Thursday, June 19, 2008

An Objective Look At Willie Randolph's Tenure

  • Randolph's Mets managerial epitaph:
When Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones fired coach Jimmy Johnson after winning two consecutive Super Bowls in 1993 and 1994, it was following a blowup between the two at an NFL function
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after which Jones had a few drinks and asserted that any number of coaches could have won with the Cowboys' talent and that Johnson's contribution was just that----a contribution amongst a large number of people. There had been tension between Johnson and Jones for years as they rebuilt the Cowboys, much of it centering on who would receive the bulk of the credit; these things happen with two big personalities with even bigger egos, but the idea was that Jones was diminishing Johnson's accomplishment by saying that his part in the resurrection of the franchise wasn't as important as others thought it was. Jones may have been overstating the situation by saying that 500 coaches could have won with that Cowboys team, but the overall idea that many different coaches or managers can achieve similar successes with the same teams is not unreasonable; it's something to truly consider carefully. This begs the question: how much credit should Willie Randolph receive for the rise of the Mets from when he arrived and was his contribution any greater (or less) than it would've been under a different manager?
When GM Omar Minaya was hired late in the 2004 season, the Mets were an utter disaster and laughingstock around the major leagues. They played listlessly; there was infighting and no one seemed to know who was in charge. In New York, they were borderline irrelevant as fans became numb to the constant turmoil. Manager Art Howe was fired as
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Minaya rightfully wanted to turn the page completely from the previous regime(s) and start fresh with a manager of his choosing. That manager was Willie Randolph. What was strange though, was how Minaya was able to convince the ownership, Fred and Jeff Wilpon, to open the Mets vault to spend some money on free agents while dispatching the aging and overly influential veterans Al Leiter and John Franco. I've always been curious as to Howe's private reaction to the news that the Mets had spent so lavishly to
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sign Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran while he was forced to play Jason Phillips at first base and usher in the youngsters Jose Reyes and David Wright as they learned to play in the big leagues.
Randolph was walking into a pretty good situation. A honeymoon for a lifelong winner; a popular New Yorker who, despite his Yankees roots, grew up as a Mets fan in Brooklyn. There were few expectations even with the high-priced free agents and anything the team did positively after the previous few years was going to make the manager a hero. The Mets and Randolph endured their growing pains in 2005 because of the new manager's inexperience and the lack of overall talent on the team, but ended a respectable 83-79 and were once again a force on and off the field because Pedro gave them an identity and it was now known that they were willing to spend money to try and win. But was that 83-79 really that great an accomplishment?
The last team under Howe in 2004 went 71-91; are you going to seriously tell me that the Mets roster in 2005 in comparison to that in 2004 wasn't worth an extra 12 wins? Would
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Howe not have benefited from the maturing Reyes and Wright and the presence of Martinez and Beltran? Along with the dispatching of the interfering busybodies in Leiter and Franco? This is not to imply that Minaya shouldn't have brought in the manager that he wanted or that the discipline and seriousness that Randolph instilled didn't contribute to the Mets improvement, but based on talent alone, Howe likely would have replicated Randolph's 2005 success.
In 2006, the Mets ran away with the NL East and lost in the NLCS to the Cardinals. That roster was power packed with the newly acquired and still slugging Carlos Delgado; along with a near MVP year from Beltran and the emerging stars Wright and Reyes, the Mets were the consensus pick to go the World Series. With all of the talent on that roster, shouldn't they have been expected to make it as far as they did and possibly further than they did? Wasn't part of the reason that the Cardinals beat the Mets that year due to the strategic wizardry of Cardinals manager Tony La Russa?
In 2007, as Delgado began to lose bat speed; injuries robbed the Mets of Pedro and the overuse of the bullpen wore them down late in the season, one has to wonder whether another manager who was more prudent in the use of his relievers and able to adjust his message on
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the fly while deflecting the negative aspects of managing in New York would've been able to steer the team through the struggles and prevent the collapse. In 2008 until Randolph was let go, there was an aura of resignation around the team. With the veterans continuing their downslide, the organization still in denial about what happened in 2007; and the cloud of malaise around the players; along with the repeated questions about the manager's job status, the result was probably never in doubt. A move had to be made and while it probably wasn't done quickly or cleanly enough for the tastes of the fainthearted, it was necessary.
There have been teams that have won with lesser talent because of their manager or coach. Billy Martin was a master at maximizing his players abilities in the short-term; in
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hockey, Mike Keenan will turn a team around quickly simply because of the system he implements and his discipline; in football, Bill Parcells will pretty much guarantee a competitive team within three years of his arrival. La Russa is so brilliant that he can squeeze at least ten more wins out of his teams than would be realistically expected; but how many managers and coaches can say that? How many simply achieve what the talents of their players can achieve and occasionally less? It works the opposite way as well; the Diamondbacks under Bob Brenly could just as easily have reached the same heights with a scarecrow strategically placed in the corner of the dugout. The talent usually dictates what the team will accomplish unless they have a Hall of Famer running things. The people mentioned above are Hall of Famers; Art Howe isn't a Hall of Famer as a manager, but then neither is Willie Randolph.
  • J.D. Drew is playing like an MVP:
Stunningly, the player to pick up the slack for the Red Sox after the loss of David Ortiz hasn't been Manny Ramirez, but has been J.D. Drew. Drew, at the unlikely age of 32, is staying healthy and killing the ball to the point that he's a legitimate MVP threat. Of course, there's always the possibility (or likelihood) of the oft-injured Drew winding up on the disabled
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list at any given moment for some shocking injury to a bone or muscle that even most doctors didn't know the human body had, but for right now he's been playing great. He's getting on base; hitting homers and playing great defense. Most of all he's stayed healthy and made the loss of Ortiz seem like nothing more than a small bump for the team, and he's expected back sooner rather than later.
Drew's had spurts like this before and then something has invariably happened to halt his progress, but he's earning his money and doing his job. After last year's sub par year and amid all the smirking "I told you so's" doled out to Theo Epstein and Larry Lucchino, they're getting far more than what they paid for in Drew this year. I'd hesitate to think he's going to keep it up, but if he does nothing more than get them from before Ortiz got hurt until after Ortiz returns and still have the team in first place, that, coupled with his grand slam in the ALCS last year, will give the Red Sox hierarchy cause to say that Drew was worth the money and the ridicule no matter what happens from now on.
  • Barry Zito rumored to contact Rick Peterson:
There's a story circulating that soon after Rick Peterson was fired by the Mets, Barry Zito contacted his mentor to help him rediscover whatever he's lost on the way to a 2-11 record this year and a contract that is looking more and more like money flushed down the toilet. Giants pitching coach Dave Righetti was said to be unhappy with the idea that Zito go to another pitching coach, but he needs to see the big picture; the Giants have so much money invested in Zito that if Righetti can't straighten him out, then they're going to find someone who can and that someone may be Peterson. Instead of getting angry and becoming territorial, Righetti should probably accept that Zito may need to talk to someone else; someone he knows and is comfortable with if for no other reason than to keep his job and not be replaced by Peterson completely.

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