As of press time, Willie Randolph’s approval rating on MetsBlog.com stood at 89%. I don’t know whether this is early season confidence, a small sample size of especially enthusiastic Mets fans, or something else, but I don’t understand it. I don’t see how Willie Randolph can be considered a good manager.
Usually the argument for strategically weak managers, a class to which Willie certainly belongs, is that they are good at leading their players. Whether it is getting the most out of a player’s talent, managing differences and disagreements between players, or projecting the right image and example on the field, there are ways for a manager to do his job without being perfect inside the lines. But I don’t see Willie doing that, either.
In his recent chat with Mike and the Mad Dog on WFAN, as summarized by Anthony De Rosa of Hot Foot, Randolph admitted that he “considered putting Raul Casanova in… for Ryan Schneider to give him some rest but Schneider talked him out of it.” Leaving aside the question of whether the Mets should use Casanova and Castro against left-handers, shouldn’t the manager be making his own decisions and not be influenced by players arguing for their own playing time? This isn’t a first for Willie. At the end of last year, an injured Paul Lo Duca managed to convince Randolph to play him over the healthy and red-hot Ramon Castro. And how could I forget the 2006 NLCS, when Randolph was unable to turn down the hobbled Cliff Floyd, leaving him on the roster even though Lastings Milledge and others were healthy and ready to go? We can expect players to want to play. It’s the manager’s job to make a decision and be the boss, not serve as the mouthpiece for the team’s veterans.
Too often, though, it seems that the Mets are paying Randolph nearly $2 million a year to just be a friendly guy for the veterans. And for the youngsters, it’s harsh criticism. In that same WFAN interview, consider what he had to say about Ruben Gotay after he was cut from the team:
Gotay really is one dimensional. Gotay doesn’t play the outfield, he doesn’t play the corners. I like Gotay a lot but he didn’t fit into this team. I think Clark right now is a better bat off the bench. Clark can get on base, he can walk, he will scrap and battle. With the left handed dominance in our line up we need a Clark in there to give us an at bat.
First of all, that doesn’t really make any sense. Even without Brady Clark and assuming Alou is in left and not Angel Pagan, the Mets have Endy Chavez, Marlon Anderson and Damion Easley to play the outfield. Even Anderson and Easley are just infielders who can play the outfield in a pinch. Surely Gotay could do the same. And how often are they going to need someone for the left side of the infield? While we’re at it, can Clark play the infield? Can he hit right-handed better than Gotay? And hey, don’t we already have a guy who can only play second base? His name is Luis Castillo, and the Mets are paying him $6 million a year for the next four years.
Roster flexibility concerns aside, why does Randolph have to be such a jerk about it? On some level I appreciate that he expresses his opinions about the subject, even if he is only ever critical of young players and is wrong in what he says, but on another level I think it is the job of a manager to have some tact and poise. That means when you’re asked about a young kid you had to cut loose, you just say, “He’s a nice kid and he’s got skills but there’s no place for him on this squad right now. I wish him all the best.” How hard is that?
We all know how last year, Randolph favored whoever else was available over Ruben Gotay, who was red-hot; and Lastings Milledge, who just needed to play. Nor was he content just to make these players sit on the bench. He took the opportunity to bad-mouth them at every turn. Maybe he does this because he sees his job as pleasing the veteran players and getting them playing time. Or perhaps he thinks it is instructive for young players to be criticized and maligned. Either way, it’s asinine.
In an interview with SNY in December, Randolph had this to say when asked what he thought about Carlos Gomez:
It’s like we have a tendency to start to get way ahead of ourselves with young players. And I’ve seen when players take off, and I’ve seen young players become a flash in the pan. So we’re hoping that he’ll continue to work. And he’s a hard worker, but he’s still very raw.
All of these kids are very, very raw and you look at their swing pattern, and you like some things that you see and then you go, well, he needs a lot of work. That’s what I see; improvement, and that’s what you look for year-to-year with your players.
This sounds reasonable, until you realize that Randolph says this about every young player. He just doesn’t trust them, he won’t play them unless forced to, and he will criticize them relentlessly. Asked about Lastings Milledge:
Q. With Milledge, what does he need to work on to improve?
WR: His total game; he needs to improve offense, defense, running bases.
Could you be more specific?
So just because he has some talent, some skills, when you’re in a winning situation, putting together a winning team, all those intangibles are very, very important. You can’t make mistakes when you’re trying to win a championship. So it’s too much to really expect a young player to have all that mastered. Some organizations can be patient with that, some organizations say, you know what? No, we can’t afford to go with a guy at this point in time. He needs more seasoning.
So people that have seen him, seen some of the things he can do, just like Gomez and with young players, but for me you have to make sure you don’t get blinded by one asset, you have to look at the whole package.
Basically, according to Randolph, you can’t win a championship with young players. Forget for a moment the 2007 Red Sox, who won the World Series despite giving the starting second base job to rookie Dustin Pedroia and keeping him there through early season struggles, despite installing Jacoby Ellsbury in center field for the last month of the season, and despite giving September starts to rookie Clay Buchholz in a pennant race. No, we certainly can’t trust rookies when we’re a competitive team.
Beyond this, Randolph fails even at the simple task of getting ejected from the game. While he loses arguments to his own players, he won’t even have them with the umpires. When the line judges ruled Wednesday that Carlos Beltran’s drive was not a home run, after initially and correctly ruling it so, Randolph barely raised his voice before quietly returning to the dugout. There have been other times more worthy of ejection, but consider if you will that the umpires might have been more willing to overturn the decision because it was Randolph, and not Bobby Cox, in the other dugout.
Simply put, Willie Randolph is not a good manager. He is not a good tactical manager, and he hurts the team in the other aspects of his job as well. For the most part I am a guy who bases his baseball opinions on statistical analysis and other rational considerations. But teams don’t just collapse for no reason. Sometimes I think the Mets just don’t have heart, and it’s because of Randolph and his gospel of the “nice little rhythm.”