Mets Need to Decide on Jerry Manuel's Future Right Now

Are you playing to win or for next year?

The Mets have made it clear that Jerry Manuel won't be fired before the end of this season, but it isn't this season that matters. The Mets need to decide on their plans for 2010 because if they aren't careful, the manager's efforts to keep his job will wind up damaging the team next year.

The obvious example is his neanderthal suggestion that David Wright is tougher than Ryan Church and able to play through a concussion, a suggestion the Mets wisely ignored in favor of the advice of people who know what they're talking about. Maybe Wright's fine, but Manuel's concern is how many games he's able to win and not the long-term health of Wright.

That wasn't the only red flag Manuel waved this weekend. He used Francisco Rodriguez on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and chose to leave the closer in the game for two innings on Saturday. That's too much work for a guy who was already on pace to pitch more innings than he has in several years, and too much work for someone who has three more years left on his contract. If you want to give Manuel an arm to overuse, just activate Billy Wagner already and let him go nuts but Rodriguez has too much value to be pitching four innings in three meaningless August games.

That's not to say you don't try to win, it's just that you try to do it with at least one eye on the bigger picture. Manuel doesn't seem to be able to do that without knowing if he has a job next season. It's hard to blame him for worrying about himself, but you'd think someone in the Mets front office would send a message that the way he's managing right now won't be a help to his cause. You'd also think that they wouldn't challenge reporters or minor leaguers in public forums, so perhaps this reminder is even more necessary than originally thought.

The fly in the ointment, of course, is that if Manuel isn't going to be here next year than he has even less reason to give two whits about what happens to the players. Under that scenario the Mets would have to go back on their vow not to fire him and replace him with a company man who knew they had a future with the organization, even with a new manager in place. Reversing course now is a small price to pay for assurances about the 2010 team, though, and no one would blame the Mets for shifting their focus to the future.

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City and is a contributor to and in addition to his duties for

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