By Jack Flynn
Relax, Mets fans. Terry Collins isn’t going to be here forever.
The Mets’ former minor-league field coordinator was introduced to the media during a morning press conference at Citi Field today, where he undoubtedly received a better reception than he would have had the most vocal components of the team’s fan base been allowed to attend.
What those unhappy fans need to understand is that Collins has been hired as the team’s new manager for reasons that have more to do with his personality than any perception of his managerial acumen. Collins is the new Mets’ manager primarily because General Manager Sandy Alderson believes that he is the best man to completely overhaul a clubhouse that has been described with just about every negative perception you can imagine in recent weeks.
Collins was officially given a two-year contract to manage the Mets, with a club option for 2013. Don’t be surprised if the Mets choose to decline that option when the time comes and reward Collins by putting him in the front office instead. He was not hired to manage the next Mets team that plays in the World Series.
He was hired to manage a team that first needs to be taught how to play winning baseball.
When you read or listen to the words of people in the know, the Mets’ problems go far beyond a top-heavy roster filled with bad contracts and mediocre players. There is a serious culture concern about the Mets’ clubhouse, one that has nothing to do with the “Los Mets” phenomenon observed under former GM Omar Minaya.
The Mets, under the leadership of Minaya and former manager Jerry Manuel, have lost their hunger. They have become comfortable – complacent, even, despite the losing records of the previous two years. The team has been undisciplined, lacking in motivation and has generally behaved as though there would be no consequences to their actions.
Those days are over.
Think of Alderson’s decision to hire Collins as being akin to the attack on Fort Sumter that began the Civil War. Alderson’s front office is sending a clear message to the current roster – “you aren’t going to get away with the unprofessional behavior you’ve gotten away with in the past.”
That’s where Collins comes in. He has previous managerial experience in Houston and Southern California, where he managed the Angels for parts of three seasons before resigning in late 1999 after repeated clashes with his players. Collins hasn’t managed in the big leagues since, although he has managed teams in Japan and an independent league.
Collins was hired for who he is – a baseball lifer and a fiery personality with no tolerance for a bad attitude. Collins is going to set a particular tone from the first day he steps on the field during the Spring Training. A baseball player wearing a New York Mets jersey will play the game hard, will play the game right and will respect the chain off command in the organization.
If he does not, Terry Collins will work with Sandy Alderson to ensure that the player will no longer be a New York Met.
This process was never about hiring the best tactical manager or the brightest up-and-coming star. That’s why Bobby Valentine was never called and Wally Backman is at yet another career crossroads today. Terry Collins has been handed a clean-up job, and every single player in the Mets organization should be on notice.
Get in line with what Terry wants, or get ready to leave town.
Dallas Green was thrust into a similar role when he replaced Jeff Torborg as the Mets manager in 1993. It took Green nearly three years to clean up that mess and doing so completely changed the culture of the organization. Valentine took over in late 1996 and the seeds of a successful four-year run were ready to bloom.
(One could certainly debate that Green’s abrasive demeanor and tactical shortcomings made that process more difficult and confrontational than necessary, but that comes with the territory when you hire Dallas Green.)
Terry Collins is in the same role today as Green was over 15 years ago. Any Mets fan who seriously thinks that this team is one or even two players away from a 90-win season hasn’t been paying attention. The Mets can’t focus on winning games in 2011 – the roster is too thin and too cash-strapped as a result of bad free agent signings for the team to seriously compete with Atlanta or Philadelphia.
No, the Mets have to focus on identifying which players they want on their team for 2012 and beyond. The expiring contracts of Carlos Beltran, Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo alone free up over $30 million. Should the Mets decide to part ways with Jose Reyes and Francisco Rodriguez during or after the 2011 season, nearly $25 million more would become available.
Only then will the Mets be ready to add a starting pitcher to a rotation that could feature Johan Santana, Mike Pelfrey and Jon Niese behind him. Only then can the team look to add two position players to a lineup featuring David Wright, Jason Bay and Ike Davis.
By then, the Mets hope Collins will have helped integrate young players like Josh Thole, Ruben Tejada and Jenrry Mejia into an environment where winning is the only priority. Collins can then give way to the next Mets manager, the man who will be given the reins of a championship-caliber ballclub.
Terry Collins has a job to do, all right – and it’s a lot more important than winning games in 2011.