As Sandy Alderson eulogized the managerial tenure of Terry Collins, the Mets general manager noted the beginning of their union seven years ago, a time of darkness for a franchise that would be rocked by fallout from the Bernie Madoff financial scandal.
“He took us from a situation where there were real questions about the organization, about the team, and took us to the apex of a World Series,” Alderson said on Sunday, when the Mets officially crashed back to square one.
A 70-92 season raised major questions about the Mets, encompassing everything from their methods of handling injuries to restoring lines of communication that clearly had broken down in the bungled and messy days leading up to Collins’ ouster as manager.
It will be up to Alderson to come up with those answers, and he must do so with more pressure on him than at any point of his tenure.
“It’s been a disappointing season,” said Alderson, who confirmed on Sunday that he will return as GM. “I think we had more in us. I personally take a lot of responsibility for unmet expectations. I’m happy to have the opportunity to try to correct that.”
Already, Alderson has in some ways broken from form. Rather than temper expectations, he has raised them. He has insisted that the Mets will be competitive next season.
But fixes won’t come easily. Hiring Collins’ replacement will be just the first item of a monster offseason to-do list. Tasks include fixing an organizational culture that wasn’t strong enough to withstand turbulence, restructuring the coaching staff and retrofitting a talented but fragile roster.
The latter must be accomplished with fewer resources. Payroll rose to $155 million last season, though early indications are that the figure will be cut next season, raising familiar questions about the Wilpons’ willingness to spend.
For instance, free agent Mike Moustakas would be a natural fit for the Mets at third base. But already, sources said there is healthy skepticism that the franchise can afford to seriously pursue him.
Alternatives to free agency are limited. Rival talent evaluators rate the Mets’ farm system as too weak to entertain making trades that could bring back impact players. And the big- league roster presents no obvious trade chips, bad news with the Mets needing two big bats, an infielder, an outfielder, a veteran reliever and perhaps a starting pitcher.
None of it will matter if the pitching staff has another barrage of injuries as it did this season. Nor will the Mets win if they don’t address the friction that has plagued various parts of the organization, even within the clubhouse, as revealed in a report last week in Newsday.
“As I said in connection with all the other aspects of our operations,” Alderson said, “we’ll make sure that we haven’t simply dismissed this, but that we have consciously thought about why it arose and how it can be prevented in the future.”
Alderson must navigate all those hurdles if he hopes to end his own volatile Mets tenure on a positive note. In his time, the accomplished 69-year-old executive has made brilliant deals to bring in the likes of Noah Syndergaard and unearthed gems such as Addison Reed. He also has cut loose a future All-Star in Justin Turner and allowed Daniel Murphy to walk after showing early signs of blossoming into a force.
What lies ahead likely will shape Alderson’s lasting legacy.
Step one toward contention will be finding a manager, one who will restore the cohesion that Collins and the front office lacked for much of this season.
Hitting coach Kevin Long is a candidate while others with Mets connections -- Robin Ventura, Joe McEwing, Chip Hale and Bob Geren — have been linked to the job.
Within the search, Alderson said he’s willing to broaden his definition of experience.
“It’s not just about managing at the major league level, it’s not just managing at the minor league level,” he said. “It’s exposure to contemporary trends in the game. So, it’s not surprising that you’ve seen managers in recent years coming not just from the minor leagues or a major league coaching staff, but from the front office.”