In happier times for the Mets, during spring training of 2007, members of the team's front office wore caps with the letters F.O.O. stitched across the front. The headgear marked them as "Friends of Omar," a playful term tossed around among the executives in Omar Minaya's inner circle.
But those hats are nowhere to be found these days, and that circle is tightening around the embattled general manager with the recent firing of Ramon Peña, a Minaya confidant who was in charge of the Mets' operations in Latin America.
Peña is the second of the team's high command to lose their jobs in the past two months after Tony Bernazard, the vice president for player development, was axed on July 27. Bernazard was removed for his embarrassing behavior, which reportedly involved challenging minor-leaguers to fights and berating other team officials in public.
As for Peña, a person familiar with the situation said Wednesday that his firing was the result of both poor performance and questionable conduct. When asked to elaborate, the person said, "There can't be any more Tony Bernazards."
But just as Bernazard was close with Minaya and COO Jeff Wilpon, Peña also was tight with the GM, though it ultimately was Minaya's decision to fire him - under some pressure from ownership.
The Wilpons have been simmering behind the scenes about the Mets' terrible performance this season and this week's firing of Peña is the first of what is expected to be a bigger housecleaning within the organization.
Just as the Wilpons insisted in July, Minaya and Jerry Manuel will be spared this round of pink slips, but they are very much in jeopardy once the calendar flips to 2010. While that begins Minaya's three-year extension, Manuel opens that season as a lame-duck manager and a slow start could cost him his job before the All-Star break.
With last night's 5-2 loss to the Braves, who completed a three-game sweep at Citi Field, the Mets have lost 13 of 16, a brutal skid by any measure, even with a depleted roster. And with nine games remaining, it is still possible the Mets (65-88) could end up with their most losses since finishing 66-95 in 2003. When asked to assess his own performance this season, Manuel didn't duck from the responsibility.
"I'd have to say that the effort was there," Manuel said. "But I think in the evaluation of any manager, you go on wins and losses, and my losses were much greater than my wins. I'll also say that strategically, I felt very comfortable with what I was doing, and the positions that I was putting people in, but it didn't work.
"Regardless of what team you have, you're at the major- league level, and regardless of what happened to your team, you're still pretty much evaluated on wins and losses. And with that being said, it was a very, very, very poor season."
The Mets have been evaluating the organization from top to bottom during the past month in preparation for their year-end meetings. The decision to remove Peña was a direct result of those discussions and the process is far from finished. As one team official said, "It's not like we're going to finish one or two games out. We've got to get these things fixed."
That is easier said than done. Even as the Mets put together a list of candidates to replace Bernazard and Peña, those interviews likely won't begin until Oct. 31, when the contracts of executives and scouting personnel usually expire with other teams. The Mets expect to retain Sandy Johnson, the vice president of scouting, as well as Bryan Lambe, a special assistant to the GM. But Minaya is running out of trusted lieutenants along with options to fill holes in his shrinking staff.
Notes & quotes: Mike Pelfrey (10-12) allowed nine hits and four runs in six innings in losing for the fourth time in six starts . . . Brian Stokes and his wife, Sarianna, welcomed their first child, Brody Alexander, who was born Wednesday.