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Joe Maddon doesn't need the Mets

Joe Maddon is one of the best managers in baseball. But he'd be greater for some teams than others.

Leon Halip

SB Nation 2014 MLB Bracket

There are many good reasons why people that care about the New York Mets might want Joe Maddon to be the team's manager, some of which have to do with Maddon's accomplishments and intelligence, and some of which have to do with incumbent manager Terry Collins and his constant tiny-dog-in-crowded-elevator bearing. There are good reasons why Joe Maddon might want to manage the Mets, although most of those come down to New York City's wide array of excellent restaurants. It's a pairing that could make a lot of people happy, or anyway as happy as Mets fans allow themselves to get, and it almost certainly isn't going to happen. What little we know about what managers do, and how they help, suggests that this is less a tragedy than a simple bummer.

Here are two things that are both true and at least moderately contradictory. The first is that Maddon, who opted out of his contract with the Tampa Bay Rays after nine mostly successful seasons, is a very good baseball manager. The second is that no one -- if perhaps no one more than those that worship most fervently at the altar of managerial meaningfulness -- really quite knows what baseball managers do.

We do know what good baseball managers do better than non-good ones -- remain flexible, remain aware and informed, not do things that can only be answered by saying "that's baseball" in a huffy way at a postgame press conference. But we understand the manager's job mostly -- and maybe understand it most -- when we see it being done wrong. We might get a sense that one manager is being stiff and strange and maybe sort of stupid in his decisions. But we only really know it when it achieves the Matheny-an supernova we saw at the end of Game 5 of the NLCS, when the Cardinals saw their season end with a supremely rusty starter pitching as a reliever in a tie game, Matt Holliday and Matt Adams on the bench, and Daniel Descalso's Descalso-ass self standing at first base.

Terry Collins
Terry Collins -- ruff! (Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports).

If it seems like there's a notable amount of post hoc ergo propter hoc going on here, that's probably due to the huge amount of post hoc ergo propter hoc going on here. This is the way it goes in the dangerous and dull business of trying to reason our way into the specifics of a job done by people who do a job that's mostly invisible when done right, and who communicate almost entirely in starched and bloodless cliche. We don't know whether this is because they think only in starched and bloodless cliches or because that sort of non-communication is just part of the job. We don't know a lot of things!

And so if we know that Joe Maddon is a good manager, which is the consensus position on this particular wine-enthusiastic "weird wuss" with the avant-garde eyewear, we mostly know it because we haven't seen him do things like get Descalso all over himself on television. Maddon made reliably creative and rather shockingly effective use of the inexpensive and imperfect players under his command in Tampa, helping the young players improve and getting a great deal out of the few great players studded into the mix. The team and the community liked him. The eyeglasses really were pretty advanced for a man his age. He's good.

The question without an answer is how good. Maddon's teams won more than they lost, and if we don't know how much of that was on him -- what decimal-pointed scrapings from that overall won-loss record can be attributed to Maddon himself -- he clearly had something to do with that. Wherever Maddon lands, the mystery of this will mostly deepen. He will help a young and talented team develop and mature, although who knows how much. He will squeeze a few extra wins -- or at least prevent a few self-inflicted wounds -- for a team with more established talent, although there isn't a statistic for shootings-in-foot prevented.

But while Maddon would probably improve just about any team he took over, he'd help some teams more than others. His next employer won't be the Mets, according to the team's COO and gendercreep-in-chief Jeff Wilpon. There are a number of reasons why this is probably so, although the biggest reason would appear to be that the team's owners are some combination of unwilling and unable to spend money on the team, and both unwilling and unable to get out of the team's way, or their own.

The Mets will keep Terry Collins, who is not quite a bad manager and not exactly a good one, until his contract runs out, and they will do it for some combination of 1) because they said they would, 2) because it would cost money they mostly don't have to do otherwise, and 3) because they think he is the best man for the job. And while Maddon is unquestionably a superior manager, the Mets -- and not just the Mets -- are exactly the sort of team that ought not to hire Maddon, and which Maddon will likely be savvy enough to avoid. The Mets simply have too many other problems, and too little available money to spend on them, to divert any percentage of that into paying for the things that Maddon does. The Mets need a shortstop and a leftfielder more than they need Joe Maddon, and absent a change in ownership it's by no means clear that they have the necessary money for even one of those, let alone all three.

Maddon, and perhaps all good managers, does his job best in the margins. By eliminating a certain number of the Mike Matheny Blues Implosion moments to which other managers are prone, Maddon helps. By using every player on his roster in the most advantageous possible way, he helps some more. But this is the sort of thing that will make the most difference to either a team with the longest of ways to go or a team for which a few small things might change everything.

Maddon could help shape the Chicago Cubs into a contender, or he could -- with a few fewer tinkerings and a little less Descalso in the monitors -- get the St. Louis Cardinals back into the World Series. Wherever Maddon winds up, he will probably help a great deal, even if the exact specifics of how he does it will remain opaque, cliche-shrouded and subjective. But he'll help some places more than others.