Given the how far the New York Mets have progressed since Art Howe was shown the door two years ago, what could possibly be the reason for Wilpon Inc. dragging their feet on an extension for Willie Randolphl?  The New York Daily News’ Bill Madden claims that while discussions between the club and skipper are civil, “the hard fact is Willie seems headed into the last season of his contract as a lame duck.”

In the final year of his contract, Randolph will earn $700,000 this season, which, to put in perspective, is less than one-third of what the Mets will pay newly signed situation lefty reliever Scott Schoeneweiss.

This is absurd and yet, thanks in no small part to the “managers are immaterial” philosophy espoused in “Moneyball”, baseball owners have become increasingly hardline when it comes to paying the men they entrust with their multi-million dollar rosters. In that regard, you could make the case for managers being the most important components of the organization.

And yet at the winter meetings in Orlando last month, Nationals president Stan Kasten was telling anyone who would listen that “the dumbest contract by far this winter was what the Cubs gave (Lou) Piniella.” For the record, Piniella got a three-year, $10.5 million deal, which, at $3.5 mil per year, puts him second to Joe Torre ($7.5) on the manager salary list. But before he’s even managed a game for them, Piniella’s hiring has created a frenzy of fan excitement in Chicago that has been reflected in the Cubs’ winter marketing and ticket sales.

I do not pretend to know what sort of raise Randolph is seeking, but assuming it is even to just double his salary, he would still be getting paid about half as much as the average middle reliever. These days, clubs think nothing of releasing players making that much. It makes you wonder how they can be so blind to the value of managers.

While I can’t justify the Mets lowballing Willie (if indeed, that’s the case), Sweet & Sour Lou’s pact with the Cubs might not be a worthy comparison.  The Tribune Corp. was hellbent on changing the culture surrounding their ballclub this winter, and if it meant wildly overpaying for management and talent (much the way the Mets made such a massive commitment to Pedro Martinez two years ago), that’s exactly what they were going to do.  Piniella’s resume as a big league manager is considerably shinier than Randolph’s.   But all of that said, while you can pick apart many of Willie’s moves, he deserves considerable credit for the positive climate surrounding the Mets the past two years.  Though Omar Minaya has given his manager far better tools to work with than Art Howe ever had at his disposal, there’s also no shortage of soap opera storylines that pop up in Flushing on an almost weekly basis.  Whether David Wright is an unwitting pitchman for a feces ingesting cult, Pedro Martinez is threatening to show Mike Lupica the Bronx the Dominican Republic or Captain Red Ass is fucking half of Long Island, Randolph’s Mets have mostly been a joy to watch between the lines.

Vern Ruhle, RIP.