Omar's in, Duke's out

Here we go again: Just 11 months after Jim Duquette took the reins of the New York Mets, the organization is ready to switch drivers once more. <P> Omar Minaya is the new man of the hour in Queens, succeeding Duquette as the team's general manager.

The stunning move came amid rumors that Duquette never had complete control of the team, with a daunting series of roadblocks and red tape rumored to be in place in order for the first-year GM to pull the trigger on any deal.

Wilpon insisted that Duquette always had autonomy. Whatever the scenario, one of the deals that got through was the heavily lambasted July 30 trade that sent top pitching prospect Scott Kazmir to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, although Wilpon said that transaction alone did not prompt this move.

"This is not about Jim not doing the job," Wilpon said. "This is about adding to the organization, and supporting the organization with a great talent."

That great talent, Wilpon says, is Minaya, who becomes the club's executive vice president of baseball operations and the general manager.

"Omar will have the authority and the autonomy in the baseball department," Wilpon said. "He will make the final decisions in the baseball department, and have authority on who the new manager will be."

The Mets have had designs on working Minaya, who worked with Duquette as an assistant general manager under Steve Phillips, back into the team's fold for some time. Minaya, as GM of baseball's vagabond Montreal Expos, was offered a sort of co-general managership with Duquette this past offseason, but turned down the offer.

He was said to be concerned with the layout of power within the proposed scenario as to who would have the authority to make player moves and change the direction of the team's philosophies, but there is no such confusion now.

Beginning Thursday, Minaya has total power over the baseball operations of the organization, with underlings like Duquette, John Ricco and Gary LaRocque at the ready.

"My goal, of course, is to be able to work with the guys and continue this plan that's in place," Minaya said. "My understanding is that there's a plan in place. This plan is pitching, defense and athleticism. That's what I believe in. … I want to be able to work with that plan. I want to make that plan better."

For Minaya, the return to the Mets organization represents a homecoming in more ways than one. A Queens native who attended P.S. 19 in Corona and recalls sneaking into Shea Stadium to watch Mets games and Jets practices, Minaya will be responsible for the task of bringing winning baseball back to Flushing.

It won't be easy, with the team about to put the finishing touches on their third straight sub-.500 finish and ready to name their third manager in three years.

But it has to be a less daunting scenario than the one Minaya entered at the head of the Expos in 2002, with 72 hours remaining on the clock before spring training and just six employees remaining in an organization that suddenly had no clubhouse staff, no scouting department and no computers.

"Nobody wants to hear excuses," Minaya said. "Either you get it done or you don't. When you grow up in New York, no one wants to hear excuses."

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