- Adam Rubin, ESPN Staff Writer
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NEW YORK -- The New York Mets parted ways with manager Jerry Manuel and general manager Omar Minaya on Monday, an expected shake-up of the big-spending ballclub after its second straight losing season.
A search is under way for a new GM, who will work with the team to hire a new manager.
The team's owners have whittled a list of potential GM candidates to five to seven names and planned to begin seeking permission for interviews on Monday night. The hope is a new GM will be hired by the end of the month.
Only candidates not currently with the organization are being considered. Ownership indicated it will interview candidates with various backgrounds, including those who have previously served in a GM capacity and those who are rising stars yet to reach that level.
"There's no internal candidate right now, so I think we're going to go outside the organization," said chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon, the son of principal owner Fred Wilpon. "Whether that person ever touched the organization, was part of the organization, I can't tell you. We're going to look for somebody that has some new ideas and a new leadership quality here to reinvigorate the franchise, to give our fans the hope that they deserve."
The final guaranteed year of Manuel's contract expired, and the Mets declined to exercise the club's option on the deal.
The Mets were 79-83 this year, a disappointing 18 games behind Philadelphia in the NL East despite having an opening day payroll of $133 million, which was the fifth-highest in the majors. They have not been to the playoffs since coming within a game of going to the World Series in 2006.
Manuel was promoted from bench coach on an interim basis after the midnight firing of Willie Randolph in June 2008. The Mets then went 55-38 the rest of the way but missed the playoffs with a loss in the last game at Shea Stadium, on the final day of the season. It was their second consecutive September collapse.
Still, Minaya was given a three-year contract extension through 2012 and Manuel a multiyear deal.
Minaya won't be staying on in another capacity -- as of now. His contract stipulated he could not be reassigned without consent, although the Mets would have been able to hire someone above Minaya, essentially marginalizing him.
"The fact is that it's not fair to give me another role. If you're going to bring in another GM -- first of all, I don't think the GM would want to have me aboard," Minaya said. "And vice versa. Whoever the GM is, I would have to make the decision if I want to work with that person."
Minaya said he expected his next job in baseball to be evaluating talent without being tied to an office. The outgoing GM, who was raised in Queens not far from where the Mets play, thanked the Wilpons for the opportunity.
"To be able to be the general manager of the New York Mets for the past six years has been an unbelievable opportunity, something that anybody that grows up in New York would wish to do," he said.
Minaya did not disagree with the move to get rid of him.
"I think we needed a change here," he said. "And I spoke to Fred and to Jeff about this. The bottom line is we had three years where we didn't finish the job."
Assistant general manager John Ricco is assuming the GM role in the interim, the team said. So that the Mets will not fall behind in offseason activity, Ricco has authority to begin talking to representatives for the Mets' free agents, including left-handers Pedro Feliciano and Hisanori Takahashi. The Mets have an $11 million team option for shortstop Jose Reyes that will be exercised, but Ricco will look into signing Reyes to a longer-term deal.
Minaya didn't lack for resources as Mets GM.
"You look at our payroll -- they've given me the payroll to go out there and get the job done," he said.
They finished 70-92 last year, their first at $800 million Citi Field, and a promising start this year was all but wiped out by a 2-9 road trip immediately after the All-Star break.
Attendance fell 17.2 percent in the second season at the new ballpark, and Rodriguez embarrassed the organization when he was charged with third-degree assault and second-degree harassment following a fight with his girlfriend's father outside a family lounge at Citi Field on Aug. 11.
On the field the Mets went for long stretches without Bay, Beltran, Reyes and Santana, who had shoulder surgery in September that could keep him out for much of next season. And while All-Star third baseman David Wright rebounded from a dreadful season in '09, he struck out a career-high 161 times and slumped for several extended spurts.
Once the Mets dropped out of contention, the decision to fire Manuel was expected.
Manuel, AL Manager of the Year in 2000, is the eighth manager to lose his job this year. Baltimore's Dave Trembley, Kansas City's Trey Hillman, Arizona's A.J. Hinch, Florida's Fredi Gonzalez, Seattle's Don Wakamatsu, Milwaukee's Ken Macha and Pittsburgh's John Russell also were dismissed.
With Atlanta's Bobby Cox, Toronto's Cito Gaston and the Dodgers' Joe Torre all retiring and Lou Piniella having stepped down as Cubs' skipper in August, finding a big-name manager who could command the respect of the players and help boost attendance in New York might be difficult.
Only the Orioles, Dodgers and Diamondbacks have locked down managers.
Ownership is expected to recommend that a new GM should consider Wally Backman and current third-base coach Chip Hale for the managerial role.
If Hale is not the manager, ownership is expected to support him to remain on the major league staff as third-base coach, as well as pitching coach Dan Warthen to remain in that role.
Hitting coach Howard Johnson and bullpen coach Randy Niemann -- former Mets players -- are expected to remain with the organization in some capacity, while bench coach Dave Jauss and first-base coach Razor Shines are least likely to remain.
Ricco planned to call the coaches Monday to discuss their futures, but they all likely will remain in limbo until their contracts expire Oct. 31.
Minaya, who became the first Hispanic general manager in 2002 when he was hired to run the Montreal Expos, took over as GM from Jim Duquette in September 2004 and quickly enjoyed success in his hometown. He threw around big dollars to land All-Stars Beltran, Pedro Martinez, Santana and Rodriguez.
But not much has gone right since the Mets lost Game 7 of the 2006 National League Championship Series.
The Mets blew a seven-game division lead with 34 remaining in 2007 and had a 3½-game lead late in '08 but finished out of the postseason again.
Turmoil increased in July 2009 after the Daily News reported Mets vice president of player personnel Tony Bernazard challenged Double-A players to a fight. During the news conference to announce the firing, Minaya questioned the motives of the reporter who broke the Bernazard story, saying he had asked about getting a player development position.
Minaya apologized and Jeff Wilpon said the following day that the GM made a "very large mistake" by singling out the reporter and added "ownership is not happy with the direction of the team."
Whoever takes over as GM will have little room to make any splashy moves in the offseason because of several large contracts -- all of which expire after 2011.
Little-used second baseman Castillo has $6 million left on a four-year deal; left-hander Perez, who pitched only nine times after being dropped from the rotation May 14, is owed $12 million; and Beltran has $18.5 million coming to him after two injury-abbreviated seasons.
Also, the Mets owe Rodriguez $11.5 million next year, but the team withheld more than $3 million of his salary and has enacted a clause in his contract that would make the remainder of his deal nonguaranteed, prompting a grievance.
Jeff Wilpon was asked if he could envision a new GM trading Wright. He said it was hard to imagine but would listen to the argument.
Manuel won the AL manager award after he led the White Sox to a league-best 95-67 record. He was fired by Chicago in 2003 following his sixth season as manager.
Minaya, meanwhile, has already thought about the future. He wants to be in the field evaluating players.
"I won't be working in an office. I can tell you that," he said. "I won't miss taking the GW Bridge and the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge. But, that being said, look, I'm a baseball guy. I'm a talent evaluator. I'll be doing some type of talent evaluating for somebody."
Adam Rubin covers the Mets for ESPNNewYork.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.