Baseball's firing line

Randolph of the Mets and Bavasi of the Mariners pay for unrealistic expectations.

Published June 17, 2008 8:00PM (EDT)

We seem to have hit that part of the baseball season where managers and general managers start paying for unreasonably high expectations.

The New York Mets fired manager Willie Randolph in the wee hours Tuesday morning, finally chopping him off the hot seat that the team's historic collapse planted him on in October.

The Mets, expected by many to contend for the National League East title this year, are puttering along at 34-35, tied for third in the East, six and a half games out in both the division and wild-card races. They're not out of it yet, but they're not exactly in it at the moment either.

That firing comes on the heels of the Seattle Mariners dispatching general manager Bill Bavasi, who put together the roster that's posted a 24-46 record so far, the worst in baseball by four games.

There were prognosticators who thought the Mariners would contend this year also, and unfortunately for Mariners fans one of them was Bavasi, who mortgaged a significant chunk of the team's future when he shipped potential superstar center fielder Adam Jones and impressive pitching prospect Chris Tillman, plus three other players, to Baltimore for Erik Bedard, a very good pitcher but a fragile one who's 29 and will probably be starting to head downhill by the time the Mariners next get their act together in a few years.

Bedard would have been a nice addition to a team on the brink, which Bavasi mistakenly thought the Mariners were because they rode some luck last year to a decent record.

Jones is struggling in the majors at the moment, but he's still only 22. Tillman, just 20, is pitching well at Double-A. They would have been a lot more useful to the Mariners' rebuilding process than Bedard, not to mention the roster full of retreads and fading players with which Bavasi surrounded stars Ichiro and Felix Hernandez.

It should have been a fireable offense to hire aging second baseman Jose Vidro to be a light-hitting designated hitter, which Bavasi did in 2007. To rehire him for 2008? Well: Do they still draw and quarter?

Randolph, meanwhile, goes to pay for the sins of general manager Omar Minaya, or for the organizational chaos that results in the personnel decisions Minaya ultimately makes. And there's plenty of that to go around.

Randolph was a good enough manager to take the mets from 71 wins to 83 in his first year, 2005, then to 97 wins and a division title in '06 and 88 wins last year, which ended with that amazing pratfall. He gets criticized for his in-game strategic moves, but then so do Joe Torre and Tony La Russa, who are both going to the Hall of Fame.

Nothing Randolph could have done would have solved the Mets' problems this year. It was Minaya, not Randolph, who populated the team with old players who are either badly faded -- Carlos Delgado -- or huge injury risks. Moises Alou has 49 at-bats. Two fifths of the starting rotation was supposed to be Pedro Martinez and Orlando Hernandez. Fourteen times through the rotation, they've combined to make four starts, all of them by Martinez.

And it's not like Minaya hedged these long-shot bets. Another starter is the wildly inconsistent Oliver Perez, who was good last year, but before that had been horrendous for two years. He's been lousy this year, though better than horrendous, so that's something. The backup for Alou has been virtually nonexistent. Until the recent scrap-heap pickup of Trot Nixon, the Mets really didn't have a major league outfielder to take Alou's cuts, and I'm being kind here to Nixon, who last hit like a major league outfielder in 2005.

But something had to be done because the seat was too hot. It takes a stronger organization than the Mets to hold off a braying New York media when a team chokes away a division one year and then plods along in third or fourth place for the first half of the next. So Randolph goes, in the hopes that the Mets will get that bump teams sometimes get from a new manager.

But they still have an old, injury-riddled team, just like they did coming out of spring training.

By King Kaufman

King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

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