Ron Vaccaro

A $95 million dollar payroll, 86 losses, an August with no home wins, a 12-game losing streak, and a league-worst 114 errors all led to one thing yesterday: the axing of New York Mets manager Bobby Valentine.

Mets owner Fred Wilpon had said throughout the season that Valentine would be his manager next season, and he asked fans to take him at his word.

But after the abysmal August, Wilpon had to realize that change was needed. Somewhere.

The team had seemingly good, veteran players in place, but still could not win. The off-season acquisitions of Roberto Alomar and Mo Vaughn proved unsuccessful and instead represented the Mets’ overall poor performance. Alomar — a likely future Hall of Famer — batted a measly .266 this season and made an uncharacteristically high 11 errors. Vaughn batted .259 and only batted in 72 runs after taking nearly half the season to find his rhythm.

Wilpon had to do something to show that losing — often pitifully — will not be tolerated in the future. Was Bobby Valentine the main culprit? Probably not. But he was the easiest target.

To suggest that Alomar and Vaughn redefined the word “underachiever” this summer because of poor managing from Valentine is ridiculous. But as is often the case when someone has to take a fall, the first one in line is the manager. Even when the skipper is just two years removed from a World Series appearance.

Some expected Mets general manager Steve Phillips also to receive walking papers, but it seems Wilpon has issued him a temporary reprieve. After all, Phillips set a record this winter for receiving the most “Preseason General Manager of the Year” accolades. I hope he didn’t clear too much space off his mantle.

For his part, Phillips had this to offer at yesterday’s press conference.

“I didn’t have to [suggest that Valentine be fired],” Phillips said. “I am glad it didn’t get to that point.”

As he should be. Because Phillips well knows that he is next to go, and he knows deep down he was more responsible than Valentine for this season’s performance — or more appropriately, lack thereof.

Hindsight is always better than 20/20 and many have made an art form of second-guessing. Yet Phillips’ recent acquisitions included many players who either had one great year in their career or clearly had seen better days. Vaughn came off an injury with legitimate questions about his physical condition. Burnitz and Estes were not consistent over the past few seasons. Phillips was banking on career years from these players. He probably realistically expected that some of them would deliver. But none did. These are still solid players, though, and, as professionals, they cannot escape culpability for this past season’s fiasco.

Replacing six or seven players was not an option. Firing both Phillips and Valentine was a possibility, but apparently Wilpon decided Phillips can get the job done. Maybe Valentine could be successful in the future, too. But by firing Valentine, Wilpon served notice to Phillips and everyone in the organization: win, or else.

Valentine was not the person most responsible for the Mets’ disaster season. But he is the easiest one to replace.