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The Culprits: Fred and Jeff Wilpon.

By Matt Himelfarb
Posted Saturday, June 21, 2008

With Willie Randolph receiving a pink slip Tuesday morning and a disappointing Omar Minaya practically handed a one-year ultimatum to fix this team, you could probably make the case that no other event will define the beginning of the 21st century for the Mets than the deal that sent blue chip prospect Scott Kazmir packing for Victor Zambrano almost four years ago.

Now Scott Kazmir is back in the news again, and it is not because he is appealing to the imaginations of the Metropolitans fan base or because another arm injury has people questioning if he can ever make it from Vero Beach to Tampa Bay for a sustained period of time. Like most earth shattering phenomenons — like who fired the shot that killed the Red Baron — there has always been some type of desire, whether it be the search for some type of antidote or simply the result of innocent curiosity — to find who should be held responsible. In this case, Mark Healey of Gotham Baseball Magazine says he believes Jeff Wilpon has been unfairly cast in the role of Canadian pilot Roy Brown; a convenient scapegoat when in fact the Wilpon's had perhaps nothing to do with the decision that changed a franchise.

There are several problems with this theory, and ultimately the comparison between former superscout Al Goldis and Minaya’s right hand man Tony Bernazard. The first being is that the Wilpon’s lacked confidence in former General Manager Jim Duquette, whom almost certainly was not given expected autonomy at the time of the deal. This autonomy issue dates back to the time when the organization first hired the famous superscouts who Healey targets most of the blame on: Al Goldis and Bill Livesey.

Upon the hiring back in November of 2003, Wilpon was quoted in the New York Times as saying that, ‘We knew when Jim took over that we had to hire two superscouts right away.” This reflects the Wilpon’s lack of confidence in Duquette’s evaluation skills from day one. In other words, Wilpon openly admits that with Duquette at the helm, the hiring was all but a complete necessity and that the franchise was somehow doomed to fail.

Hence, looking back, it is of little surprise that Healey himself wrote before the deadline for the Mets Inside Pitch website that Duquette’s opinions were, “being shunted aside in favor of a subordinate who just happens to have the owner’s ear” According to Healey, these two men “had been spending the past season plotting their purge of the previous- and current- regime’s prospects.” He is referring to both Kazmir and the now forgotten top pitching prospect Matt Peterson, who was the key cog in the deal that brought Kris Benson to Shea.

Now, consider the fact that Duquette made no secret of his somewhat naive dream to build the Mets organization almost completely within; the type of attitude that the Atlanta Braves had taken for years that had held off the Mets hopes of recapturing the National League East for over a decade at the time. Duquette appeared, in particular, to be unequivocally against dealing the prized southpaw, as Healey himself admits and as Duquette was quoted as saying in numerous outlets.

Therefore, in any rational and traditionally run business, you would expect that Duquette would quickly shoot down the opinions of his subordinates. Quite the opposite, however, appears to have happened, because at the end of the day, the deal could not do down without the Wilpons' approval. As Healey noted, the Wilpons were extremely reluctant to deal Kazmir as the time as well, but who were they more likely to be swayed by? Duquette, who Wilpon tried to avoid awarding the GM role going in 2004 by offering the spot to Minaya, who was than still with the Montreal Expos, or the two guys he just had to have since day one?

This leads me back to my point in the beginning, which is that the comparison between Goldis and Bernazard is ludicrous. Al Goldis was simply another factor in the Wilpons' foolish decision to throw themselves into the Kazmir-Zambrano debacle in the Mets front office at the time, while Bernazard seems to have exhibited a Svengali-like influence over this team.

Yes, the Wipons might be as kind and genuine as you could expect of the owners of hundred million dollar franchise. They also have a propensity to meddle in strictly baseball affairs beyond a reasonable extent, which, even if done with the best of intentions and without any hidden agenda, can be detrimental to a team, as evident by the Kazmir-Zambrano deal. So while they may not have engineered the trade, as critics like to think, they are far from innocent as well.

And that is not because we need to write a better narrative. It is because it is the plain, stark truth.
 

Matt is a disgruntled, statistically- and politically-obsessed teenager and appreciates all words of encouragement at: matthimelfarb@gmail.com. You can also check out his blog: matthimelfarb.wordpress.com.

 
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The Culprits: Fred and Jeff Wilpon.
While some writers want to create new scapegoats for the failings of the Mets, the record indicates that at the end of the day, the Wilpons have to take the full blame for the troubled franchise.


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