David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991. Show More
They share the same job title, and both are employed in New York. But for Terry Collins and Joe Girardi, the similarities pretty much end there.
Well, except for one other common thread: contracts that expire at the end of this season, and not much in the way of assurances they will be renewed.
The question popped up occasionally for Collins during spring training, and he always insisted that he's at peace with his lame-duck status. But it's unclear exactly what Collins needs to do to be asked back.
For most managers, the mission statement is easy to understand. Stay in contention, finish with a winning record, maybe even get to the playoffs. But those goals already seem unrealistic with a deeply flawed Mets team that is constantly looking forward to the players it doesn't have -- Zack Wheeler, Travis d'Arnaud -- for daily affirmation.
Unfortunately for Collins, he's stuck in the dim reality of the present, trying to stay afloat in five-day increments until Matt Harvey's next start. That was hard enough before the whole Jordany Valdespin affair, a flat-out stupid mess that Collins made worse by accidentally kicking a buzzing hive of the team's fans.
From there, it was only natural to begin drawing parallels with Collins' temperamental flame-outs with the Astros and Angels. But this was different, and for a manager who's been swimming upstream in Flushing since 2011, Collins reacted smartly to prevent himself from drowning. Also, the front office didn't take the bait.
At the time of the Valdespin affair, the Mets were in the process of piling up 14 losses in 18 games. And once the fans got on his back -- unfair or not -- Collins probably was at the most vulnerable point of his tenure with the Mets.
But general manager Sandy Alderson, who hired Collins a month after taking the job, said he was satisfied with the manager's navigation of the volatile incident, from the moment Valdespin was drilled May 11 at Citi Field to the extended fallout that stretched into midweek.
"From my standpoint, I have no problem whatsoever with how he handled things," Alderson said before adding that Collins did nothing more serious than "misspeak" when he mentioned the fans.
Alderson may have hired Collins, but the two are not attached at the hip. Back in 2010, Alderson picked him over Bob Melvin, who went on to win Manager of the Year honors last season with the A's, and it's not as though the pair would go down together if the Mets resemble the walking dead by August and Citi Field is a ghost town.
That's because Alderson is signed through 2014 -- he also has option years attached to his current deal -- so this GM is not going anywhere before then, unless he wants out. It's a safe bet the Mets have no intention of paying anyone significant money to manage the team in 2014, and if for some reason Collins falls out of favor, the top two candidates look like bench coach Bob Geren and Triple-A manager Wally Backman.
A big second half obviously would give Collins an edge, but short of that, the odds certainly are against him. Even with 122 games left, it feels as though time is running out.
Across town, Girardi's situation is somewhat easier to quantify. Success with the Yankees is measured in World Series rings, and they haven't been to the Fall Classic since 2009, when they won No. 27 and Girardi later got a new number himself.
Getting swept by the Tigers last October, even in a postseason swallowed by A-Rod drama and Derek Jeter's broken ankle, clearly did not sit well with the higher-ups. And when the Yankees' idea of reloading in the offseason focused on bringing back the same group -- minus Nick Swisher -- it began to seem as though Girardi would be ushering a too-old, too-expensive team to also-ran status on the his own way out the door.
Then a funny thing happened. As the injury count skyrocketed, so did Girardi's street cred. Long criticized for his micro-managing tendencies, Girardi -- helped by the masterful roster puppetry of general manager Brian Cashman -- has mixed and matched the beaten-up Yankees to a 27-16 start that no one could have predicted. Not with 13 players already having spent time on the disabled list since Opening Day, and 11 still there.
Shorthanded doesn't begin to describe the Yankees' predicament. Nevertheless, they stand in first place, thanks to superb starting pitching, an airtight bullpen and just enough from a patchwork lineup that entered Saturday an un-Yankee-like ninth in the AL with 172 runs scored (4.1 average). The Tigers are No. 1 with 210 runs for a 5.4 average.
But can the Yankees sustain it? And is it Girardi's fault if they don't? They did the unthinkable after the 2007 season by parting ways with Joe Torre -- making him an offer the Yankees knew he could refuse -- and Girardi also will have to wait until after this season's final out to learn his fate.
Hal Steinbrenner made that clear Thursday after attending the MLB owners' meetings. Still, he praised Girardi's work to this point.
"We have to focus on our job right now," Steinbrenner said. "There's a long road ahead, and that's not going to surprise Joe to hear me say that. He knows that. We're going to sit down and figure out what to do when this season ends, hopefully the beginning of November."
Steinbrenner was alluding to another World Series trip for the Yankees, which would have to lead to an extension for Girardi. But as difficult as that is, it won't be as simple for Collins, who deserves to play this season with a handicap calculated in games below .500. After developing a culture of increasingly low expectations, the Mets would be hypocritical to fire Collins for merely living up to them.