Last week, Joe Torre announced that he was stepping down as manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers and will not seek an extension from L.A., leaving his protege and former Yankee great Don Mattingly the task of managing the Dodgers during the messy Frank and Jaime McCourt divorce proceedings.

Torre, 70, is, without a doubt a Hall of Fame manager. A guy once labeled “Clueless Joe” by the New York Post before the 1996 season became “King Joe” by year’s end, when the Yankees beat the Atlanta Braves in the ’96 World Series.

Three more World Series titles later, and after 12 seasons of success, Torre became a New York City icon, joining the likes of DiMaggio, Mantle, Ruth, Jeter, Lawrence Taylor, Tom Seaver, Joe Namath, Bill Parcells, and Mark Messier.

Torre returned to Yankee Stadium Monday night after three long years of disconnect from the Bronx Bombers since his book, “The Yankee Years,” which Brian Cashman insists threw himself and many others in the organization under the bus.

Since Friday, rumors have been swirling that Torre could be ready to make a return to the City he calls home, but, he is not coming back to the Yankees; he could be coming back to New York to manage … the Mets!

HUH? The Mets? The same team that gave us Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo? The same team that thinks Dillon Gee, Lucas Duda, and Josh Thole are the next great prospects coming up in the Mets system? The same Mets who make choking into an art form? Those Mets?

You betcha.

The New York Post was the first to report the rumor on Friday, citing a “close friend” of Torre’s who said that Torre would only consider managing the Mets if he didn’t retire. The report also says that Torre is close with Mets principal owner Fred Wilpon, and, if he should become the manager, Torre would want to be paid around $13 million a year, the same salary he is making with the Dodgers.

Yesterday, while being interviewed by Mike Francesa on WFAN, Torre said that he was “curious” about the Mets job, and he hoped “the phone will be ringing,” and said coming to the Mets would be “full circle” for him since he began his managerial career with the Mets in 1977. Torre also confirmed that he has not had any contact with anyone from the Mets organization or any other team so far.

In short, Torre is willing to talk to the Mets, if they are willing to see him.

The question remains though: Is Torre serious about making this move? He is 70 years old. The Mets are a dysfunctional mess from top to bottom. Here are the problems with the Mets that Torre would have to fix:

1. Johan Santana is coming off two straight winters with arm surgery. He was not the same pitcher in 2010 that he was in 2009, and he will only get worse. Clearly, after Santana, the Mets don’t have a legit ace in the rotation.

2. The Mets have no right fielder. Yes, I know everyone loves Angel Pagan, but can he really do this again for another year?

3. Jason Bay is coming off a season ending injury and a dreadful 2010.

4. Carlos Beltran may not be here if the Mets trade him for pitching.

5. Luis Castillo is not going anywhere.

6. Oliver Perez is not going anywhere.

7. Jose Reyes has developed a reputation as brittle, having missed parts of the season.

8. Ruben Tejada is a worse hitter than Luis Castillo.

9. Mariano Rivera is not coming out of that bullpen anytime soon. With Francisco Rodriguez’s legal trouble, the Mets have been rumored to be trading or releasing K-Rod. They will need a closer; Rivera is not leaving the Yankees.

10. Too bad human cloning is illegal, because there are not enough Ike Davises and David Wrights to go around on this team.

11. Did I mention that the Wilpons wouldn’t pay Torre $13 million a year? Sorry. The Wilpons have defined stingy, cheap and plain dumb before. The Mets never paid more than $2 million a year to a manager, i.e. Willie Randolph, and when they do throw around money, it is usually in the wrong place—Pedro Martinez and $53 million come to mind.

Ever since the Bernie Madoff scandal that many believe cost the Mets millions of dollars, the team has been pinching pennies. They made only one big signing last winter, Bay, and refused to trade for a pitcher with a steep contract, i.e. Dan Haren or Roy Oswalt when the Mets were still relevant in June.

I would like to think that the Wilpons would channel late Jets owner Leon Hess, and tell Torre to “buy the groceries” the way Hess asked Parcells to do when he took over the Jets in 1997, and turned them into a force in the AFC for years to come.

However, Jeff Wilpon isn’t Leon Hess.

I like Joe Torre; he is a great manager, and his presence would fire up the Mets fan base. I myself would like to see him in Mets blue, orange, and black. 

But, let’s look at reality.

Torre would serve more as a figurehead for the Mets for the next two years until he calls it quits. This is a job that Torre doesn’t need. His legacy is too great, that he doesn’t need to be remembered as the guy who ended his career leading the Mets into back-to-back third place finishes in the NL East.

I guess Torre has been bitten by the Bill Parcells virus, A.K.A. the inability of a legendary old head coach to let go of the career and sport he loves even at an advanced age. Torre coming to the Mets would be similar to Parcells’ as he would stay with the team for two or three years and then leave it in a lurch.

If Torre is on the fence about retirement, he should retire. We should only remember him as the guy who built his New York legacy winning four World Series titles, the guy with the lasting images of him being carried off by his Yankee players after the Yankees won their fourth and final World Series under his baton.

As for the Mets, this is not the time to think about sticking it to the Yankees. The Mets need to think about building a franchise for the long haul with a younger manager who has the energy to rebuild this franchise in his vision, discipline it and turn the Mets back into a respectable franchise again.

It is ironic in some ways because five years ago, the Mets actually got it right when they hired a Joe Torre disciple in Willie Randolph, who had the energy to erase the bad memories of the Art Howe years, and to lead the Mets to within one swing of the World Series in 2006.

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