You’ve heard it from Sandy Alderson, and you’ve heard it from David Wright. The New York Mets want to make a playoff run. Soon.
So, who’s going to lead the charge? Who will manage the next Mets playoff team?
Terry Collins entered this year in the unenviable position of a “lame duck” manager. In 2012 he appeared to be headed towards a contract extension when his team marched into the All-Star break eight games over .500 and trailing only the Braves for the division lead. The second half, however, wasn’t as fun. The Mets’ underdog story came to abrupt end when they lost their next five games, stunk in July, and finished the month in third place, 11.5 games out of first place.
After three years at the helm, Collins’ .466 winning percentage is a little alarming (that’s 234 losses. Three shy of his career-worst total with the Angels). But for all the losing, Collins has made a net positive impact on his squad, and the front office has offered him their support. When he first arrived in Flushing, Collins preached smart baseball and hard work. His Mets teams have never quit and frequently play surprisingly competitive games despite having rosters littered with guys who should probably be in Triple-A.
His players love him, and Alderson likes him. But still, there is reason to wonder if Collins will be retained this offseason. If success breeds success, then losing should breed more losing. And Collins has done a lot of losing in New York. It may not be all his fault (in 2012 his outfield ranked 29th in baseball in fWAR, and his bullpen finished second to last in ERA, xFIP and fWAR), but it all happened on his watch. If the Mets don’t show major improvement down the stretch, Alderson & Co. could decide to make a change this winter to bring a new voice into the clubhouse.
Several high-profile managerial candidates could become available between now and October. Here are a few whom the Mets might be interested in bringing to Queens:
Mike Scioscia, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
After 14 years, five division titles, two Manager of the Year Awards and a World Series ring, Scioscia should be proud of his time with the Angels. But the Angels haven’t made the playoffs since 2009 despite owning one of the most bloated payrolls in baseball. Scioscia is signed through 2018, and he’s one of the most respected dugout men in the game, but when you have superstars like Trout, Pujols and Hamilton, expectations can be your worst enemy. GM Art Moreno has defended Scioscia’s job security, but another third or a fourth place finish this year won’t go down smoothly in LA, and could necessitate a change. The Mets would be lucky to nab such a decorated manager.
Ron Gardenhire, Minnesota Twins
Gardenhire can probably empathize with Scioscia. Gardy has six division titles and is a former Manager of the Year, but he’s coming off back-to-back last place finishes and likely won’t fare much better in 2013. The Twins may be at a crossroads. They’ll likely lose former MVP Justin Morneau this offseason and their rotation stinks. Joe Mauer is signed to a forever contract, but the future of Twins will depend on the development of prospects Byron Buxton, Alex Meyer, Kohl Stewart and Miguel Sano. Gardenhire may not last long enough to seem it. From the FWIW files: Gardenhire was drafted by the Mets back in 1979 and played all five of his big league seasons with the team. He missed the ’86 World Series team by one year.
Charlie Manuel, Philadelphia Phillies
Okay, relax fans. Hate or love his grumpy, old man style, few can deny that Manuel knows how to baseball. He’s sitting on 999 wins, and since his second NL title in 2009 boasts a 47-37 (.560) record vs. the Mets. His Phillies were dominant, taking five straight division titles and two pennants between 2007-’11, but as Bob Dylan warned, the times they are a-changin‘. Between big contracts, balky knees and a generally over-the-hill roster, the Phillies are in no-man’s land, trapped between a successful past and a rebuilt future. Certainly GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. shoulders some of the blame too. Either way, passionate Phillies fans likely won’t stand for a second straight .500 or below season. Fair or unfair, Manuel, 69, could be the fall-guy. If he decides to continue coaching at this level, he won’t remain unemployed for long.
Robin Ventura, Chicago White Sox
Anybody would’ve seemed great to Sox fans after Guillen overstayed his welcome. Ventura came in as a rookie skipper in 2012 and finished third in MOY voting. Unfortunately his honeymoon is over. Amid rumors that he wants out, his club has the second worst record in baseball and appears in desperate need of a rebuild. The White Sox aren’t competitive and that may very well fall on Ventura this winter. His resume isn’t as sexy as some other candidates, but he has ties to the Mets organization and its fans.
Wally Backman, Las Vegas 51s (AAA)
Even more than Ventura, the skipper Mets fans would like to see most next year is Wally Backman. His fiery attitude, tough guy mustache and Mets pedigree seem a perfect fit for the job. He’s paid his dues in the Mets minors and is ready to manage a major league team. He knows the system, and his is players can’t say enough good things about him as leader and teacher. The only obstacle standing in his way appears to be Sandy Alderson. If the Mets make a change this offseason, Backman will be a legit candidate. If he gets passed over again, he may leave the organization for a shot elsewhere.