Mets owner Fred Wilpon repeatedly protected Terry Collins, even as his son, chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon, and general manager Sandy Alderson sought the manager’s dismissal at various points during his tenure, an example of rifts that resurfaced as a season of promise slipped away, according to more than a dozen team insiders interviewed by Newsday.
People with knowledge of the situation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, described organizational dysfunction, discord between Collins and his players, and a broken relationship between the manager and the front office.
Despite what the front office perceived as Collins’ constant tactical blunders and concerns about his relationships with the players, sources said efforts to explore a change seriously were thwarted by the elder Wilpon.
“I don’t interfere,” Fred Wilpon said while declining an interview request earlier this season.
The 80-year-old owner keeps a low public profile and has not spoken at length about his team since 2013. But privately, his influence in baseball matters still looms large, as shown by his ability to single-handedly shield Collins, whom he visited frequently in the manager’s office before games.
“He got too chummy with him,” one team official said.
The Wilpons, Alderson and Collins declined to comment.
With Collins’ contract up at season’s end, the franchise’s longest-tenured manager has stated publicly that he has no intention of retiring. Yet the Mets have not expressed any intention of retaining him in the role he’s had since 2011.
“Terry has no allies in the front office,” one official said.
On Wednesday, Collins’ final game at Citi Field this season passed without any public recognition for his place in franchise history. There will likely be no classy send-off for a manager who shepherded the Mets through a difficult rebuilding before the prosperity of consecutive playoff appearances in 2015 and 2016.
Instead, Collins has been forced to field questions about his uncertain future.
Wilpon’s interventions seem to have only delayed the inevitable during what has been a tough slog to the finish line, leaving Collins in the awkward position of working with a front office that had afforded him little trust or confidence. Amid that constant tension, the team spiraled further out of contention while the clubhouse ultimately soured on Collins.
Wearing out his welcome
As recently as 2015, when the Mets stormed to the National League pennant, Collins earned praise for his handling of the clubhouse. He leaned on his veterans for leadership. Winning made the front-office squabbles more tolerable. Alderson originally hired Collins partly because he valued a voice that differed from his.
In 2016, with whispers growing that the ax might fall on Collins, the Mets made an inspired run that led to the wild-card game. Again, sources said Collins and the front office had their skirmishes, but success provided a cushion.
The 2017 season brought all of the expectations of the year before. But it brought none of the winning. As the losses mounted, the give-and-take took on a different tone.
Collins increasingly resisted input, several Mets officials said, a stark departure from his earlier years with the team. Bullpen management became a constant battleground, with Collins facing criticism for overusing his most trusted arms as the Mets staggered at the start of the season.
With teams becoming more mindful about the wear and tear of using relief pitchers on consecutive days, the Mets lead baseball in that category, asking their bullpen arms to work back-to-back games 126 times.
By mid-May, Jerry Blevins led baseball with nine appearances with no days’ rest, with Addison Reed tied for second with eight back-to-backs. Fernando Salas (seven), Hansel Robles (six) and Jeurys Familia (five) were among five Mets pitchers with five or more consecutive appearances.
Only 21 other pitchers in all of baseball had been exposed to that kind of workload. There would be a heavy price to pay. Mets relievers have a 4.74 ERA, the highest in the NL.
“Once he falls in love with you, he abuses you,” one official said. “He has run players into the ground. He has no idea about resting players. Even when you tell him, he doesn’t listen.”
The disconnect became even more apparent later in the season, as the Mets’ handling of injuries drew criticism. Collins often was not briefed fully on the injuries, forcing him into the uncomfortable situation of fielding daily questions about health woes with nothing more at his disposal than official news releases.
Communication issues also arose with players, team insiders said, leading to a loss of support within the clubhouse.
Veterans often heard of decisions about playing time through media reports rather than from the manager. Younger players described discovering that Collins had harbored concerns about certain parts of their game, though he didn’t bother to share them directly.
Adding to the frustration, team insiders said, was that Collins created an image through the media as a strong communicator who backs up his players. Players and officials saw that portrayal as inaccurate.
“He has always been difficult to communicate with,” one Met said. “It would be a surprise if he said ‘hey’ to you when you passed each other in the hallway if your name wasn’t [Matt] Harvey or [Yoenis] Cespedes. It’s always been those couple things along with some of the in-game decisions he makes.”
The nadir came shortly after the Mets traded most of their veterans, many of whom had taken an active role in maintaining a functional clubhouse culture. Collins made little secret about his preference for giving the vets more playing time at the expense of younger players, who groused about it.
The trades left the clubhouse filled with the same types of young players who sources said had grown to resent the manager. Collins found himself unable to stem the growing discontent, conjuring unflattering comparisons to the player rancor that ended his previous managerial stops with the Astros and Angels.
Said one Met: “We were all miserable.”
Adding insult to injuries
Some of Collins’ critics acknowledged that no manager likely would have overcome the rash of injuries that left a talented roster a shell of itself, with Noah Syndergaard, Cespedes and Jeurys Familia all missing significant time. Steven Matz and Matt Harvey never returned to their pre-injury form.
Some of the issues, one player suggested, were out of the manager’s control.
“He did what he could with what he had, but I believe that it turned out that the inmates ran the asylum a bit,” the player said. “He had three or four personalities in there that he essentially had no control over for a multitude of reasons, ranging from the front office allowing it, to guys just not respecting authority at all.”
Even by Mets standards, the season brought a wave of distractions, ranging from a sex toy appearing in a social media post to Harvey’s no-show at Citi Field after partying on Cinco de Mayo. Syndergaard’s lat injury came after he infamously declined an MRI exam.
Not even Mr. Met was spared from controversy after a fan captured an image of the family-friendly mascot flashing an obscene gesture.
Now, as the Mets retool for next season, they face myriad challenges.
On the field, the Mets must find bats for the outfield and infield, in addition to adding another proven arm for the bullpen and perhaps another for the rotation.
Off the field, the Mets may also be in the market for a new pitching coach, with another Fred Wilpon favorite, Dan Warthen, on shaky ground after a season in which injuries wrecked the pitching staff. And it’s possible that the Mets need a new hitting coach, as it’s unclear if Kevin Long would remain if he’s not considered for the manager’s job should Collins not be retained.
Like Collins, Alderson is in the final year of his contract, but the general manager has given no indication that he wants to leave. It’s clear that the Mets would like better cohesion between team executives and the manager’s office.
Team officials said the Mets would prefer a manager more receptive to analytics with a sense for using the modern bullpen. It’s a skill that will be even more important next season, when an eight-man bullpen could be the norm.
But choosing who occupies the manager’s office may be just the first move in an offseason of huge change for a franchise that appears in need of it.
“It was Murphy’s Law in Queens this year, that’s the bottom line,” one player said. “And with that type of stuff happening, there’s almost no choice but for turmoil to follow.”