Mets Fire Jerry Manuel, Relieve Omar Minaya After Again Missing Playoffs

Jerry Manuel was fired as manager of the New York Mets, who missed the postseason for the fourth straight year with one of the biggest player payrolls in Major League Baseball.

The Mets also said that Omar Minaya would be relieved of his duties as general manager and executive vice president of baseball operations. There was no immediate word on successors for Manuel, 56, or Minaya, 51. Minaya said he was leaving the team.

The Mets had a 79-83 record this season and finished in fourth place in the five-team National League East Division. Manuel’s two-year, $3 million contract expired at the end of the season and the Mets said in a statement that they wouldn’t pick up his option or offer a new deal. Minaya has two years and about $2.5 million left on his contract.

“We are extremely disappointed in this year’s results and the failures of the past four seasons,” Jeff Wilpon, the Mets’ chief operating officer, said in a news release. “We need to hire a new general manager with a fresh perspective who will transform this club into a winner that we want and our fans deserve.”

Manuel, 56, had a 204-213 record with the Mets since replacing Willie Randolph, who was fired in June 2008. His tenure was marked by injuries to key players such as Carlos Beltran and Johan Santana, legal problems for All-Star relief pitcher Francisco Rodriguez and a sea of empty seats at the Mets’ two-year-old, $850 million Citi Field.

Madoff Impact

At a news conference, Chief Executive Officer Fred Wilpon said the Mets “absolutely” have the financial resources to pursue free agents and field a winning team.

Later, in an interview on WFAN Radio, Jeff Wilpon said the Mets hadn’t been financially damaged by the family’s investment losses in the billion-dollar fraud scandal involving Bernard Madoff.

“At no time did the Madoff incident, nor will it, have any impact on the day-to-day operations of the New York Mets,” Jeff Wilpon said. “We are not broke.”

Manuel was among three managers ousted on the day after the regular season ended. The Milwaukee Brewers fired Ken Macha following two seasons that produced a 157-167 record, and the Pittsburgh Pirates dismissed John Russell after his teams lost 299 games in three years.

The NL Central Division-champion Cincinnati Reds, meanwhile, rewarded manager Dusty Baker with a two-year contract extension after he led them to their first postseason berth in 15 years.

Early Questions

Manuel’s status had been in question since early this season. Jeff Wilpon traveled to Atlanta in May to meet with Manuel and Minaya about the team’s early season struggles.

The Mets then moved 10 games over .500 after posting an 18- 8 record during June before a 9-17 record in July. They also had a losing record in August and September, then finished 2-1 in October with a 2-1, 14-inning loss to the last-place Washington Nationals yesterday.

“We weren’t able to keep the pace we had in the first half,” Mets third baseman David Wright said on Sept. 21, when the team was officially eliminated from postseason contention with a road loss to the Florida Marlins. “In the second half, we went into a tailspin, especially offensively.”

Big Payroll

The Mets added All-Star outfielder Jason Bay during the offseason and began this season with a $132.7 million player payroll, according to the Associated Press, the fifth-highest among baseball’s 30 teams. They were tied for 11th in the majors with 20-1 odds of winning the World Series, according to Las Vegas Sports Consultants, which advises Nevada sports books on gambling lines.

Bay, who signed a four-year, $66 million contract, hit .259 with six home runs in 95 games before his season was ended on July 23 following a concussion. Beltran didn’t join the Mets until mid-July after having knee surgery in January without the team’s approval.

The Mets lost Rodriguez in August to a torn ligament in the thumb of his throwing hand, an injury sustained during a fight at Citi Field with the grandfather of his children.

As the team had problems on and off the field, attendance declined in the second season at Citi Field.

While the cross-town rival New York Yankees led the major leagues with total attendance of 3.8 million this season, the Mets drew 2.6 million. When rookie Dillon Gee beat Pittsburgh in his second major-league start on Sept. 13, there were only about 8,000 fans in the stadium, far below the announced attendance of 24,384 that reflects tickets sold.

Postseason Drought

The Mets have now failed to reach the postseason in nine of the last 10 years, while the Yankees have made the playoffs 15 times in 16 seasons and won five World Series titles in that span.

Minaya, 51, was under contract through 2012 at about $1.2 million annually. He had a three-year extension that kicked in after the 2009 season.

“When you look at the last few year, it hasn’t happened,” Minaya said in televised comments to reporters. “I totally agree that a change was needed. I told them it was the right decision.”

He also said that he and the Mets had discussed another front-office job but that he was no longer a part of the organization.

Minaya had helped transform the Mets after he took over following the 2004 season. He signed Beltran and All-Star pitcher Pedro Martinez, and hired Randolph as manager. In 2006, the Mets won the division for the first time in 18 years.

Collapse

The following year, the team had one of the biggest collapses in baseball history to miss out on the playoffs after holding a seven-game lead with 17 to play.

Minaya added Santana with a $137.5 million contract before the 2008 season. When the Mets got off to a 34-35 start, Randolph was fired. The Mets surged under Manuel before losing their grip on the division and getting eliminated from postseason contention in the final game of the year for the second straight season.

Minaya joined the Mets in 1997 as an assistant general manager. He left in 2002 to become general manager of the Montreal Expos, making him the first Hispanic person to hold that position in Major League Baseball.

Torre Mentioned

Joe Torre, who managed the New York Yankees to four World Series titles before joining the Los Angeles Dodgers, told ESPN.com last month there was “no question” he would listen if the Mets contacted him about succeeding Manuel. Torre later apologized for the remarks after Manuel complained.

Former Mets skipper Bobby Valentine and Wally Backman, a former Mets player who’s now a minor-league manager in the organization, are also candidates. Possible replacements for Minaya include former San Diego Padres Chief Executive Officer Sandy Alderson and Tampa Bay Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations Gerry Hunsicker, the New York Post said.

Manuel was voted the American League’s Manager of the Year in 2000, when he had 95 wins with the Chicago White Sox.

After replacing Randolph in 2008, Manuel finished out the season with a 55-38 record and the Mets missed the playoffs by one win. Last season, the team slumped to a 70-92 mark under Manuel after being beset by injuries to All-Star players such as Beltran, Jose Reyes, Carlos Delgado and Santana.

To contact the reporter on this story: Erik Matuszewski in New York at matuszewski@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Sillup at msillup@bloomberg.net

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