May 13, 2014; Bronx, NY, USA; New York Mets manager Terry Collins talks with bench coach Bob Geren in the dugout before the start of a game against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Was Terry Collins Right on Juan Lagares?

The title alone may have turned you off to the content of this post, but if you’ve gone this far, maybe you’ll be willing to go further.

Juan Lagares returned to the Mets lineup to rave reviews this weekend, driving in four runs and saving a couple more while patrolling center field in Washington. Lagares’ immediate success hasn’t been enough to turn off the heat on Terry Collins, who is still facing criticism from print and online sources alike for sitting one of New York’s best players for the better part of a week (and for responding not-so-eloquently to the criticism).

All the noise aside, however, one glaring fact remains: Juan Lagares had a great weekend after taking a couple days off. Now that the whole ordeal is over, one has to wonder: was Terry Collins right all along?

May 18, 2014; Washington, DC, USA; New York Mets center fielder Juan Lagares (12) hits an RBI single against the Washington Nationals during the sixth inning at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Collins justified sitting Lagares in the first place to help him cool his head and get his stroke back in the midst of a slump. Juan was indeed slumping at the dish going into last Monday: he was 4-21 (.190) with four strikeouts over five starts in which the Mets went 1-4. He was reportedly falling back into old habits, chasing too many bad pitches, and getting frustrated with his lack of success.

Some would argue the best thing for Lagares would have been to work out his problems in the lineup. That argument would have carried more weight if the Mets weren’t going into the hottest spotlight of their season: the Subway Series.

Add to that the prospect of facing an emerging ace in Masahiro Tanaka and a brand-new starter in Chase Whitley, and it could have set Juan’s confidence back even further. The SNY guys mentioned facing Tanaka would’ve been enough to extend anyone’s slump by a week or two. In that case, a 4-21 stretch could’ve gotten worse.

Collins took heat for suggesting Bobby Abreu and the likes were getting starts over Lagares because they were “hot bats.” I think it has more to do with playing veterans who are used to facing hot and cold stretches at the plate over a young player who had his first major hot streak descend into a cold spell.

Juan Lagares is at a critical juncture in his career; Bobby Abreu is not. In the long term, it’s far better to sacrifice a couple games in May of his sophomore season than to endure a month-long slump during a September in contention. There will be a time when the training wheels come off, but in this season in which the future is still emerging, I have no problem with trying this sort of remedy on Lagares.

On the other issue of the weekend, Terry Collins’ handling of the Lagares situation, I wouldn’t go so far as to say he was foaming at the mouth. Exasperated, maybe. And who wouldn’t be exasperated when dealing with the headline-churning machine that is the New York media?

Sometimes we forget how intense the crush can be from so many outlets, all of which need stories. If it’s not Lagares, it’s Curtis Granderson. If it’s not Granderson, it would’ve been Ike Davis’s latest slump if he wasn’t in Pittsburgh. If not Davis, it would’ve been something else entirely.

As a Midwesterner, on the outside of the madness, I sympathize with fellow Midwesterner Collins. Yes, he’s been a manager in New York for three-plus years now, but who wouldn’t show the occasional crack in the face of constant pressure? It’s a wonder he hasn’t gone mad already. I think Terry Collins has done a fair job handling his position with dignity in the face of people who love it when he loses. As much as we don’t like to admit it, he probably knows more about being a manager in the National League than we do.

Some call Terry Collins’s handling of Juan Lagares this week a mistake. But after Lagares sat four times in five days, he was the Mets’ best player in the Nationals series. Was that a mistake? Or was that a major-league manager’s strategy at work?

 

 

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