By Jason Keidel
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We’ve all taken our gratuitous shots at Terry Collins, the forever .500 manager who always had the feel of an intern.
Then came 2015, a magical confluence of timing, talent, temerity and — dare we say — managing. We always wondered if Collins’ record was a product of mediocre management or pedestrian personnel. But once he was given a full deck, he played it all the way to MLB’s final table.
Collins was baseball’s Midas, at least until the back end of the World Series, when the Mets lost three games in which they led in eighth inning or later. But perhaps there was a power in play beyond simple baseball moves, behind pinch hitters and pitching changes and double switches. Maybe it was just Kanas City’s time.
To paraphrase Bill Parcells, Sandy Alderson got the groceries, and Collins became quite a chef. Even with the deft deadline trades, few expected the Mets to morph into titans. They were given a puncher’s chance against the Dodgers, and won. Then they would surely lose to the cardiac Cubs, who had vanquished a 98-win team (Pittsburgh) and 100-win team (St. Louis) to reach the NLCS. Then the Mets swept Chicago, which gave all of us a robust sense of destiny.
They just lost to a team with a little more of it.
If Collins is to take the rapid-fire hits for the team’s failures, then surely he should get props for this playoff run, which came in the form of a two-year extension. Call it earned.
Cynics would find some cosmic connection between Alderson collapsing on the day they announce Collins’s signing. It’s not news that the two aren’t BFFs. But both are pros and the truth is Collins should be in the same dugout, swathed in the same colors, next year.
With Washington still imploding, unable to bag its preferred manager, low-balling Bud Black out of the job, and then signing Dusty Baker to a low-rent deal, it sounds like there’s still just enough mayhem in the nation’s capital for the Mets to win the NL East in 2016.
The lone, bedrock certainty is that they have the pitching. And while it sounds cute and clever to propose trades with Matt Harvey and Jacob DeGrom and even Odin’s son, it’s foolish, if not downright dumb, to consider such moves. The Mets got to where they are because of the gifted pitching triumvirate more than any ephemeral assets they have.
Now they have to ponder the rest. The two big-ticket items are Yoenis Cespedes and Daniel Murphy. Most realize they will let the former walk while agonizing over the latter. Cespedes is too moody to entrust with the Bill Gates money he will surely demand. Murphy entered the archives with his Herculean, autumn run. But does that command a commensurate contract? They have until Friday to offer him a one-year deal worth $15.8 million. If Murphy balks, the Mets get a draft pick should he sign somewhere else.
But beyond the obvious pair of big bats, the Mets will have to play a monetary version of Whack-A-Mole with the rest of their club. Their summer acquisitions — Cespedes, Juan Uribe, Kelly Johnson, and Tyler Clippard — are all free agents.
Who will be the starting catcher? Travis d’Arnaud or Kevin Plawecki? One has the bat, the other the glove. Who’s the second baseman? (Murphy was hardly Roberto Alomar in the Fall Classic) What happens to Wilmer Flores? Remember Jenrry Mejia? Bobby Parnell, anyone?
Then there’s my favorite pitcher/mascot Bartolo Colon. Sure, the Mets are pitching rich, especially if Steven Matz stays healthy next year. But keep Bartolo. He won’t ask for the $11 million he made this year. And, as he proved in the playoffs, his pitching translates into every inning of any game. Colon is the absolute emblem of the baseball maxim that you can never have too much pitching, particularly in a rotation layered with Tommy John arms. Offer him $6 or $7 million for another shot at a World Series ring and pray the big fella bites.
Alderson assured us that the team’s war chest will swell next year, past the $103 million payroll he says they had this year. Maybe the Madoff cloud has blown past Flushing. Maybe the Wilpons are feeling frisky after seeing so many rabid fans in their seats, huffing clouds of October breath into the night.
Alderson couldn’t keep jamming to the 1980s, when we were still bopping to Big Daddy Kane and air-guitaring to Guns ‘n Roses, back when he built Oakland into a bash-brother behemoth. He had to show the Big Apple he could play with the big boys, and he did. So did Collins, the high-pitched lifer who became a caricature in NYC, a symbol of the eternal mediocrity that had consumed the Mets. Both men did their thing, falling just a few games short of that elusive ring.
No matter how this plays out, the Mets actually have expectations now. The bar is finally raised high enough for you to walk under it. The question is … can the Mets jump over it?
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel