The New York Times’ Lee Jenkins reports in tomorrow’s edition that the New York Mets will announce the hiring of Willie Randolph as their new manager in a 2pm press conference at Shea Stadium.

The Mets spent last night finishing a contract with Randolph and announced at 11:20 p.m. that he would become become the 18th manager in their history and the third in four years.

Omar Minaya, the Mets’ general manager, who has been on the job fewer than two months, indicated that he wanted to sign the new manager to a contract for three years or longer. Because Randolph is a first-timer, he should be relatively affordable, which is welcome considering the Mets are already paying Art Howe, whom they fired late last season, nearly $5 million for the next two years.

Minaya conducted a second round of interviews yesterday for the three finalists – Randolph; Rudy Jaramillo, the Texas Rangers’ hitting coach; and Terry Collins, the former Houston Astros and Anaheim Angels manager. Minaya then consulted with the Mets’ baseball staff, including Jim Duquette, the senior vice president of baseball operations, whom he replaced as general manager.

In a possible indication of how the Mets were leaning, Jaramillo and Collins both had flights out of New York this morning.

In the eyes of many New Yorkers, Randolph is still the lithe infielder who grew up in Brooklyn, danced in the streets when the Mets won the 1969 World Series and became an All-Star with the Yankees. It may be hard for some to believe that Randolph is 50 and ready to become a manager.

But for the man who spent most of those 50 years in New York, fielding bad-hop grounders in every conceivable ballpark, it is time.