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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Terry Collins knows he's on the hot seat in 2015

Terry Collins #10 of the Mets looks on

Terry Collins #10 of the Mets looks on during the first inning of a game against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field on Sept. 19, 2014 in Atlanta. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Kevin C. Cox

SAN DIEGO - Sandy Alderson got a new three-year contract extension after his fourth straight losing season in Flushing.

Terry Collins? The Mets simply replaced the No. 10 on his back with a bull's-eye.

A slow start in 2015 and there's zero doubt who's taking the fall if Year 5 of Alderson's rebuild doesn't immediately produce a competitive team at Citi Field, which gets more blame for the Mets' failures than the people responsible for assembling the roster.

Maybe Alderson thought he was doing Collins a favor by exercising his '15 option. In reality, the general manager basically created a convenient fall guy. That's the beauty of lame-duck managers. They either can save themselves by earning a new deal or be sacrificed to the angry mob hungry for a scapegoat.

Count us among the shrinking few who believed that Collins deserved to come back. But we also wondered why Alderson even bothered. After the GM told his staff in spring training that the Mets were a 90-win team, how could he later rationalize keeping Collins when they finished with only 79?

Either Alderson did a crummy job evaluating the "talent" he had on the roster or the Mets underachieved under Collins. It has to be one or the other, right?

This year, Collins isn't waiting to be set up. He launched a pre-emptive strike Monday at the winter meetings by saying the Mets should be legit contenders this season.

"It's time," Collins said. "I've done nothing for the last four years but preach to our fan base to be patient, and I've been trying to be patient. Well, I think we've got the pieces. It's time to step up."

At this point, Collins has nothing to lose. It doesn't matter what he says. His fate could be determined by Memorial Day this season. If the Mets are 10 games under .500 and sliding out of contention, Collins knows he's finished -- and then maybe we'll endorse Wally Backman to help give the Mets a much-needed PR boost.

But Collins, who's now a savvy veteran of the big-city media machine, seems to be going in with the right attitude. Some managers might clench up when looking into the abyss. Not Collins. He had a little fun Monday with the idea that the temperature could be rising around him in 2015.

"You put yourself in the hot seat," Collins said. "At my age, there is a lot of numbness down there anyways. So you don't have to worry about it too bad."

Once the laughter from the few dozen reporters died down, Collins turned a bit more serious.

"But it's time to respond," he added. "You hear them talk. You hear the players talk. I just think there are a lot of positives and we've shown that we can compete."

Collins, who had served as the Mets' minor-league field coordinator, was hired to nurture the young Mets through the expected growing pains -- almost like a continuation of his development duties. Winning seemed like a secondary responsibility, and the Mets haven't done much of it under Collins, who is 304-344 (.469) in four seasons.

Would another manager have performed better? Possibly. But Collins had the unenviable task of being stuck with a small-time team playing in the glare of the biggest media market. There's been way more bad than good, and he's put up a pretty brave face for the organization.

The 2015 season is his reward. Matt Harvey will return, David Wright supposedly is healthy and Curtis Granderson has his personal hitting muse back by his side with the hiring of former Yankees coach Kevin Long. The Mets don't require a baby-sitter anymore. The stakes are much higher now. They need a big-league manager.

"We can sit here right now and break down seven wins we should have had last year which would have made that a whole different season," Collins said. "So I think we're that close."

But "close" won't be enough this year. And Collins knows he has to be better than "close" to keep his job. No more patience. No more excuses.

His seat already is feeling toasty, even in December.

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