Entering 2014, the New York Mets were considered a long shot to compete and the organizational mantra was to see what they had out of some of their younger players. That plan seemed to be firmly in place for the first month of the season, but since then, things have gone awry.
Manager Terry Collins sat his best young player, Juan Lagares, for four games in a recent five-game stretch and compounded that by leaving young infielder Wilmer Flores on the bench for six straight. Following that, word came out that, prior to going to the DL with a concussion, young catcher Travis d’Arnaud was a candidate to be benched by Collins. While this action seems questionable on the surface, when you see whom Collins sat these players for, it becomes laughable.
Collins seems to have some kind of infatuation with Eric Young, Jr. because of his 15 stolen bases and default status as the team’s leadoff option. However, Young is proof of the old adage “you can’t steal first base”. Entering play today, Young has a slash line of .221/.310/.619 (AVG/OBP/OPS), abysmal numbers for a player who’s been in the lineup as regularly as he has. Young Jr. has been earning the majority of the playing time that should be earmarked for Lagares, but his namesake, Chris Young, has also been a culprit in this madness. The latter Young is only hitting .211 with a .647 OPS, but both have seemingly “earned” the right to play over Lagares, whose world-class defense alone should make him an every day fixture.
Collins took umbrage with the media’s justifiable outrage over Lagares sitting in what’s seen as a transition year, saying, “For cripes sake we’re getting a little carried away here — somebody gets a day off and it’s like the sky is falling.” How Collins can say that after sitting Lagares in four out of five games with no better options on the roster is beyond reproach; it really makes you question his credibility.
To further his mishaps, Collins has also seen something in shortstop Ruben Tejada that no one else has. If you thought the two Young’s numbers were unsightly, wait until you get a load of Tejada’s slash line of .185/.302/.524. Despite having numbers worse than some pitchers, Tejada has been run out on a semi-regular basis only a week and change after he was supposedly “benched” and Flores was called up to handle shortstop. While most don’t think Flores possesses the foot speed or range to adequately handle the position, he was called up under the premise of “he couldn’t do much worse”. After Flores came up, he only saw a handful of starts before coming down with a sinus infection. After Flores recovered, however, he still found himself riding the bench in the majors instead of starting in the minors.
Putting a nice cherry on top of the sundae, Collins was ready to replace heralded young catcher d’Arnaud with veteran backup Anthony Recker, who does a nice job in spot duty but is also owner of a .208 average with a .627 OPS. d’Arnaud saved Collins from himself when he went on the seven-day DL for concussion symptoms, but it remains to be seen how that will work once d’Arnaud returns.
Regardless of how Lagares, Flores and d’Arnaud perform this year, they should be in there taking their lumps. At the very least, the Mets’ front office can get a better idea as to whether these players are part of the future in Flushing or whether they need to go in a different direction. By sitting these players, even for short stretches, Collins risks ruining confidence and sends the message to his younger players that, if you struggle, you’ll sit. Of course, in Collins’ world, if you’re a struggling veteran, like Curtis Granderson or one of the Youngs, you get all the time in the world to figure things out.
This double standard has to stop and, while the New York front office doesn’t make a habit or interfering in managerial decisions, perhaps it’s high time that general manager Sandy Alderson had a little heart-to-heart with his manager. Without the promise of youth and optimism, Met fans have little else to look forward to in what is shaping up as another moribund season.