New York Mets manager Terry Collins must surely know that Eric Young, Jr. can’t hit, either. Claiming Young is the team’s only viable leadoff man is humor so dry you might have had to been born in Puritan-times Massachusetts to catch it.
In the one season Young amassed more than 200 at-bats (539 in 2013), he produced an OBP of .310. The only thing particularly remarkable about Young’s 38 steals (7 CS) in 91 games with the Mets is that he managed to reach first base at least 45 times.
Collins knows this; it happened just last year.
When he heard rumors that GM Sandy Alderson had an untraceable deposit for $7.25 million sent to an offshore account belonging to Chris Young (yes, the one with a career .235/.315/.431 slash line), Collins must have fallen over and dropped his V8. When Young actually showed up in Port St. Lucie, he probably just sighed and spiked the next one.
(Slightly off-topic, I’d love to hear Collins’ reaction when someone finally tells him Nelson Cruz signed for $8 million — American! — dollars with the Baltimore Orioles. “What!? Sandy told me Cruz went with the New York Yankees for 400 million Space Bucks.”)
Then, upon learning of Alderson’s plan to put the top three “offensive candidates” in the outfield, as the GM revealed to WFAN recently, Collins did two things:
Second, Terry Collins — mad-genius-at-work — came up with a Machiavellian plan of his own to motivate Juan Lagares into the starting lineup at any cost, even if it makes him sound like a complete moron to media, fans and pretty much anyone who has ever even thought about seeing a live baseball game.
“As we sit here today, Eric Young is the guy you want to see at the top of the lineup,” Collins deadpanned to a group of reporters earlier in spring training, basically daring Lagares to let the Mets ruin their season before it even starts. Classic Sun Tzu warfare.
Lagares put up historic defensive numbers in the outfield last year, saving the Mets twice as many runs with his superlative glove work as he cost them with his meager bat (24.4 Ultimate Zone Rating compared to -11 Rbat, which measures a player’s offensive contribution by runs). Initially a shortstop, Lagares instinctively attacks the ball in ways few outfielders do, often putting him in great position to change the outcome of games simply with the threat of his arm; those 14 assists last year set a Mets rookie record.
Yes, it is imperative that Lagares add 10-15 points to his batting average and move his OBP towards respectability (.242 and .285 last season, respectively). A .294/.329/.430 stretch from June to August shows he has the tools to improve, but what Collins really needs from Lagares is for him to develop at least one useful offensive skill and do it well.
Drawing walks is about patience and pitch selection, both teachable attributes (not to compare, but if Robinson Cano can learn to take walks, then anybody can do it). Lagares smacking 21 doubles in 392 at-bats is promising; him focusing on getting that number up to 40 is a worthy goal. Stolen bases are more or less an empty statistic, but padding that column doesn’t require overwhelming speed, just better timing and developing an eye for body language; if Lagares swipes 25-30 bases this year, critics will get whiplash gushing over the kid’s All-Star potential.
Collins knows the best 2014 Mets team has Juan Lagares patrolling Citi Field on a daily basis; he’s a smart man with two working eyeballs. It’s not his fault he’s the wrong manager for a club that can’t figure out what kind of identity it wants to bumble towards any more than is the collection of mismatched parts strewn across his 40-man roster.
With few options for a sane resolution coming from above, Collins’ last resort was to go rogue, Prince Hamlet-style. If this is indeed the case – and I pray that it is, if purely from an entertainment standpoint – then it’ll be fascinating to see how this plays out over the course of a season.
Unless, wait – is Hamlet the one where everybody dies? Shoot. I’m starting to get a bad feeling about this.