The Cubs recently fired manager Dale Sveum. Originally given a three-year contract prior to the 2012 season, Sveum was let go with a year remaining on his deal. In his two years leading Chicago, his teams went a combined 127-197. The Cubs won five more games this year than a season ago, but the fact that several of Chicago’s highly-touted youngsters failed to progress this year was one factor which helped to seal his fate.
Meanwhile, the Mets brought back manager Terry Collins. This despite the fact that eight players for the Mets had 100 PA in both 2012 and 2013 and in the former year they combined for an 11.5 fWAR and this past season they managed just an 8.2 fWAR total. And this was with Daniel Murphy and Lucas Duda combining to contribute 3.4 additional fWAR from a season ago.
While they may not have been highly touted, the Mets saw significant drops in performance from Ruben Tejada and Ike Davis, who combined for a (-0.4) fWAR. Both of those players were counted on to build on 2012’s total of 2.9 fWAR.
Many people counter that it’s unfair to blame the manager when players fail to meet expectations. This is not a completely invalid thought. However, it should prompt the questions: What does the manager bring to the table and who does he help progress and move forward?
Collins seems to work best with veteran players. There’s nothing wrong with that and on many clubs that would be a valuable trait. David Wright has had very good seasons under Collins, as have other veterans like Carlos Beltran, Marlon Byrd, R.A. Dickey, Scott Hairston and Jose Reyes. But on a team that is trying to break in youngsters all over the field, it’s hardly the calling card you want from your manager.
Is Collins really the best choice to break in guys like Travis d’Arnaud, Wilmer Flores, Brandon Nimmo and Cesar Puello? In three years under Collins, the Mets have employed 15 different position players age 25 and under and only Juan Lagares has turned in an above-average season. And even Lagares comes with a type of caveat, as nearly all of his value came on the defensive side of things.
Again, people will point out that it’s not like Collins had Mike Trout to break in. But wouldn’t it be nice if just one of Davis or Duda or Kirk Nieuwenhuis or Josh Thole or Tejada or Jordany Valdespin had developed into… something? Heading into 2014, not one of those six guys can even be counted on to hold down part of a platoon, much less be written in as a second-division club’s starter.
Getting back to Sveum – it’s hard not to notice that the Cubs cut ties to him once beloved ex-Cub Ryne Sandberg landed a managerial job elsewhere. From a distance, it seemed like the Chicago front office did not want a manager that was too popular with the fans to be in charge of the team. It’s easy to imagine Sandberg having more clout than Theo Epstein in Chicago and the Cubs’ front office wanting no part of that.
Is it possible that Mets fans are stuck with Collins until Wally Backman lands a managerial job elsewhere?
I have no interest in leading the charge for Backman to be the Mets’ manager. There are dozens of people ready, willing and able to drive that particular bandwagon. Besides, I’d be just as happy to see a host of other guys get the gig. It just seems to me that Backman is too popular for his own good and that a front office led by Sandy Alderson would never allow him to take over in the dugout.
But this should not be about Backman – it should be about Collins. The best thing about hiring Collins was that he was so… replaceable. There’s absolutely nothing about Collins that screams to anyone here in late 2013 that this is a guy that we must retain at all costs.
So after three years of deplorable bullpen management, of running starting position players into the ground, of the complete failure to develop any young position player into anything offensively useful, of a seemingly non-stop parade of injured starting pitchers and a 225-261 record – the solution is to bring the disposable manager back? At least Omar Minaya had the good sense to fire Art Howe.
The Cubs finished with eight fewer wins than the Mets in 2013. But their offseason is off to a much better start because their GM decided to make a managerial switch with a fungible manager who was seemingly not helping their young players. In firing Sveum, the Cubs bent over backwards to praise him for the good things he did while pointing out the areas that need to be addressed going forward.
“I think, as a whole, Dale has had a nice calming effect on the club,” Epstein said in Milwaukee. “I think he’s established a level of professionalism here that’s admirable and held his head up high in difficult circumstances in the course of two years.”
Shoot, Alderson could have inserted “Terry” for “Dale” and switched “two” to “three” and used this exact same quote. Here are some more quotes that Alderson could have used in his press conference after announcing that Collins would not be re-hired.
Today’s decision to pursue a new manager was not made because of wins and losses. Our record is a function of our long-term building plan and the moves we have made – some good, a few we would like back – to further this strategy. Jed and I take full responsibility for that. Today’s decision was absolutely not made to provide a scapegoat for our shortcomings or to distract from our biggest issue – a shortage of talent at the major league level. We have been transparent about what we are, and what we are not yet. Today’s decision, which was painful for all of us, was made to move us closer to fulfilling our ultimate long-term vision for the Cubs.
“Soon, our organization will transition from a phase in which we have been primarily acquiring young talent to a phase in which we will promote many of our best prospects and actually field a very young, very talented club at the major league level. The losing has been hard on all of us, but we now have one of the top farm systems in baseball, some of the very best prospects in the game, and a clear path forward. In order for us to win with this group – and win consistently – we must have the best possible environment for young players to learn, develop and thrive at the major league level. We must have clear and cohesive communication with our players about the most important parts of the game. And – even while the organization takes a patient, long view – we must somehow establish and maintain a galvanized, winning culture around the major league club.
“I believe a dynamic new voice – and the energy, creativity and freshness that comes with this type of change – provides us with the best opportunity to achieve the major league environment we seek. We will begin our search immediately – a process which will be completed before the GM meetings in early November and perhaps much sooner. There are no absolute criteria, but we will prioritize managerial or other on-field leadership experience and we will prioritize expertise developing young talent.”
Wouldn’t it be nice if the Mets decided to “prioritize expertise developing young talent” with their manager? Instead, Alderson decided to do nothing and hope the problem magically fixes itself. Now our best-case scenario is likely this: Hope that the Mets follow the Red Sox blueprint and sign several mid-tier free agents so that Collins has a team full of veterans to manage in 2014.
Put the 25 and under crowd on hold, aim for 85 wins, faux-relevance and increased attendance next year. But the big hope is that another team hires Backman to be its manager, allowing the front office to do what’s needed to be done since the end of 2012.
Hire a new manager.