MLB: New York Mets at Houston Astros

Terry Collins is still managing the only way he knows how

With the 2017 season winding down and the Mets working their way towards 90 losses, this appears likely to be the last few weeks of Terry Collins as Mets manager. Reports have circulated that Collins is likely on his way out after the season, putting an end to the longest managerial tenure in franchise history.

And while most Mets fans are probably gleeful at the thought of a new skipper, it is still somewhat disheartening to see a well-meaning, good-hearted man on the precipice of losing a job he clearly loves. However, in what are probably his last few games as manager, Collins is giving fans a reminder of what has made him so frustrating through the years.

Collins can be forgiven if he’s not thinking too hard about the team’s future if he’s not a part of it, but he is still the manager right now. Which means it’s still his job to think of the future. And with the Mets’ current state, nothing should come before that future. It’s Terry’s job to manage for the future by playing as many young players as he can right now, getting them as much MLB experience as possible, and allowing the organization to at least have brief evaluations of those players so the picture is a little bit easier to paint for next year and beyond.

So then why the heck are we still seeing lineups like these?

This lineup is from last Wednesday night. The first three hitters in this lineup are over-30 veterans who are either not under contract for next season, or have expensive team options that might not be worth picking up. Noticeably absent from this lineup are former first-round picks Brandon Nimmo, Gavin Cecchini, and Dom Smith, though Smith was just getting the day off here.

That said, Nimmo and Cecchini being benched in favor of players with no future in the organization has been a running theme for a while now. In fact, since Cecchini’s recall on August 17, the 23-year-old has started just 12 of the Mets’ 32 games, and has appeared at all in only 19 of those games. And yesterday, he required Amed Rosario getting scratched late with an upset stomach just to get the start. As for Nimmo, Wednesday was his second-straight game being benched against a left-handed pitcher. And even worse, before the injury to Michael Conforto last month, Nimmo hardly saw the field at all. In fact, he had been on the MLB roster for a total of 46 games prior to Conforto’s injury, and had seen just 65 plate appearances and nine starts to that point.

So how can Collins justify this? How does an MLB manager, in his mind, think playing guys like Jose Reyes, Nori Aoki, and Asdrubal Cabrera accomplishes anything late in a season like this? Well, the answer actually simple: Collins is still managing the only way he knows how. He is managing to win baseball games. And these are the guys he trusts to win him baseball games, for better or worse.

Terry Collins’ best attribute as a manager is also his biggest detriment: his ability to accept defeat. He wants to win, and he wants to win every single game more than anything. Even if the games mean nothing, he wants to win them. And a competitive spirit like that is admirable—really—and it’s the first thing you look for in any manager. Nobody will ever accuse Collins of phoning it in or not caring.

Sometimes, though, that’s just not the way to manage a team, and that’s obviously not the way to manage the Mets right now, when wins and losses don’t matter at all. And it’s not just right now, either. Throughout his tenure, Collins has seemed to lack the ability to step back and think about the longer-term ramifications of what he’s doing, and the ramifications his actions have for the next day, or the next week, or the next year, or even for the careers of his players. Sometimes, it seems like he wants to win the game at hand so much that it’s all he cares about.

We’ve seen it for years. We’ve seen all the times he rummaged through his bullpen in an effort to win one game, and then had to play the next day with multiple relievers unavailable. We saw it when Conforto was benched far too often in favor of proven veterans like Jay Bruce and Curtis Granderson—potentially stifling Conforto’s crucial development—just because Collins trusted them more to win him games. We saw it with Michael Cuddyer. We saw it with Chris Young. We saw it with Tyler Clippard. We saw it with Eric Campbell. The list goes on.

And even now, with nothing to play for, we’re still seeing it. We see it with these lineups. We see it when Tommy Milone pitches in mop-up duty instead of any one of the myriad young, inexperienced relievers Collins has available in his bullpen now. We saw it when he pinch-hit Reyes for Dom Smith in the ninth inning against the Yankees in an attempt to win that game.

But Collins does this stuff not because he hates young players, but because it’s the only way he knows. He genuinely thinks these moves help him win, and it’s not in his nature to manage to not-win a game. It’s not in his nature to step off the gas pedal. He only knows how to manage to win games to the best of his ability. That’s all he’s ever done, and so he’s going to keep doing that.

And yes, it’s immensley frustrating to watch as fan. But when you think about it, it’s hard not to feel for Collins too. He knew, win or lose, that this was probably his last season in baseball. And look at what’s happened. He didn’t ask for this. He just wants to win, damn it.

Now, perhaps that’s wrong. Perhaps these assumptions of Collins are incorrect, and he’s actually the most forward-thinking man in the room. Maybe Cecchini can’t see the field because the front office isn’t very high on him. It’s possible Reyes hits leadoff every day because the higher ups in the organization want Reyes to see as much playing time as possible. But if these decisions are coming from the manager, then it’s really hard to make sense of any of this without seeing Collins as a man at the end of the road, going out the way he came in: determined to win.

Photo credit: Troy Taormina – USA Today Sports

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