PHILADELPHIA - This weekend trip to Citizens Bank Park, which could feature a division-clinching celebration by the Phillies, will be another painful reminder of what the Mets lack as this season winds down.

The Phillies, headed for their fourth straight postseason appearance, are reaping the benefits of a seamless front-office transition from the sage Pat Gillick to his bright understudy, Ruben Amaro Jr.

They have an old-school manager in Charlie Manuel who has unified a diverse roster, and a championship core that plays better under pressure. Add to that a healthy revenue stream from the sport's second-highest attendance, and the Phillies should have the infrastructure to remain one of baseball's strongest franchises for a while.

Transforming the Mets into a winner again won't be easy, and this offseason, which presents some unique challenges, will begin as one of the more unsettled in recent memory.

For that reason, the Mets might need to rely on familiar faces if they intend to correct a long list of problems. That's why hiring Bobby Valentine to manage and keeping Omar Minaya in a significant front-office role could be the most prudent course of action.

Obviously, as GM, Minaya has not lived up to his wheeler-dealer reputation, and his failure to show creativity in limited attempts to improve the Mets casts doubt on his ability to ever do so again.

When asked Wednesday about this broken season, he still refused to acknowledge the depth of the team's troubles.

What Minaya does possess are good interpersonal skills, and the Mets will need a fence-mender if they are forced to retain Francisco Rodriguez and can't find a decent trade package for Carlos Beltran.

The Mets want people to serve up to the angry masses for this disappointing season, and Minaya is a convenient fall guy for the contracts given to Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo. But Minaya does have value to the organization, and it might be possible to use him in conjunction with more of a rising star - such as the Diamondbacks' Jerry Dipoto - to help clean up the current mess. Minaya has told friends he would be reluctant to work with someone in a different capacity, but it also depends on what that undetermined role is.

Getting back to the subject of fall guys, the departure of Jerry Manuel would not only satisfy a bitter fan base but it's a bloodless axing; his two-year contract is expiring. That means no money to swallow and makes the Wilpons feel better about paying Valentine, whom the ticket-buying public already knows as the anti-Manuel.

As recently as a month ago, the Wilpons didn't give much serious thought to Valentine. His firing at the end of the 2002 season was an acrimonious split that left scars on both sides, but a person familiar with the Mets' thinking suggested the relationship could work if Valentine adheres to some "ground rules" involving his outspoken persona.

Valentine, a skilled tactician and motivator, represents a quick fix that could work on two important levels: selling tickets this winter and winning games next summer. For the Mets, desperate for both, it's worth the risk. And the clock is ticking, a point driven home by Tuesday's elimination from postseason contention.

"By no means do I consider myself old," David Wright said, "but another year of your baseball life is gone. It's another year that you don't accomplish what you wanted to accomplish and you're one year closer to the end."