mets.com wrote:12/05/2006 4:37 PM ET
Randolph happy to watch Mets work
Manager taking back seat to front office in pursuit of free agents
By Bryan Hoch / Special to MLB.com
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Had he won the National League Manager of the Year Award, Willie Randolph says he would have used the podium to honor Buck O'Neil, Jackie Robinson and other barrier breakers of baseball.
Randolph doesn't intend to seek any such platform to help sway free agent Barry Zito's thought process toward Shea Stadium, though the Mets manager admits having the left-hander in his 2007 rotation would be quite an enticing proposition.
"[Zito] has an idea what he wants to do," Randolph said. "But I would love to have him. I'd say to him, 'I think this team is going in the right direction, and if you want to be a part of it, we'd love to have you.' Simple as that."
While Zito's agent, Scott Boras, spent the late evening hours on Monday meeting with Mets general manager Omar Minaya, chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon and other club executives, Randolph is content to sit back as an observer, trusting in the club's ongoing pursuit of pitching.
Randolph said he admires the consistency and reliable nature of Zito's performance, but doesn't plan to make a sales pitch anytime soon. That might be left to pitching coach Rick Peterson, who worked with Zito as the Oakland A's pitching coach from 2000-03, the southpaw's first four years in the big leagues. Zito won the 2002 American League Cy Young Award with Peterson as his pitching coach.
But certainly, Randolph wouldn't mind seeing Zito every fifth day.
"He takes the ball and he competes," Randolph said. "He's got enough in his arsenal to win his share of ballgames. I've always watched him and liked the way he goes about his business.
"He's the big fish out there right now, and everyone's knocking each other over to get to him. Hopefully, he'll look at New York as a way he wants to spend the next four or five years."
It's that major metropolis, observers say, that could mesh well with Zito's free-wheeling personality, one that made him a rock star of sorts within the A's clubhouse. Though the Texas Rangers had stepped up as Zito's primary pursuer even before clubs reported to Disney's complex this week, the allure of New York City should be an item worth heavy consideration when Zito picks his next locale.
Randolph, a Brooklyn product who went on to stardom with the Yankees and managerial success with the Mets, could tell a few stories about that Gotham-centric attitude.
"Obviously, money's a big motivating factor," Randolph said. "But if you want to show who you are and do the best in the best place in the world, to me, you want to play for the Yankees, Mets, Giants or Jets. That's just me."
The Mets' flirtation with Zito aside, Randolph reported that he is satisfied with the steps the team has taken to re-stock for the 2007 campaign. Having filled their remaining position-player holes by bringing back Jose Valentin and signing Moises Alou, the Mets also hung on to two veteran starters by re-signing Orlando Hernandez and, later, Tom Glavine.
The moves have the Mets pitching staff open to upgrades. In the event Zito signs elsewhere, the Mets have been heavily rumored to be considering trading for a starting pitcher -- Mark Buerhle, Freddy Garcia or Javier Vazquez -- from the Chicago White Sox.
"We have a long way to go," Randolph said. "Obviously, I feel like we're going to do more."
But even if the Mets don't add more pieces, Randolph said he has enough to open the season as is. Losing reliever Chad Bradford to the Baltimore Orioles was understandable considering the three-year offer he received, so the Mets can seek to re-tool with a mix-and-match selection of Duaner Sanchez, Aaron Heilman, Pedro Feliciano, Jon Adkins and Juan Padilla -- or perhaps another unexpected candidate.
"People fall out of the trees sometimes," Randolph said. "People step up. When I speak to my players in the offseason, I challenge them seriously. When they come to Spring Training, I look them in the eye and tell them, 'If you want to be a part of this, take it. Let's go.'"
The rotation is a little more set, but not by much more. Randolph said that Glavine and Hernandez are locked in, but that the October heroics turned in by John Maine and Oliver Perez would not necessarily give them a leg up in their pursuits of a rotation spot.
"Everyone comes into Spring Training competing for a job. That's the way I look at it," Randolph said. "[Maine and Perez] did a nice job for us last year and I'm proud of what they accomplished, helping us get to where we finished up, but there's no one on my team -- unless you're one of the real big boys -- who's going to come to Spring Training and think they have a job based upon last year."
While Minaya works the suites, Randolph has made a few minor tweaks to his coaching staff. He plans to shift Sandy Alomar to third-base coach in 2007, clearing first base for the eventual candidate Randolph selects. Randolph's agent, Ron Shapiro, also remains in negotiations with Wilpon regarding a contract extension.
Roaming the hallways of the Dolphin Hotel, Randolph is a mere 10 weeks away from shifting his thoughts further down Florida's east coast, to the Mets' Spring Training home in Port St. Lucie.
There, he can begin the process of seeking that elusive Manager of the Year Award once more. O'Neil, Robinson and even his organization mate Minaya would have been identified in the version of an acceptance speech Randolph had already crafted in his mind.
"It would have been nice to stand up in front of a lot of people and give it up to people who deserve that kind of praise," Randolph said. "I'll have to do it in the future sometime."