New York Mets’ manager Terry Collins is facing his toughest season. At 67 he’s entering the final year of his contract and there’s no murmur of an extension prior to Opening Day, although, after two playoff seasons, it would be appropriate.
With expectations of a third straight playoff appearance, getting slugging outfielder Yoenis Cespedes signed to four more years, plus an anticipated payroll of $150 million, there aren’t many built-in safety net excuses for Collins not getting the job done.
Of course, you could give him the Sandy Alderson-insulation factor. As long as Alderson has Collins as a shield for deflection of criticism of the Mets, he should survive this season.
At least, until November, when Alderson will need to name another manager if the Mets flame out. Of course, this stinks on a number of levels. I don’t like the concept of a lame-duck manager, so, if Alderson believes in Collins and there are good vibes heading into Opening Day, there should be an extension.
I’ve had several issues with Collins’ style, but will give him the nod that his players, for the most part, bust their ass for him. The most notable exceptions over the past two years where his players threw him under the bus came in Game 5 of the World Series when Matt Harvey pitched a fit to insist on pitching the ninth inning – which went against Collins’ plan – and to this day has not admitted any wrong-doing for coughing up the lead.
The second, of course, came last July when Cespedes misplayed a ball in center field and strained his quad, and despite being injured, wouldn’t trade the golf course for treatment. With Cespedes, entrenched in left, the rest of the outfield, especially center field is a quagmire.
The preseason expectations are mixed on a national level. Many have the Mets reaching the playoffs but as a wild-card. Others have them looking in from the outside come October. I don’t think they’ll win 90 as they did in 2015, but if all breaks to the positive, they can grab a wild card.
Here’s why this will be Collins’ most challenging year:
STARTING PITCHING: Four of Collins’ young stud starters are coming off surgery, and a fifth, Noah Syndergaard, could have also gone under the knife. Despite the crying and resistance of their starters – particularly Harvey – for an innings limit, the issue will be raised again. It is possible, but can you really expect the Mets to hit the jackpot on all of their surgically-repaired arms? I don’t, and neither should you.
Winning is Collins’ first priority, and that includes protecting those arms for as long as possible. If that means an innings limit, then so be it. This should be easier to implement now than in 2015 because of Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman. Set the limits and design a program, and unlike 2015 when he wavered with Harvey, Collins must keep the course. Easier said than done, but paramount.
Roles must be defined for Lugo and Gsellman to spell spot starts for Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz, and yes, even Syndergaard, who is bothered by bone spurs. Collins needs to stress and enforce a “No Heroes” approach.
Coming off surgery, if somebody is hurting give him a rest. There are no guarantees, but Lugo and Gsellman enhance the chances of getting the rotation through the season.
BULLPEN ROLES: Other than plugging Jeurys Familia into the closer role, I’ve never been enamored with how Collins used his bullpen. The Mets should be agitated at Major League Baseball for dragging its feet on a Familia suspension. Even so, the Mets haven’t been proactive in structuring bullpen roles.
Addison Reed will be closer, and when Familia gets back, let him earn the closer role again. I’d like Collins to give roles for his pen, which includes naming a set-up man to replace Jerry Blevins. The Mets seem content to let Blevins sweat this out. Even so, with their bullpen in a state of flux, let’s define roles, which should include Lugo, Gsellman and Zack Wheeler.
Wheeler hasn’t pitched in two years and the Mets are making noises of using him out of the bullpen. This isn’t a terrible idea, but what is was reading what Collins told The New York Post. Collins said he’d like to work Wheeler out of the bullpen, then stretch him out to where he could rejoin the rotation. This is beyond a bad idea for Wheeler, who has his own designated parking spot outside the Hospital of Special Surgery.
Ease him in as a reliever with a definitive role (coming in only at the start of an inning) and forget about the rotation for now. If they want to start him, then start him and don’t screw about with the bullpen. Collins must be disciplined in his construction of the bullpen.
REST FOR THE INFIELD: Third baseman David Wright and first baseman Lucas Duda are coming off back injuries, likewise second baseman Neil Walker. Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, who is entering his option year, finished last season with knee and leg injuries.
Too often in the last three years, Collins had a tendency to push his tired and injured players too much. This year, he has Wilmer Flores and Jose Reyes as capable reserves. Collins must formulate schedules of rest for his infield and sprinkle in Reyes and Flores. Doing the match, everybody could get at least one day off a week.
Collins has toyed with the idea of giving Michael Conforto and Jay Bruce time at first. Well, if this is so, then let’s have exhibition-game schedules for them. I don’t want Duda to go on the DL in June with Conforto and Bruce not having any time at first.
The Cubs were successful last year using a platoon system – do you remember Ben Zobrist? – and it worked because their players got the necessary prep work. Collins eschewed the chance to work in Flores last year until it was too late.
OUTFIELD PLAN: We all know Alderson hamstrung Collins when it came to finding playing time for the outfielders when he brought back Cespedes. Gold Glover Juan Lagares was signed to a four-year deal but with no place to play. Because Cespedes won’t play center, center field is a soup mix of Lagares, Conforto and Curtis Granderson.
Because Alderson miscalculated the outfield market, he was unable to trade Bruce. Personally, I think that’s a good thing, but for this year, Collins needs to find appropriate playing time for him, Granderson and Conforto.
The Granderson and Bruce contracts will be off the books after this season, although my biggest hope if for the latter to have a monster year and force Alderson into re-signing him. From left to right – Cespedes, Conforto and Bruce – works for me.
Collins has done a decent job keeping his clubhouse together despite considerable adversity. However, this year, more than most, he must devise a plan with his coaches and Alderson and stay the course.
It’s the only way to see October.