How much authority should the Mets’ manager have?

Alderson & CollinsThere’s a great story about Hall of Fame manager Walter Alston. The team was traveling on an old bus and the players were complaining mightily about it. Alston stood up and told the team to shut up. Furthermore, if anyone had any problems, they could stop the bus and walk outside and settle things the old fashioned way. And no one else said a word.

Now, try imagining that scene unfolding with Terry Collins.

To be fair, Alston was 6’2 and no one will ask Collins to go anywhere near the paint in a game of pickup basketball. But it’s not like Alston was the size of Frank Howard or anything. As much as his size, players knew Alston was the boss. They knew that he ran the team during the games and likely had a huge say in players coming and going, too. He had authority, real authority, and everyone on the bus knew it.

Meanwhile, no one has any idea how much authority Collins has.

The game has evolved to where it’s no question that general managers hold much more authority than managers do. In a way, this makes sense. Fortune 500 companies don’t let middle managers make decisions that have a great impact on the bottom line. The current wisdom in baseball is that managers exist to carry out orders from the GM.

Each team is different, with some managers having more authority than others. But with the retirement of Jim Leyland and the dismissal of Dusty Baker, who are the managers who carry the juice here in 2014? Mike Scioscia probably fits the bill and no one will accuse Buck Showalter of being a yes man, either. There are undoubtedly others, too. But the names of managers with Alston-like clout do not exactly roll off the tongue.

It seems to me the pendulum has swung too far. Yes, it’s a good thing that we don’t have a raging alcoholic like Billy Martin calling the shots in the dugout anymore. But if given a choice, my preference would be to have a young Davey Johnson as a manger in control of the team. Someone who was both smart and tough, someone who would risk everything for what he knew was right.

If all the manager brings to the table is carrying out decisions from the front office, why not install a loudspeaker in the dugout and let Sandy Alderson manage the game from his private suite? The backup catcher can go to the mound to make pitching changes. They can designate captain David Wright to answer questions from the media that would normally go to the manager. What else is left?

This should make the Wilpons happy. If we carry out the current deployment to its logical conclusion, we eliminate the manager’s position and save whatever salary they’re paying Collins. Which brings to mind another point – exactly how much is Collins getting paid? We know every incentive clause in every player’s contract but we have no idea how much the manager pulls down per year. That seems, um, insane. Is no one else even remotely curious about how much Collins gets from the Mets? Someone get Adam Rubin to ask this question.

If you have a talented person in the managerial seat, you want him to make decisions. The GM hires the manager so during the interview process you pick someone on the same wavelength in regards to how often to run or sacrifice or make pitching changes. And then you get out of his way and let him run the day-to-day operations, allowing the GM to focus on the big picture, including whether to retain the skipper.

But that’s certainly not the way the Mets operate in 2014. My take is that Alderson is a good GM and Collins is a bad manager. But is the truth more like Alderson is a good GM and a bad manager? If that’s the case – wouldn’t it be a splendid idea to keep Alderson the GM and get rid of Alderson the manager?

My preference is for a manager to examine three years worth of failed bullpens because of an over-reliance on LOOGYs and try a different deployment. Yet our manager has been extremely vocal to the press about the need for two lefties in the bullpen. Is this the one thing Alderson has given his blessing to Collins to discuss publicly?

My preference is for a manager to worry less about players showing up early for Spring Training and more about showing up in shape and the right frame of mind to have a great year. But our manager bellyached endlessly about Ruben Tejada showing up on time in 2012 yet he did not say one thing about his condition/mind set in 2013 until the regular season was one-third over. Did Alderson prevent Collins from expressing that opinion in February (and March and April and May)?

My preference is to carry a roster that makes sense, not one with six outfielders and no backup shortstop. Was Collins prevented from voicing his opinion in public on this matter? Especially since his one shortstop wasn’t in shape? And to make matters worse, he had to watch and hear management rip Justin Turner on the way out the door for not hustling. Did Collins not notice a player on the roster all season, one whose presence prevented a backup shortstop, loafing on every ground ball he hit? Shouldn’t the manager be responsible for getting rid of guys not giving it their all in between the white lines?

Is it wrong to want a manager with the huevos to tell the GM that a player isn’t hustling or that his shortstop is killing the team or that playing a butcher in the outfield is a bad idea? Is it wrong to want a manager with a spine firmer than that of a chocolate éclair? We get frustrated over Ike Davis wanting to succeed on his terms – shouldn’t we be equally frustrated if our manager has no terms whatsoever of his own?

It was deflating to see Collins get an extension. But if in fact the Mets manager really has no authority and Alderson is the one pulling all the strings, what difference does it make?

Who made the decision to play John Buck, Davis and Tejada every day in May when the Mets’ offense was in the toilet – was that Alderson or Collins? That should be the manager’s decision, no questions asked. You can probably come up with a dozen or more different scenarios where we as fans are left wondering who was responsible. The bottom line is that there are things that were done wrong that someone needs to be held accountable for at the end of the day.

We have no problem praising Alderson when he trades for Zack Wheeler or panning him when he drafts Gavin Cecchini. We need that same clarity in who to give the credit and blame for decisions that once were in the exclusive territory of the manager. It’s not fair to blame Collins for his slavish devotion to bullpen matchups if he’s ordered by Alderson to do it.

The GM should set the goals of the organization yet the manager should have some flexibility, some authority in how those goals are carried out. At times there should be conflict between the manager and the GM. The manager should be able to go to the GM and complain that his shortstop is out of shape and that he has no backup to play in his place. And if the GM does nothing to rectify the situation, the manager should have the ability to voice his concerns to the press.

The ability to go to the press – after trying to settle things in house – serves two purposes. One, it puts some type of pressure on the GM to act. Secondly, it serves to let us know who’s responsible. Since Collins is writing the names in the lineup, one would expect him to be responsible. But if the GM steadfastly refuses to give the manager an MLB quality SS to play instead – shouldn’t he get the blame?

No one wants to get smeared by a subordinate and it’s easy to understand why the situation has evolved like it has. For being a good solider, Collins is getting ready to begin his fourth season at the helm and he’ll get paid for five. By all rights he should have been replaced after two so it’s hard to say it hasn’t been good for him personally.

But for the fans it stinks.

There should be a type of checks and balances going on with the manager and the GM. But if the manager has no power and no authority, it’s easy to see a situation that could go horribly wrong. Then when you consider that the GM was likely ordered into his place by the commissioner, the possibility exists for a person with entirely too much control.

In a weird way, it makes one almost happy for the presence of Jeff Wilpon. While he has no authority, at least he has the ability to make Alderson’s life difficult. Recall how miffed Alderson was when the younger Wilpon hinted at a big move to come during the Winter Meetings. For once, Alderson felt some pressure. The press – and by extension the fans – were waiting for news of a free agent signing or trade. While it only lasted a few hours, Alderson had a fire to put out.

No one likes having conflict but creating a system where none is allowed to exist is not ideal, either. I very much like that Alderson is the Mets’ general manager. What bothers me is that he’s in a situation with entirely too much power. His manager knows which side his bread is buttered and Fred Wilpon wouldn’t dream of speaking out against Bud Selig’s former executive vice president.

It’s a good thing that the owner is not meddling. But it would be better if the manager had some authority, some ability to question the moves made upstairs, especially when they go against providing the best possible team for the fans to watch.

14 comments for “How much authority should the Mets’ manager have?

  1. Joe Vasile
    January 3, 2014 at 11:39 am

    Some very good points brought up here Brian. A good system of checks and balances is healthy for any hierarchical system like this one. I never really put much thought into this, but now seeing it written, it makes a lot of sense.

  2. January 3, 2014 at 11:44 am

    Sorry Brian but it’s cojones not huevos. The fact that Collins salary is not for public ears speaks volumes in itself. I doubt he has any incentive clauses. I can’t see any true manager coming here unless he has similar powers like Scioscia. But this cheap organization is not going to spend 4-5 million dollars per year for a proven manager. So 2014 will be a repeat of 2013. The Mets will be competitive and the handling of the bull pen will be the achillies heel of the team again. One last note. The owner is meddling with the team. Remember Bourn last year?

    • January 3, 2014 at 12:00 pm

      It’s my experience that the ones who use cojones are the same ones who go to Sears to buy a Mexican poncho.

      • January 4, 2014 at 2:39 am

        You’re choice of words to lessen its interpretation I get. When Spanish people use the word it is not considered vulgar nor derogatory. So let’s not put down Mexicans okay?

  3. Name
    January 3, 2014 at 12:42 pm

    I agree that the line is muddled for all the decision that come before game time such as filling out the lineup and the roster, but all in-game decision like pitching changes are solely the manager’s decision. So in that case, should we just hire a pitching/bullpen coach to be our manager since that’s the only real decisions they need to make.

    As for the manager’s salary, Joe Girardi re-upped for 4/16 this offseason and is likely one of the highest paid managers in the game. My guess is that Collins makes around 1 million per season.

  4. Chris Flanders
    January 3, 2014 at 1:55 pm

    Very interesting read Brian, and really one of the things at the heart of how our team functions. Im less bullish on SA in the role of GM. He’s done an OK job, with the most likely best move the trade for Syndergaard. The Beltran trade outcome remains to be seen, but trding an all star for a prospect doesn’t strike me as that huge of an exercise. Unless Wheeler can find control, he will slot in as a 3 or maybe 4 guy in the rotation. Even still, he treated RA poorly, the same way he dissed Reyes.

    Nevertheless, as I have stated elsewhere at M360, Selig and team Wilpon brought in SA for the singular purpose of shedding payroll and keeping the team in the hands of the present owners, while inviting the illusion that a moneyball approach could make a competitive squad. On that fron alone he has been successful. I also think that the heat always comes down slightly out of phase with who made the problem. The owners have money and deal with endless fan criticism, and we can only vote with our wallets. The GM takes the heat for the owners; the skipper takes the heat for GM decisions and so forth. TC wont rock the boat and is fully subordinate to the decision making of Alderson. Im sure he is given latitide to make calls on the field, as long as it fits under the SA umbrella. Sure, for fans this whole management structure stinks.

    I think a name that you left off the list of field skippers with genuine power is Tito Francona. The Indians made a smart move to bring him in and have the FO cede power to his wishes in running a ball club. And it paid off in spades. The thing is, as much as I would like to have had Francona as manager, he never would fit the endless order taking from the Wizard of Oz.

    • January 3, 2014 at 3:03 pm

      Thanks Chris.

      I think you’re really underselling the job that Alderson did getting a top prospect like Wheeler for a two-month rental, which didn’t even come with the (then-allowed) draft pick compensation potential.

      I like your idea that heat comes down out of whack with who created the problem

  5. Andy
    January 3, 2014 at 4:17 pm

    To me, Collins has done a great job holding the team together during a disheartening era in Mets history. Collins has been in charge of limited teams that most agree he has inspired to play admirably. The Wilpons have their reasons for holding onto the team and having someone with Alderson’s credentials in charge of fielding teams with low salary demands. With signals they are now ready to spend again, I am hopeful the team gets a SS and figures out first base prior to April. With that, I am rooting for Collins, a very likable guy, to succeed.

  6. Jerry Grote
    January 3, 2014 at 5:11 pm

    Good piece.

    I find myself thinking of Hoffman and Pitt, facing off as Howe/Beane in Moneyball. On some levels, Alderson *has* to be thinking about the relationships he’s been involved in at previous baseball stops.

    I’d guess the firey Collins has been told that vocal commentary simply won’t be permitted, and he’s going to be as good a soldier as he can. But its also possible both you and I give Sandy too much credit.

    Maddon gets Friedman, to provide him with the likes of a ROY in swaps for talented pitching. He gets a GM that drafts well, doesn’t blow his NYMets style budget on free agents, makes great trades. Roenicke gets a similarly skilled Melvin; both GMs have brought in good major league talent in the last few years that have proven to be needle movers. Aoki. Lohse. Gorz. Aramis Ramirez. Myers. Escobar. Hanigan. Getting guys like Garza, then getting guys like Hak-Ju Lee FOR Garza. In retrospect, it’s hilarious to think that Sandy was going to sit down with Friedman and get anything but a bag of used balls for Ike Davis.

    Terry gets minor league players, no impact to the major league roster, and some scraps that may or may not turn out to be magic jelly beans. And when the magic comes out of the bean jar, they get traded away for … minor league players. Or the magic is allowed to become a closer some place else.

    The problem with keeping Sandy in his place by making him answerable to our talent, that shouldn’t fall on Terry Collins shoulders. That’s probably on us, for not holding Sandy’s feet to the fire.

    • TexasGusCC
      January 4, 2014 at 9:31 am

      JG, love it. I would add that other successful organizations don’t air their dirty laundry in the press, but only the dysfunctional ones do creating unwanted distractions.

  7. Jim OMalley
    January 3, 2014 at 6:39 pm

    This all really comes down to one thing. The Wilpons control the team. If the Wilpons wanted TC gone and a new manager (ala Backman) to come in and reinvigorate the whole team’s dynamics (like Johnson did in the 80s), that would have or would be happening. Without the Wilpons undergoing pressure to put an ever developing quality product on the field, everything else is moot. That doesn’t excuse or condone bad in-game management but under the umbrella of a dysfunctional ownership (where there is no hunger to complete for a world championship), TC’s actions don’t seem out of character within the framework of the organization he belongs to.

  8. Patrick Albanesius
    January 6, 2014 at 3:10 pm

    With the talent he’s been given the past three years, I don’t think we could have expecting anything more from Terry Collins. He makes some bad calls in-game, but so does Fredi Gonzalez, and people think he should have been in the running for Manager of the Year. The grass is always greener with managers.

  9. LGNYM
    January 6, 2014 at 4:33 pm

    I’m glad TC was brought back. And I don’t really care much about the details of his contract.

    I think the FO has some influence on the general philosophy of things, and they certainly are involved with roster moves (as is the case with all teams), but I don’t think they are making every in game managerial decision. And they aren’t the ones managing personalities in the clubhouse (which is one of the primary managerial roles).

    And I think it’s a good thing (not a bad thing) that TC didn’t publicly trash the FO or complain about moves he didn’t agree with. Not much good can come from that. Sure fans are curious and might want to know who is making what decision, but ending that curiosity is meaningless in the grand scheme and shouldnt be any concern of the team. I’d rather not know who made a given decision that to find out via some PR circus where the manager/GM are ripping each other in the press.

    I also don’t think it’s the managers responsibility to “get rid” of players. The manager might express his opinion on things, but the GMs are the ones who make roster moves. And if the FO had that much of an issue with Turner’s lack of hustle (a silly thing to make that big of a deal of IMO) they are the ones that could have “gotten rid” of him, if they so chose.

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