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Wilpon says Minaya will return in 2011

Omar Minaya and Fred Wilpon watch spring training

Omar Minaya and Fred Wilpon watch spring training together in February. Wilpon said today that the Mets general manager would return in 2011. Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

EAST HARTFORD, Conn. - With the Mets on the brink of missing the playoffs for the fourth straight season, principal owner Fred Wilpon suggested Thursday that Omar Minaya is all but guaranteed of returning in 2011 as the team's general manager.

Wilpon infrequently addresses the media at Citi Field, where he rarely has been seen outside the owner's box. But Thursday he attended a news conference at the University of Connecticut to announce the school's programming partnership with SNY.

As he was preparing to leave, Wilpon reluctantly listened to a few questions about the Mets. When he was asked if Minaya will be the GM after this season, he replied, "Is the sun going to come up tomorrow?"

Presumably, the answer to that would be yes, but Wilpon did not elaborate on the statement.

Minaya is in the first season of a three-year extension, which followed an original five-year contract worth roughly $4 million that he signed in September 2004 when he took over for Jim Duquette.

On the day that Minaya was hired, Wilpon pledged that his new GM would have "full autonomy" over the club's baseball operations. But the Mets have only one playoff appearance in five seasons under Minaya, including a Game 7 loss in the 2006 NLCS, and they are likely to fall short of the postseason again this year.

The Mets (54-54) are eight games behind the first-place Braves in the National League East. They begin a three-game series against the Phillies tonight at Citizens Bank Park. Minaya and assistant John Ricco are traveling with the team on this road trip.

Minaya's power has eroded since 2006, with COO Jeff Wilpon taking a more prominent role in baseball decisions. It was the younger Wilpon who stepped in to clean up last season's public-relations disaster after Minaya - at a news conference held to announce the firing of one of Minaya's staffers, Tony Bernazard - accused a Daily News reporter of lobbying for a job in the organization.

Minaya was put on notice after that incident, and although he kept his job title, Ricco began to assume a larger role in baseball decisions. When the Mets struggled at the start of this season and Minaya and manager Jerry Manuel appeared to be in jeopardy of losing their jobs, Jeff Wilpon made a surprise trip to Atlanta for an in-person evaluation of the team.

With Jeff so heavily involved in the day-to-day operations of the Mets, Fred Wilpon was asked what he thinks of the job his son is doing as COO. He replied, "Excellent."

Jeff Wilpon, of course, can't be fired. But if the Mets fail to rebound significantly in the next seven weeks, there are likely to be a number of firings, including Manuel, who is in the final year of his contract.

Two weeks ago, Minaya and Ricco had a lengthy meeting with Manuel in the Dodger Stadium visitors' clubhouse. After the Mets finished that West Coast trip 2-9, they talked more on the flight back to New York, as well as during the off day July 26.

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