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Inbox: Is Collins scapegoat or qualified leader?

The weeks are drifting by, and still the Mets have not added any big league free agents to their roster. Those transactions will come, likely sooner rather than later. In the meantime, let's address some questions about the roster already in place ... and the man who will be leading it:

How much blame can be put on Terry Collins for the second half the Mets had in 2012? I understand that David Wright had a torrid first half and completely fell off the cliff in the second, but Collins chose to keep him in the three hole for the remainder of the season. The options to replace him probably weren't that great, but he could have put someone else there who was swinging a hot bat while resting David. And the team as a whole just didn't seem to be motivated to keep on truckin' through the end of the season, which is also the manager's job.
-- William G., Brooklyn, N.Y.

If you're going to nitpick the work that Collins has done in two years with a talent-starved club, that's fine. But deriding him for sticking with his best hitter (whom the team was trying to keep happy and re-sign, mind you) in the midst of a second-half slump is sheer lunacy. The Mets were not winning games. Removing one of the most talented hitters in baseball from their lineup would not have made them better.

That said, this is an interesting time to step back and evaluate the job Collins has done as a whole over his two years in New York. There are multiple schools of thought here: one, that Collins was a driving force behind the Mets being even remotely competitive in 2011 and '12; and two, that Collins was responsible for the second-half slides that doomed the Mets each time.

William from Brooklyn seems to believe the latter, blaming Collins for a lack of motivation. I believe the former, because at the end of the day, there is only so much difference an on-field manager can make. He is at the mercy of his individual players far more than a football, basketball, hockey or soccer coach, whose influences are more apparent on the field, court, ice or pitch.

Now Collins is entering the final year of his contract, and as the 2013 season progresses you are going to hear and read much about him and the job he is doing. If the Mets struggle, fans will call for his job, because that is what people do to managers with losing records and expiring contracts.

But to blame Collins for what has gone on the past two seasons would be to place far too much responsibility on a single man. Has he done a perfect job in two years in Flushing? Of course not. But he has exceeded expectations to a certain extent, his players adore him and he would be a fine candidate to lead the next playoff-caliber Mets team -- whenever it may come.

It would be a shame if Collins plays the role of a scapegoat after never really having a chance to succeed.

When, or will, Johan Santana be traded?
-- Cody G., Freehold, N.J.

I'd say it's a long shot at this point that the Mets find a taker for Santana, whom the Mets still owe $31 million in 2013 salary and 2014 buyout money. But if Santana bursts out to the type of start he did last year, ranking among the top pitchers in the National League, it's far from impossible.

The problem is salary. Even if Santana proves healthy over April, May and June, no team is going to take on his full $31 million -- especially with changes to the Collective Bargaining Agreement stipulating that teams cannot receive Draft pick compensation for midseason rentals. If the Mets want to trade Santana, they are going to have to pick up a significant portion of the tab, which defeats much of the purpose.

There is one way around that problem, however: if Santana is his old dominant self over the first three months of the season, teams will be much more likely to take on salary to acquire him. In that scenario, assuming the Mets are out of playoff contention by the Trade Deadline, dealing Santana would be their most prudent course of action. They should hope for it.

Personally, what do you think about the acquisition of Collin Cowgill? No disrespect to the man, but why don't we add someone else who actually has good career numbers in the Majors and not the Minors? I'm not a fan of Cody Ross either, because he's never hit for a good average and has had maybe two decent seasons. But who do you think they should've gone after?
-- Tyler B., Jamesburg, N.J.

If you're asking who's the best lefty masher on the market, he's still out there: Scott Hairston. The Mets could still acquire Hairston and fix a lot of their outfield problems. Kirk Nieuwenhuis would fall into a center-field platoon with Cowgill, while Hairston would fill in regularly at the corners for Lucas Duda and Mike Baxter. It would not be an ideal scenario, but at least it would be a workable one. And it's one that still might happen.

The previous paragraph defines Cowgill as a player: a platoon outfielder on paper, but possibly a legitimate one. The Mets aren't likely to give Cowgill many at-bats against right-handers, given his extreme splits over an admittedly small Major League sample. But because Cowgill can play center field, he fills a critical need for the Mets, who are wary of relying on Nieuwenhuis every day.

Is there any chance the Mets try out Jordany Valdespin as an everyday starter in the outfield? Or do they see him as more of a pinch-hitter like Baxter?
-- Donny S., Nyack, N.Y.

The Mets certainly do not see Valdespin as a viable everyday player, given the holes in his swing and his struggles against good breaking balls. He became exposed at the end of last season, batting .188 with a .229 slugging percentage over his final 55 plate appearances.

At this point, I believe Valdespin is a long shot even to begin this season in the Majors. The Mets are better off sending him back to Triple-A for some seasoning than carrying an inconsistent hitter and defender on their Opening Day roster. The potential is still there, so perhaps Valdespin can unlock it in the Minors.

Did the Mets save money on Jason Bay since he signed with Seattle?
-- Jim N., New York

No -- that was the point of the unorthodox agreement they struck with Bay in November. The money they saved came in deferred payments, which lowered the present-day value of Bay's contract. Bay will recoup all of that money eventually, and in the meantime freed himself to sign anywhere. He chose Seattle.

Had the Mets simply cut Bay the typical way, they would have recouped some salary when the Mariners signed him. But their agreement included language to prevent that from happening, allowing both sides to consider the agreement a win.

New York Mets, Collin Cowgill, Johan Santana, Jordany Valdespin