By Ernie Palladino
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In a matter of hours after Terry Collins manages the Mets’ final out of 2017 on Sunday in Philadelphia, he will most likely be out of a job.
Managers don’t last long after 90-loss seasons. And Collins, never really a favorite son of the hierarchy even after taking them to the World Series and a wild-card game in consecutive seasons, probably won’t have a new contract awaiting him come Monday morning.
That’s just the way it is in baseball. Teams only tolerate the losing so far, and it is significant that Collins had already survived 88 losses in both 2012 and 2013, and another loser in 2014 before the magic started. So it’s understandable that the Wilpons and Sandy Alderson would want a change, if only for the sake of a new voice in the clubhouse.
What that philosophy won’t account for is the difference between this year’s downfall and the typical train wrecks that cost managers jobs.
This was not just a losing season.
This was a medical disaster.
As such, if Collins doesn’t return for 2018, he will have taken the brunt of the blame for circumstances over which he had no control.
Collins didn’t wreck what should have been the major league’s most imposing pitching staff coming out of spring training himself. Through no fault of his own, he saw Noah Syndergaard go down for the better part of the year with a torn lat muscle. It’s true that Collins might have warned his fire-thrower during the winter that putting on extra pounds to edge the speed gun over the 100 mph mark could backfire. But it’s impossible to foresee any injury of that severity.
He didn’t put the blood clot in closer Jeurys Familia’s shoulder. Nor did he cause the stress fracture in Matt Harvey’s scapula.
Could he have handled Harvey differently once he came back? Probably not, considering there’s not much managing to do with a starter who can’t get out of the fourth inning.
But Collins gets the blame for that, too, as well as Zack Wheeler’s precipitous fall after a strong start. Wheeler ended his season prematurely with a stress fracture. And Steve Matz went before him with a bad elbow that needed surgery.
With Jacob deGrom the only one of the big five left standing, Collins was left with a hodgepodge of underachievers on the mound. It wasn’t hard to figure that no good could come of that.
While he watched the pitching staff crash and burn, Collins witnessed an astounding amount of offensive injuries as well. Yoenis Cespedes, a hero just two years ago, played far below his big contract in large part because of his delicate hamstrings. If Collins can be faulted for anything concerning the power-hitting Cuban, it is that he never reversed Cespedes’ less than fiery attitude. But had it not been for his multiple trips to the DL that took 11 weeks out of his season, Cespedes still might have contributed something closer to 30 homers than the 17 he wound up with.
Then there were the salary dumps. Lucas Duda went for a pitching prospect. Jay Bruce and his team-leading 29 homers went for money. Neil Walker and Curtis Granderson went for players to be named later. Addison Reed, who did a decent job closing in Familia’s absence, was dealt to the Red Sox for three bullpen prospects.
Whether Alderson’s aim was to replenish the minor league system or save money — or both — its immediate effect left Collins devoid of needed power to fuel the lineup and shore up the bullpen.
He had no chance after that. As the losses grew and the Mets drifted further and further from .500, Collins’ future grew dimmer and dimmer.
It’s not fair, certainly not for a 68-year-old baseball lifer. But fairness rarely factors into these decisions. Not in baseball. Not when the fan base has grown impatient with the losing, especially after two successful seasons.
So Collins will likely take his leave. The list of potential replacements that already includes former Mets players Robin Ventura and Alex Cora as well as coaches Kevin Long, Chip Hale and Bob Geren reportedly grew with the recent speculation surrounding the Mets’ former utility sensation “Super Joe” McEwing.
None of them will succeed if the injury bug doesn’t find someplace else to nest next year.
It bit Collins good in 2017.
Fair or not, he will probably pay the price for it after the last pitch Sunday.
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