The classic manager – think Bobby Cox, Sparky Anderson or Casey Stengel – is gone. Once these titans of baseball knowledge were the end-all, be-all of a team’s success or failure. Not so anymore with General Managers taking a more pronounced role in who plays by designing teams from the top-down. The big money player can throw fits knowing the front office has their back rather than the coach’s. Sabermetrics, in its infinite wisdom, keeps undermining the idea of intangibles in sports by making everything quantifiable. Meanwhile the newest guy at the party, instant replay, will make manager tirades a quaint remembrance. “Oh, remember when Lou Piniella used to pick up bases, and kick dirt?” Yes. It was back when baseball was a little more entertaining, but a lot less lucrative.
What does this all mean for the New York Mets? Well for starters it means that Terry Collins is going to be playing Chris Young, a lot. Why? Because General Manager Sandy Alderson wants it that way. Alderson didn’t sign Young to a 1-year, $7.25 million contract because he wanted a solid bench player. Alderson wants to see if Young can relive his glory days with the Arizona Diamondbacks and produce 25-30 home runs throughout the course of a full season, and Young can’t do that if he’s only playing three or four days out of the week.
This means a return to a bench role for speedster Eric Young, Jr., who led the National League in stolen bases in 2013. Young, Jr., much like Young, has a lot of potential, but hasn’t been able to put everything together and force himself into the lineup card everyday. Unless a trade sends Daniel Murphy packing, and Young, Jr. takes over at his natural position, Young, Jr. will once again be relegated to playing once or twice a week.
Additionally, a Mets outfield of three natural center fielders won’t need a defensive replacement regularly, so Young, Jr. will be a primary pinch-runner for when Lucas Duda or Ike Davis are on base late in the game. It means that Collins will have to adjust how he uses one of his guys based on the preferences of the front office. Is this something entirely new? Of course not. But it does tie the hands of a manager more than it has in the past.
Let’s say Young struggles mightily throughout April and May. Mets fan, not known to be the most patient bunch in the majors, will be screaming for a change. Alderson most likely will not want to give up on his investment so quickly and determine that Young simply needs more playing time to adjust to New York, Citi Field, and playing right instead of center. Remember that not every center fielder who moves to a corner spot immediately plays the position well. In fact, it will be vital for Juan Lagares to step up and lead the outfield against the two veterans in Young and Curtis Granderson on either side of him, who have years of experience patrolling center. Or maybe Collins will determine that Young should reclaim center and push Lagares to right if both struggle.
This is the endless game within the game that managers must accommodate, and where a GM’s strong presence can be a hazard. Sure you want your money to be on the field and not on the bench. But sometimes that money is spent in the wrong places. It remains to be seen whether Young is a valiant but failed signing, or whether he is 2014’s Marlon Byrd. It used to be up to the manager to decide. In this day and age though, with millions being thrown around like beads at Mardi Gras, it’s now up to the GM to decide the fate of the team on the field. Unless the owners decide to start paying closer attention. It’s a pretty safe bet that won’t happen to the Mets, though. They don’t play in the Bronx.