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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Mets’ struggles extend all the way to the front office

It’s quite unclear who is in charge, how decisions will be made and what the future holds.

Omar Minaya, left, and Jeff Wilpon address the

Omar Minaya, left, and Jeff Wilpon address the press at Citi Field on Oct. 5, 2009. Photo Credit: Newsday / Craig Ruttle

As if the Mets needed anyone else to call more attention to their fractured front office and the leadership void created by Sandy Alderson stepping down last week, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman inadvertently highlighted the strange dynamic across town by talking Friday about his recent conversations with Omar Minaya.

Minaya, a longtime favorite of the Wilpons, was hired back last winter as a personal consultant to ownership, charged with fortifying the Mets’ weak organizational ladder. Now he is characterized as a spoke in the team’s three-man front office, along with Alderson assistants John Ricco and J.P. Ricciardi.

But as the Mets move into this critical month, counting down until the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, it’s not entirely clear how this GM-by-committee, working below chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon, will come to a decision on anything. Is it a show of hands? A secret ballot?

Like any ownership group, the Wilpons will have the final say on these matters.

Still, Minaya already has been singled out by Cashman as the point man for the Yankees’ dealings with the Mets — based on the personal connection between the two — and his profile inside the organization looms large again after Alderson’s departure.

“I know Omar,” Cashman said. “I’ve met with Omar and I’ve done deals with Omar, so I’ll be calling because that’s the relationship. I’ll be dealing mostly with Omar, in my opinion.”

Usually, in these circumstances, a team feels compelled to name an interim general manager. Ricco wore that title in 2010 when he helped in the search for Minaya’s replacement. The Mets chose not to go that route this time because they didn’t want the next few months to be described as an audition for the job.

But here’s the feeling going forward: While the Mets insist a full GM search will be conducted at season’s end, there is a strong possibility that these three could simply stay in control, with a reconfiguration of their job titles. The reason for that? It would follow the same pattern the Wilpons have relied on during past front-office makeovers, and brings to mind the attempts to split up authority after Steve Phillips was fired in 2003.

That season, one of Phillips’ assistants, Jim Duquette, took over as the interim GM and was responsible for selling off whatever he could from a Mets team on its way to a 95-loss season. Sound familiar? But rather than automatically remove the interim label from Duquette come October, the Wilpons courted Minaya — the Expos’ GM — to return to Flushing and share the title.

It was an incredibly awkward proposal. Duquette and Minaya had worked together, on equal footing, as assistants to Phillips. Duquette obviously felt slighted, and for Minaya, it essentially was a demotion, even as the skeleton-crew Expos were in their final days in Montreal.

Understandably, Minaya turned it down. But that didn’t stop the Wilpons from pursuing him again, discreetly, during the second half of the ’04 season, even with Duquette as the standing GM. Two weeks after firing manager Art Howe, the Mets caught everyone by surprise with the September announcement that Minaya was being hired as GM and Duquette was being re-assigned (he left for the Orioles after the ’05 season).

The underlying theme here is that the Wilpons have been comfortable working with known quantities when it comes to the front office. That holds true for Alderson, who did not have any previous connection to the Mets but basically was hand-delivered to them by then-commissioner Bud Selig, who is very close with Fred Wilpon. The Mets were in serious financial disarray at the time because of the Bernie Madoff scandal, and Alderson — who had been working as an MLB troubleshooter of sorts — figured to be the rudder for a Tiffany franchise that was adrift.

AN OUTSIDE SOLUTION?

This time around, there is no clear outside solution. And even if there were, what is the Wilpons’ pitch?

While Minaya is not angling for the GM job, there is every sense that the Wilpons want him to remain on board in the decision-making process. He’s not going anywhere. As for Ricco and Ricciardi, they also are trusted advisers to ownership. All of those factors are potential obstacles for a candidate — say with a president of baseball ops title — who would surely want to make their own hires and not inherit that much input.

And what about the payroll? Alderson was permitted to spend roughly $155 million for this season — 12th overall in MLB — but would the Wilpons authorize a significant bump coming off two losing seasons and sinking ticket sales? History suggests no, and especially not after what is shaping up to be a gross misallocation of funds with Yoenis Cespedes ($110 million), Jay Bruce ($39M), Todd Frazier ($17M), Jason Vargas ($16M) and Anthony Swarzak ($14M).

In addition, if the Mets truly intend to grant an outside person some degree of autonomy, they shouldn’t entrust the current triumvirate with making wholesale changes to the organization before handing it over to someone else. That’s another reason to expect these three to remain in place.

Alderson may have stepped aside because of another battle with cancer, but in doing so, he accepted full responsibility for the failings of the ’18 Mets — true to his character, but something he didn’t have to do at a podium that day.

Does that absolve his deputies of any malpractice here? It shouldn’t, but the Wilpons have nowhere else to turn at midseason, and by splitting the power three ways, attaching blame becomes more complicated. Despite their familiarity with each other, so does settling on a unified mission statement.

“If you know the way Sandy worked, a lot of it was being divvied up to begin with,” Ricco said this past week. “He delegates a lot, especially with that group. So that won’t really change. We just won’t have that point person we’re reporting back to. We’ll just have conversations among ourselves and we’ll make decisions that way.”

A COMPLETE TEARDOWN?

There are a few biggies on the horizon, and in recent weeks, the team appears to be disintegrating right before our eyes. The first order of business is to find takers for Asdrubal Cabrera and Jeurys Familia — deals that could materialize in the very near future, according to a source — with Zack Wheeler being another trade chip with a high probability of getting moved shortly.

The Mets would need to be blown away to consider trading Jacob deGrom, and to a lesser degree, Noah Syndergaard — though Cashman is trying to sway his good friend Minaya, as he suggested Friday. The universal assessment is that the Mets must make a few bold deals to restock a depleted talent pool, and that includes moving deGrom or Syndergaard, if not both.

That’s from a pure baseball perspective, thinking about the health of an entire organization, and the Mets clearly are hurting on a number of levels. For the Wilpons, however, trading deGrom or Syndergaard would feel like waving a white flag for years to come — an impossible sell to an increasingly angry fan base, although Ricco has said ownership has told him to “think outside the box” in trying to improve the Mets.

The Mets (32-48) fell into last place in the NL East on Saturday, percentage points behind Miami, after their second straight loss to the Marlins. They have lost 10 of their last 11 and 22 of their last 27 games and are 21-47 since their 11-1 start.

It doesn’t seem realistic to expect radical, franchise-shifting moves from the same decision-makers that got these Mets to the bottom of the National League, unless this ’18 collapse has been so complete, and so demoralizing, that the Big Three can agree this is no time for half-measures. Based on the initial response, we’re skeptical.

“I really don’t see that as a strategy,” Ricco said. “It’s not something we’ve really discussed, a complete teardown.”

Based on the Mets’ contending cycles over the past two decades or so, it does feel a little too soon for the next one. But this isn’t working, and somebody — or three — has to start making some hard choices.

2009

70-92 W-L, 4th pl.

High: Aug. 18, Mets get

team-record 10 hits in fourth inning, scoring eight runs, in

a 9-4 win over the Braves.

Low: June 12, With Francisco Rodriguez pitching, Luis Castillo drops pop-up by Alex Rodriguez that would have ended the game, but Yanks rally to win, 9-8.

2010

79-83 W-L, 4th pl.

High: May 28, Mets complete historic sweep of defending NL champion Phillies — not allowing a run in three games — winning, 8-0, 5-0 and 3-0.

Low: Aug. 11, Francisco

Rodriguez arrested at Citi Field after reportedly punching out his girlfriend’s father.

2011

77-85 W-L, 4th pl.

High: June 28, Jason Bay and Carlos Beltran hit grand slams in back-to-back innings as Mets pound host Detroit, 14-3.

Low: David Wright hits a then career-low .254 with 14 HRs and 61 RBIs in 102 games.

2012

74-88 W-L, 4th pl.

High: Johan Santana notches the first franchise no-hitter, beating the Cardinlas, 8-0, throwing a career-high 134 pitches.

Low: Santana pitched just 10 more games that season, ending with five straight losses before being shut down in August.

2013

74-88 W-L, 3rd pl.

High: July 16, Citi Field hosts the 84th All-Star Game, and David Wright gets one of three NL hits in 3-0 loss to AL stars.

Low: Aug. 26, Mets learn that ace Matt Harvey has partially torn UCL in his right (throwing)elbow that will requireTommy John surgery.

2014

79-83 W-L, 2nd pl.

High: Jacob deGrom named NL Rookie of the Year (9-6 W-L, 2.69 ERA, with 144 strikeouts in 140 1⁄3 innings.

Low: Chris Young, signed as a free agent, hit .205 with 8 homers and 28 RBIs and was released on Aug. 15.

2015

90-72 W-L, 1st pl.

(lost in World Series)

High: Mets sweep Cubs in NLCS to reach World Series for the first time since 2000.

Low: Mets lose World Series in five games to the Royals.

2016

87-75 W-L, 2nd pl.

(lost wild-card game)

High: July 24, Mike Piazza

enters Baseball Hall of Fame.

Low: In September, Mets lose Jacob deGrom for the rest of the season and the playoffs when he needs elbow surgery.

2017

70-92 W-L, 4th pl.

High: April 11, Yoenis Cespedes goes 4-for-6 with three HRs and five RBIs in a 14-4 throttling of the Phillies.

Low: May 6, Matt Harvey is suspended without pay for three games after notreporting for a game.

2018

32-48 W-L, 4th pl.

High: Mets begin Mickey Callaway’s first season as manager winning 11 of first 12 games.

Low: On Tuesday, Sandy Alderson steps down as GM because of recurrence of cancer.

COMPILED BY JOHN BOELL

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