why I’m Rooting for Randolph

Underdog_metswillie.jpgThink about it — why are you a Mets fan? Is it because you demand perfection? Because you expect your team to finish in first place and go deep into the postseason every year? Of course not — there’s already a local team with that attitude.

We are Mets fans because we hate the Yankees, and hate everything the Yankees stand for. For many, it’s killing us that the Mets have the highest payroll in the NL. While we may have been happy to have obtained Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran in the winter following 2004, the fact that they both received extraordinary contracts was a tough pill to swallow. As Mets fans we root for the underdog, and when our team is “supposed to” finish in first, it throws the concept of being a Mets fan out of whack.

For all of 2007 and the beginning of 2008, the Mets were not underdogs. As a result, we were transformed into Mets fans with the attitude and expectations of Yankees fans. Yuck.

For those who can remember back to graveyard era of Art Howe, the Mets were in a shambles. They had brought in high-priced players who were absolute busts. They were old, tired, lazy, and playing with diminished skills (sound familiar?). The bland and lifeless Howe was a symbol of the team. The Wilpons made several moves to right the ship. They fired their GM, fired Howe, and brought in the colorful and enigmatic Omar Minaya. Minaya, in turn, hired proven winner and local hero Willie Randolph. The process began over a year before, as evidenced by this quote from an article in the New York Times on June 13th 2003:

This ship has been off course for three seasons, not because of a lack of resources, but because of a lack of judgment. The Mets began the year with a payroll of about $120 million, which is second only to the Yankees’ roughly $180 million. They have nothing to show for it but a clubhouse of aging stars with big names, big contracts and big injuries. It’s all Steve Phillips’s fault.

He sold Wilpon on the notion that you had to win with big names in New York, that the fans weren’t patient enough to wait for rebuilding, that you had to do it now. Forget the farm system.

But Wilpon apparently came to the conclusion that the Mets’ salvation was not exclusively found in high-priced stars. Yesterday, he made an intriguing observation. He said he knows now that a hefty payroll does not ensure success. ”We’ve learned that painfully.”

More than once yesterday he said, ”We’re going to get younger and more athletic.”

After Minaya hired Randolph, he had an interesting statement. This quote leads an article from November 5, 2004:

When Willie Randolph was out of earshot, and the initial excitement surrounding his introduction yesterday had died down somewhat, Omar Minaya made a telling admission.

“A lot of his success,” Minaya said, “will depend on the job I do. I’ve got to give him the right players.”

That last quote may be the most important, and could be part of the reason Willie is still manager of the Mets.

Going over these collected quotes, it sounded like the Wilpons were eager to reverse the plan of trying to fix the organization by throwing money at it. They gave the impression, in fact, that the Mets would build from within, using the Braves as a model to follow. One of the big reasons Willie Randolph was hired, in fact, was his reputation as a man who could influence and develop young players. After the 2004 season, the Mets were committed to building a team around Jose Reyes and David Wright — a team that would contend over the long haul.

Then, something went awry.

It started with the signing of Pedro Martinez to an unheard-of contract, and soon followed by the signing of Carlos Beltran to an even more obnoxious price. These were good moves in that they established that the Mets were serious about winning, and willing to put their money where their mouth was, but the spending should have stopped there. Instead, encouraged by their first winning record in four years, the Mets went for broke. That offseason, they spent more money and made more short-term moves to bring in high-priced veterans such as Paul LoDuca, Carlos Delgado, and Billy Wagner. The plans to build a strong organization for the long-term, to stock the 25-man roster with fruits from within, went out the window. It was akin to the strategy of the Florida Marlins one year prior, but the Mets failed in the execution. For one, they didn’t into the World Series, and second, they didn’t immediately swap away the aging veterans in return for young blood. Instead of following the strategy, and learning from history, the Wilpons went blindly down the same path of self-destruction.

I’ll reiterate one of the quotes from above:

But Wilpon apparently came to the conclusion that the Mets’ salvation was not exclusively found in high-priced stars. Yesterday, he made an intriguing observation. He said he knows now that a hefty payroll does not ensure success. ”We’ve learned that painfully.”

Apparently, not painfully enough. The magic of 2006 numbed that pain, made it a distant memory. Time heals all wounds, right?

After “the collapse”, the front office was duped into believing the Mets’ roster constituted something better than a .500 team. The team’s .500 record from June to October was dismissed as an aberration. The demise of Carlos Delgado was deemed overblown. The fact that the Mets had gotten older and less athletic since that June 13, 2003 statement was never considered. So instead of admitting the obvious — that this team needed major renovations — it instead opted for more short-term band-aids. With the opening of Citi Field on the horizon, the Wilpons insisted on putting a winner on the field — and damn the future. Only months before, pundits talked about the starting outfield on opening day 2009 in the new ballpark. It would consist of some combination of Fernando Martinez, Carlos Gomez, and Lastings Milledge — symbolizing the young, athletic, built-for-the-longterm Mets. That pipe dream has been shattered, replaced by the same old, overpaid Mets. Rather than stick with a solid plan, the Wilpons chose to chase the Yankees, to throw good money after bad, and continue the illusion that the team is just one player away from the World Series. It’s kind of like owning a used car with 75,000 miles — do you replace the timing chain, knowing more repairs may be on the way, or do you bite the bullet and drive it down to the new car dealership?

When Willie Randolph came in, he was supposed to be the guy who would teach the youngsters how to win. Wright, Reyes, and Beltran were supposed to be playing with a mixture of players that included Milledge, Gomez, Mike Jacobs, Phil Humber, Brian Bannister, Aaron Heilman, John Maine. The few seasoned veterans on the team would be complimentary players — winners who could help Willie teach the kids. Guys in the twilight of their careers, like Cliff Floyd, would dot the roster, not comprise it. It was a fine plan, and Willie would have done very well executing it — remember, his strength is in developing young players, not babysitting old ones.

Randolph played and coached on many veteran teams, but was spoiled in that many of those older players were professionals. They had won before, and knew what went into success. They already knew how to carry themselves, on and off the field. Other than Moises Alou and Luis Castillo, the veterans handed to Willie in the past two years never tasted winning — and you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

Thus, the Mets are a mediocre team, with little chance of making the postseason. As a result, Willie is the undeserved scapegoat. Many feel he has little chance of surviving the weekend as the Mets’ skipper. In order for him to succeed, he has to work with players he wasn’t supposed to have, with a team that is NOT “better than this”. The odds are stacked against him. In short, Willie Randolph is an underdog.

And that’s something we haven’t had at Shea in a long time.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. julie June 15, 2008 at 5:58 am
    Evidently the worm has turned. A couple weeks ago everyone wanted Willie out now we’ve looked deeper and we are much more serious about the change we actually want from this organization.

    I want to lose Omar,Tony Bernazard and Rick Peterson. I’d like to see John Sherholtz (sp?), I think using the Braves model is long overdue.
    Let Willie pick a pitching coach but I still stand by my thought that we need to clear Alou’s roster spot and let’s make him the hitting coach.

    Do we need an asst. GM? We’ve read about the pitfalls with these guys.
    While I still do not believe that Willie is the coach for our team
    I’d be willing to let him see out his contract if we made these other moves.

  2. sincekindergarten June 15, 2008 at 7:29 am
    Julie, Schuerholz (sp?) wouldn’t come north to the Mets, not since one of his top assistants took over for him. He’s got a lot of loyalty to his former underlings.

    However, Leo Mazzone might. Matter of fact, he’s a baseball analyist for ESPN now, so he probably would welcome the challenge.

  3. isuzudude June 15, 2008 at 8:17 am
    I can’t agree more with the tone of this article. My desire to keep Randolph as Mets manager isn’t because he never makes in-game mistakes, or because he lacks the liveliest expressions and postgame comments, or because he’s imperfect at every aspect of his job. It’s because he’s ONE OF US. He is living and dying by each game just as much as we are. He’s having to go through a whole lot of shit from the media, ownership, and misguided fans for reasons that are beyond his control. People calling for his job, his reputation, his livlihood, his life. He epitomizes Mets baseball more than any other member of the team – from Fred Wilpon to the batboy – with perhaps the exception of David Wright. If we dismiss him, we’re dismissing our identity.

    If you are to believe in anything, believe in doing the right thing. And the right thing is not to unfairly burden the entirety of the Mets struggles on one man. I don’t know how else to phrase my feelings. Firing Willie Randolph is just not the right move. And, although I’m guilty of joining the bandwagon, I don’t think firing anybody in this situation is the right move. I don’t think there’s one person in the Mets’ heirarchy who doesn’t care about winning, about giving the fans the best team to cheer for, about being committed and passionate about the success of the team. If anything, I wish these constant calls to fire this person and fire that person and bring in this person and get rid of this person would stop. That is the nature of a Yankee fan. A MET fan roots for underdogs to turn the season around. A MET fan identifies with GOOD PEOPLE and PROTECTS and SUPPORTS them. There are obvious flaws on this team, but they are fixable without having to cost people their jobs. And I, for one, am a fan who likes Randolph, who likes Omar, who likes the Wilpons, and likes 95% of the players. And I trust that they will get back to the glory days of 2006 by working together and making the right decisions.

  4. Micalpalyn June 15, 2008 at 9:52 am
    I like this article too. isuzu hits a nail in that as a brooklyner u can see how much he wants the right results. he is the right PERSON for the job. right now Willie is at a watershed and HE is learning. he has changed alot this year…from Planet Willie. I liken him to Byron Scott.

    Both you and cerrone make great points, but I admonish your biases. Willie’s folly was HIS deviation from protocol. omar has given him YOUNG TALENT!!!!!! but willie’s inability to mentor has cost him and the wilpons.
    A. Jae Seo- Gave a huge lift in the absence of Trachsel and Benson only to be immediately deposed upon their return.
    b. Kepp: A .400 college hitter kepp had a shot as a regular 2nd bagger however Chris Woodward and Miguel cairo were prefered for no good reason…
    c. heilman yes he suceeded as a releiver, but Willie ultimately could have stuck with him as a starter.
    d. milledge: willie has publicly chastized him to the point he had no Met future. I offer to you that a committment to millz might have retain that met swagger that was cast as arrogance plus give an athletic presence.
    e. bannister, ahern, Jacobs and pel are further exaples of players who could be still with him. I think a committment to Jacobs was warranted but not jacobs was deposed by Mink and Cairo. (Yet La Russa makes studs of chris Duncan and Chip schumacher?).
    DW, Pel, and Reyes- both players lack confidence and slump. Hojo is DW’s personal mentor and Rickey was brought in for Reyes. why…Willie should be the mentor…he should have the trust and respect of his players.

    Again: i think there is so much talent on this team they can will themselves to win…once they relax. If Willie surrounds himself with the right coaches and he channels Eddie murphy he will be fine. BUT i dont trust him to choose HIS coaches. Petersons forte is teaching mechanics. Warthen teaches poise. i find no fault there. … On the subject Pel has stepped up easily that 2-4 record could be 5-2. his WHP/BAA are inflated by the disease called ‘umpire-squeeze’.

    Injuries: injuries happen to kids too. the fact reyes and Wright have had health is LUCK. humber, Jesus Flores, bannister and jacobs might still be here if they had been healthy enough to have the time to make a better impression.

    Willie was used to winning and may have been the one focus on acquiring veterans. heck- his recent benching of Del was hardly reminiscent of a shot heard all around NY but a whimper under pressure of the Media.

  5. joe June 15, 2008 at 9:23 pm
    Mic, what roster are you looking at? Omar gave Willie YOUNG talent? Delgado, Schneider, Castillo, Alou, Tatis, Anderson, Easley, Duque, Schoeneweis, Wagner, Castro, and Cancel (and Casanova) were all on the wrong side of 30 when obtained. Wright, Reyes, and Heilman already were in place. So, the young talent Omar brought in was: Smith, Pelfrey, Sanchez, Maine, Perez, Vargas, Chavez. Santana and Beltran both came in when neither old nor necessarily young, so they don’t count on either side.

    If the Mets keep Seo then Duaner doesn’t arrive. So that one is not a good point. Bannister was traded for a 22-year-old who threw 100 MPH. Yes Burgos got hurt but you can’t predict those kind of things.

    AHern will never hit better than Mario Mendoza. If this was 1977, AHern has a career. Not today.

    Trading Jacobs for Delgado was purely an Omar move. Minaya let Bernazard screw up the potential signing the winter before, and couldn’t make the trade fast enough when it was proposed. Yes Willie should have given Jacobs more of a chance when he came up, but my feeling was that Willie didn’t get much of a report on the kid — heck, he had no idea he was a catcher.

    Kepp also should have been given a chance … I’m not sure what that was all about. I think there may have been pressure to make sure the expensive Kaz Matsui had a starting job. Either that or Kepp was flirting with Willie’s daughter.

    Milledge being traded had NOTHING to do with Randolph. The Wilpons wanted Lastings out of the organization going back to 2006. Milledge didn’t have swagger – he had (has) a major “the world owes me” attitude that wore out the Mets and turned off most of MLB. The rap album was the straw that broke the Wilpons’ back.

    BTW Peterson does not teach mechanics very often. If he does, pitchers better run the other way because he is of the Tom House school of mechanics. House is viewed as a god, yet nearly all the pitchers he’s changed to his ways have ended up on the DL (prime example: Ryan, Nolan).

  6. joed86 June 16, 2008 at 2:31 am
    I have a bad case of insomnia tonight, so I decided to read other Mets blogs to hear what my fellow bloggers are thinking. As soon as I read Nic’s comment I was compelled to register and reply.

    I respect all Mets fans opinions even when I disagree, but most of your points I found to be way off and even laughable.

    Jay Seo?? Willie not following protocol?? My biggest criticism of Willie is that he doesn’t shake things up or that he is too logical in a game that is mostly reactive and rewards risk takers at times.

    Heilman had his shot as a starter and he failed miserably. Milledge rubbed everyone the wrong way and alienated his own teammates. Willie wanted him on the team and hoped he could temper his obvious immaturity.

    Bannister and Jacobs were traded by Omar and we got saddled with a huge back-loaded contract on a player with declining skills in Delgado, and Burgos was damaged goods. Willie had nothing to do with trading them. And he hardly had time to coach or mentor them. If memory serves me right Jacobs was just a September callup and after a quick start Bannister went on the DL and was hurt for most of the year. Why you would invoke their names in your indictment of Willie is beyond me. And Ahearn… are you kidding me?

    If you want to criticize Willie there are many solid arguments you could make but your arguments were unrealistic in my opinion.

    Joe – I never commented on your blog before, but I am a fan of your blog and your posts on MB.

    This was one of the best pro-Willie posts I’ve read since Willie Watch began. Great read!

  7. Micalpalyn June 16, 2008 at 11:35 am
    In making my post (after reading the extremes of Metsblog), I was presenting the the opposing view. In all the time i have blogged here we all have noted that young players are given the frat treatment by Willie and really have to play their way into his team, while slower ailing even badly performing Vets are given a pass.

    Using Jacobs as an example i thought was good. Not only has Jacobs realized his potential, but is a good illustration that The Mets farm that had evaluated him as organizational player twice had done so legitimately. at the time commenters has even stated he was given the honor to inflate his trade value. Of the players i cited he is probably one of the few players traded away that i miss.

    Given that most of our perceptions i media derived, and the clubhouse and boardroom are closed I ..and all of us can only speculate. I think Bannister was excess, but given that the previous yr the Mets went through so many starters before Maine , then Ollie emerged i might have hung onto him. To say a move like Jacobs for Del was all Omar is bogus. I doubt there was a vaccum, in fact part of Willie’s hiring was that he would be involved in the team building discussions and not simply a coach. Again, also it was clear that Willie had favoritisms. But the cloch has struck and stands to strike again. Will Willie give Mike Carp an oppurtunity?

    Yes i used Aherrn as an example too. Given he is on the 40man and was also here last yr when Gotay was not impressing in the field i proposed a 2 headed 2nd base with Gotay and Ahern (who hit .313 (approx) overall in NOLA after a cold start. while i support the Castillo addition, I think in a different MLB location Willie would not have had the luxury of getting a WS champ and proven 2B but would have had to relly on a Gotay/Ahern platoon. Did nt we just have a guy who was hitting .153 at AAA. Would it have been so bad just to bring up Ahern for that cup of tea? He is after all an assett on the 40 man roster.

    Joed86: welcome!
    ‘..My biggest criticism of Willie is that he doesn’t shake things up or that he is too logical in a game that is mostly reactive and rewards risk takers at times.”…Great comment!! but shaking things up would mean completely non-willie things….changing the order of the line up, taking Reyes out of the lead off spot (if only occassionally), benching vets for kids, giving Wags a save off…using the 2 inning save.

    My point in bringing Seo in to my logic was that a kid (gotay too btw) can come up and give a huge lift. The flip side is vets (ala Trot Nixon can too).

  8. joe June 16, 2008 at 12:42 pm
    Joe86 thanks for climbing aboard … hope to see more from you here in the future.

    Mic, you caught me …. I have in fact chided Willie for hatin’ in the kids in the past. However I’ve come to realize now that it wasn’t all Willie — I think he’s been kept in the dark about many of the youngsters. Maybe part of it is his fault, for not going through the scouting reports on the minor league kids, but I would hope he’s spending more time studying the scouting reports on opposing teams.

    And that brings me to another point — Willie’s info on players (within or outside the organization) is only as good as the reports provided to him. Obviously he can’t be going to minor league games to watch all the players in the organization. I hated the way he treated Jacobs and Gotay, and it bugged me that he wouldn’t give guys like Muniz a chance in the past, but he gave Bannister a job that Heilman deserved, gave Maine and Perez their first opportunities, put Joe Smith in there from the beginning, and was similarly fair to Angel Pagan, Lastings Milledge, Carlos Gomez, Nick Evans, and Mike Pelfrey. Overall, he’s done pretty well by the kids.

    We’ll have to disagree on the Jacobs trade. Minaya was chasing Delgado for over a year, and when he became available was quick to pull the trigger. Jacobs had to be part of that deal because he was the only legit 1B prospect ready to play at the MLB level to replace Delgado. There was no way Minaya was going to give up the deal to hold on to Jacobs.

  9. Micalpalyn June 16, 2008 at 1:29 pm
    We can debate adnauseum: but two salvos- Willie could have stepped up and played Jacobs more…instead of cairo and others. granted his sticking with Pel is a feather, but Maine, played for his spot similarly Heilman played for his and U point out Heilman has been overall our best BP asset.

    2. I went to look at the NOLA stats and to see if there are available BP arms, and i found the roster at NOLA hardly looks like a futures roster…it is bad. Yet there are in 2nd place and at/near .500. how? Is Oberkfell that good?

  10. joe June 16, 2008 at 1:42 pm
    The Zephyrs roster is not unlike the Mets’ — filled with aging hasbeens. As such, they have a number of guys who know how to play the game — veterans who know how to bunt, run the bases, etc., and don’t make as many mistakes as, say, a team filled with 22-year-old future stars who are raw and inexperienced.

    Their pitching, though, is pretty good for the PCL, and good pitching is supposed to beat good hitting, right?

  11. Joe D. June 16, 2008 at 3:19 pm
    Thanks Mic, for clarifying on Seo, I was completely lost on your point originally.

    One of our writers just got back from last nights Zephyrs game against the OK RedHawks. We have over a dozen players 29 or over on the roster. We’re going to post a dozen or so pics later on including pornstache who went 0-5 yesterday playing instead of Pascucci. But seriously, we really are in a sad state at AAA in terms of true prospects. Hopefully these recent college draft picks will develop fast.