We have been told, many times before, about Terry Collins’ clubhouse presence. About how the skipper has changed his ways since the mutiny in Anaheim, about how he listens and respects and does all the behind-the-scenes things he’s supposed to do to maintain control.
None of those matter, though, if he can’t handle the product on the field. And by all accounts, Terry Collins can’t handle the product on the field.
After five seasons and however many games into the sixth, we know the problems: the bullpen management and the double switches and that baffling comment about Jay Bruce’s speed. Today, we’re here to talk about Michael Conforto.
Conforto should be a superstar. In fact, he’s played like one this year. He played like one as a rookie, too. That hasn’t mattered. Collins has never particularly seemed to care how good Conforto is. He has taken every opportunity to diminish the talents of the young outfielder, in platoons and benchings and not-so subtle digs to the press. Conforto lucked into a starting role this season (or even a 25-man roster spot if you’re feeling particularly despondent) thanks to Brandon Nimmo’s and Yoenis Cespedes’ hamstrings, and he’s responded like you would expect a superstar to respond: .308/.410/.628 with 14 home runs and a 170 OPS+. Brandon Nimmo wasn’t going to do that.
But Conforto’s playing time is about to be slashed, as Cespedes finally returns from the DL and the $110-million man retakes his rightful place in left field. Cespedes belongs in left field as long and as often as his legs will allow him to roam that corner of the world. His return should not spell the end of Conforto. But it will.
Collins hasn’t announced what he’ll do with four healthy outfielders, and he possibly hasn’t even decided yet, but he did tell the Post that Conforto is “tiring.” Jay Bruce hit .210/.296/.430 in May. Curtis Granderson has been floating around the Mendoza line all season. But Michael Conforto is tiring. So Michael Conforto will sit.
The circle of trust, inexplicably, exists only for the bullpen. Collins will thrust Paul Sewald into the eighth-inning role after just a few major league appearances because he stranded some runners, but Conforto and his 170 OPS+ don’t get the benefit of the doubt.
Instead, the position players are decided by service time; veterans start, no matter what. Jose Reyes and Alejandro De Aza and James Loney earned their playing time by virtue of longevity, not talent. But Collins’ renowned focus on familiar faces, a focus that saved his career, is also what could destroy it.
With every loss, every blown save and near-shut out, the case to end Collins’ tenure grows stronger. And every time someone questions his competency, his defenders grow more vocal.
“I’m happy with the job Terry has done under the circumstances. Nobody is happy with the won-loss record that we have,” Sandy Alderson said during a press conference at the end of May. “I think there are reasons for the record that we have that have nothing to do with Terry.”
Fred Wilpon remains strongly in Collins’ corner, sources told Newsday.
He’s not going anywhere.
And so, there Collins will stay, firmly entrenched as the skipper of a promising team floundering under the weight of injuries and expectations. And here we will stay, waiting for Bruce and Granderson to get going while Conforto wastes away on the bench or, worse, in Las Vegas. Maybe Granderson’s May was real and he really does have something left at the end of a long, illustrious career. Maybe Bruce can find his Cincinnati success. But if one or none or both of these come true, that doesn’t excuse allowing Conforto’s career to stagnate.
Photo credit: Jason Getz – USA Today Sports