Handicapping the field

The Mets have cut the field to three as they search for a manager to replace Art Howe, with the team hoping to make an announcement at some point this week. <P> All three candidates are scheduled to be at Shea Stadium on Wednesday, which should play out as a sort of final showdown for the position.

Willie Randolph

Born: Sept. 6, 1954.

Background: Randolph played 18 years as a major league infielder from 1975 through 1992 with the Pittsburgh Pirates, New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, Oakland Athletics, Milwaukee Brewers and New York Mets, amassing a .276 career batting average.

He was named co-captain of the Yankees in 1986 and was selected to six All-Star games, five in the American League. 2004 marked Randolph's 11th season as a coach for the Yankees and his first as a bench coach, taking over for Don Zimmer as Joe Torre's top lieutenant.

Managing experience: None. Randolph served as Torre's replacement for one game in late 2003 when Torre was serving a suspension and also co-managed a game when Torre attended a ceremony for his daughter. He has interviewed for at least 12 managerial positions in the last several years and was incorrectly reported to have been offered a job with the Cincinnati Reds.

Pros: A New Yorker through and through, Randolph grew up as a Mets fan in the Brownville section of Brooklyn before spending the majority of his career in the Bronx. Randolph's work ethic is admired by many and he is familiar with the tendencies of the New York media, something that Art Howe was not. If hired, Randolph will become the first African-American manager in New York.

Cons: Randolph was unimpressive during his original interview with the Mets in 2002, when the team was looking for a successor for Bobby Valentine, but came to Shea Stadium better prepared this time around. Randolph is said to have something of an abrasive personality, and his lack of managing experience at any level hurts him. Some argue that Randolph might have been better off spending the last few years managing in the minor leagues, but the allure of remaining a Yankee and collecting the pay allotted to a major league coach were understandably more tempting.

Rudy Jaramillo

Born: Sept. 20, 1950.

Background: Jaramillo was an outfielder in the Texas Rangers' system from 1973 through 1976, then spent the next six years working with Little League baseball in Dallas. He has spent the last ten years as the Rangers' hitting coach, the longest tenure by any current major league coach, and has been considered instrumental in the development of offensive stars like Hank Blalock and Juan Gonzalez.

Managing experience: Jaramillo has four seasons of minor league managerial experience under his belt, most recently in 1994. His career record consists of Burlington of the Midwest League, 1984 (51-38, 3rd); Sarasota of the Gulf Coast League, 1985-1986 (33-29, 1st in 1985, 31-31, 3rd in 1986) and Bend of the Northwest League in 1994 (29-47, 4th). Additionally, Jaramillo managed the 1982 Sandy Koufax League world champions when he was working with Little Leagues. He was also a hitting coach for the Houston Astros from 1990-1993 under manager Art Howe.

Pros: Those who have worked with Jaramillo rave about his player communication skills and work ethic, most notably Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees. Jaramillo's batting insight would prove valuable for a Mets club that has been unable to keep a hitting coach for some time. He is a good friend of Mets GM Omar Minaya, dating back to when both were employed by the Rangers, and could be in the mood to leave Texas – he recently turned down a five year, $2 million contract in order to explore other opportunities like the Mets position. He impressed the Mets enough in his initial interview to earn a return engagement.

Cons: Jaramillo has said that he is not interested in anything but the Mets' managerial job – officials had hoped to name him a so-called "CEO of hitting," the way Rick Peterson is viewed in the pitching realm – and has never filled out a major league lineup card. Jaramillo is considered to have a quiet, private personality and could struggle with the 24-7 nature of the New York media.

Terry Collins

Born: May 27, 1949

Background: A former major league manager with the Houston Astros and Anaheim Angels, Collins spent this past season as a minor league coordinator for the Los Angeles Dodgers. A fiery personality who has been compared to Larry Bowa, Collins played for 11 years in the Pittsburgh Pirates and Dodgers organizations.

Managing Experience: Collins had three straight winning seasons the Astros beginning in 1994, when he ironically took over for Art Howe. After three second place finishes, Collins was fired and latched on with the Angels, guiding the Halos to a pair of second place finishes.

The 1999 season started off poorly for the Angels, but Collins' contract was renewed in June, an act that prompted numerous players to object to the front office. With the team struggling in August, Collins resigned rather than face the day-to-day dramatics in his clubhouse – his last major league managerial experience.

Collins retired as a player in 1980 to manage the Dodgers' Single-A farm team, Lodi of the California League, to a title in 1981. He worked his way to Triple-A Albuquerque by 1983, managing there until 1989 while picking up a Sporting News Minor League Manager of the Year award in 1987. Collins managed for three years in the Pirates organization from 1989 until 1992, when he was promoted to bullpen coach under Pirates manager Jim Leyland.

Pros: Of the Mets' three finalists, Collins is the only one with any major league managerial experience. He wasn't strongly considered going into his first interview, but impressed the Mets enough to earn a return engagement and vault over also-rans Carlos Tosca and Jim Riggleman. Five of his six major league managerial years were competitive, and he has a winning lifetime record of 463-444.

Cons: The Mets didn't interview Larry Bowa for their managerial vacancy, and with good reason. Collins is cut from the same cloth, a noisy figure who isn't afraid to confront his players and the media. His makeup may not go over well with either the Mets' young talent or team brass.

Other candidates

The Mets don't appear inclined to bring Bobby Valentine in for a formal interview, instead going upon his recent dinner discussion with Minaya as enough of an encounter. Jim Leyland's name has been mentioned in the media as a candidate for the Phillies job, but it doesn't appear as though he'll get an interview with the Mets.

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