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Well Mets fans, it’s finally that time. We knew this day was coming, we could see it from a mile away.

Now that Omar Minaya and Jerry Manuel are officially gone, the Mets are moving on from the roller coaster six years of the Minaya era. It’s a shame, more than anything, that it had to come to this. Minaya and Manuel were nice guys and good baseball men, but when it got right down to it, they just couldn’t get it done.

The Wilpons have vowed to fix this, and so far, they’re off to a good start. The Mets plan to interview five to seven candidates in person, with at least three interviews scheduled for next week.

Confirmed by team sources as candidates so far are White Sox assistant GM Rich Hahn, former Diamondbacks GM Josh Byrnes, and former Royals GM Allard Baird. The three will interview at some point next week. It’s also been reported that the Mets will talk to Sandy Alderson, a long-time former Athletics GM who is currently a consultant to the commissioner.

After all candidates are interviewed, there will be a second round of interviews before the team makes an offer to a potential hire. All four are intriguing options, in my opinion, and it lets me know the Wilpons are serious about finding the right man for the job this time around.

During a news conference last Monday when the Wilpons announced the firings of Minaya and Manuel, Jeff Wilpon made it known the team intends to interview candidates with varying levels of experience.

Whether it’s a young up-and-comer like Rick Hahn, who’s never been a GM before; a guy like the 40-year-old Byrnes or the 48-year old Baird, who have done it before; or the 62-year-old Alderson, who’s a longtime veteran, the Wilpons are determined to find the right guy for the job.

Regardless of who gets the position, they’ll have to prove that they’re the right person for the job. Adam Rubin of ESPN New York lists a skill set of qualities he’d like the next general manager to have, from intelligence, decisiveness and good attention to detail, to common sense, discipline, and the willingness to draft over slot (something the Mets rarely did over the past few years).

Rick Hahn is interesting as a rookie candidate. Hahn graduated from the University of Michigan, the same alma mater of Fred Wilpon, before moving on to Harvard Law. He joined the White Sox in 2002 and provided a good compliment as a financial and statistical analyst as an assistant to GM Kenny Williams, a former player and scout who is more of a talent evaluator.

Before he was hired by the White Sox, Hahn was an agent for two years. He was promoted to his current position of vice president/assistant general manager in 2007 after demonstrating expertise in negotiating contracts, as well as a strong comprehension of the sabermetric analysis that has revolutionized the game in the past decade.

In March, Baseball America voted Hahn as the No. 1 general manager prospect in baseball. He previously interviewed for the St. Louis Cardinals job before withdrawing his name from consideration, and the Pirates and Mariners expressed interest in interviewing him as well.

I’m not sure if the Wilpons will feel comfortable handing the keys to the franchise over to a first-time GM, but if they do, it might as well be Rick Hahn who gets that assignment. If Hahn nails the interview, he may get the job.

After all, the goal is hire the best candidate for the job, and who’s to say the inexperienced Hahn isn’t that guy? Unlike the other candidates, at least Hahn can say that he’s never failed as general manager before, something I’m sure Byrnes and Baird think about.

Josh Byrnes was a big up-and-comer when he was hired by the Diamondbacks in 2005 at age 35. He previously had worked as an assistant GM under Rockies GM Dan O’Dowd and later Red Sox GM Theo Epstein. In his second season as GM, Byrnes’s Diamondbacks won the NL West and advanced to the NLCS where they lost to division rival Colorado.

Byrnes was rewarded in February of 2008 with an eight-year contract extension that was supposed to last until 2015. But the Diamondbacks crumbled over the last few years and the team cleaned house midway through the 2010 season, firing Byrnes and manager A.J. Hinch shortly before the All-Star break.

Allard Baird is currently the head of the professional scouting department for the Boston Red Sox and an assistant to GM Theo Epstein. He has not surfaced as a general manager since being fired by the Royals midway through the 2006 season.

Baird worked for the Kansas City Royals for 18 years, including the role of general manager from 2000-2006. Often hamstrung by financial limitations, Baird’s reign as Royals GM is mostly remembered for the Royals’ constant parting with their top prospects, like Johnny Damon, Jermaine Dye, and Carlos Beltran.

The Royals only had one winning season during his time as GM, with three 100-loss seasons in the AL Central. The small market Royals rarely spent money on both the major league roster or the amateur draft, as the Royals continually drafted cheaper, easier to sign players as opposed to the top prospects available.

If Baird got the Mets job, he wouldn’t have to worry about that anymore. The Mets have always been a big spender on the free agent market, and they would likely give the new GM the payroll flexibility to rebuild the roster. There’s even talk that the Mets are more willing to ignore baseball’s slotting system and go get the best players available in the draft, which is a breath of fresh air.

Sandy Alderson, the veteran ex-GM who now works for MLB as a top executive, is the other end of the candidate spectrum.

Alderson was the GM of the A’s from 1983-1997 before taking a job as MLB’s Executive Vice President for Baseball Operations in 1998. He held that position until 2005, when he was hired as the CEO of the Padres. He resigned from that spot in 2009, and has worked for the commissioner since then.

Alderson has an impressive track record. After the A’s ordered him to slash the team’s payroll in 1995, Alderson began focusing on getting more bang for his buck, developing the philosophies that would enable him to field a cost-effective team. He and assistant Billy Beane became known for this style of managing, and Beane is famously the subject of the 2003 book, Moneyball.

Alderson certainly has the experience as a successful general manager, and if he’s truly interest in the job, I’m happy the Mets are bringing him in to interview.

Like I said, it’s a good start for the Wilpons. Hahn, Byrnes, Baird and Alderson will interview next week, and it’s a solid start in the search for a new GM. Let’s just hope the Wilpons are more than just lip service and get it done this time around. The Mets are in desperate need of a winning identity, and it’s up to Fred and Jeff Wilpon to decide who’s the right man for the job.

Hey, ya gotta believe, right?

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