NEW YORK -- The entire season for the New York Mets boiled down to two dates on the calendar: "Super Tuesday" and panic Monday.
Terry Collins is coming back confident better days lie ahead.
"Maybe we can finish what we started," he said.
The manager received a two-year contract extension Monday with a club option for 2016, a move the Mets announced one day after finishing 74-88 for the second consecutive season. Collins' previous deal was about to expire, but it became increasingly clear down the stretch that he likely would return.
"In many ways, Terry had an outstanding year," general manager Sandy Alderson said. "The team never quit, continued to play hard, continued to play with the resources it had at hand and finished as well as we could have expected."
Fielding an inexperienced lineup ravaged by injuries and trades, the 64-year-old Collins kept New York competitive all summer without many of his top players -- including team captain David Wright, All-Star ace Matt Harvey and closer Bobby Parnell.
Still, the rebuilding Mets were unable to overcome a 25-40 start and limped to their fifth straight losing record since moving into Citi Field. They edged Philadelphia for third place in the NL East after coming in fourth the previous four years.
"We saw some bright things that happened this year with some of our young players. Obviously, we've got some outstanding young pitching coming," Collins said. "We're going into spring training with very, very high expectations. It's time to put some wins on the board."
New York did just that during an encouraging stretch that began June 18, the day touted pitcher Zack Wheeler was called up from the minors and leadoff hitter Eric Young Jr. was obtained from Colorado.
In a doubleheader dubbed "Super Tuesday" by a city tabloid, Harvey and Wheeler pitched the Mets to a sweep at NL East champion Atlanta. From there they went 33-26 through Aug. 20, while Young's much-needed speed sparked a stagnant offence on his way to the National League stolen base crown.
But the following Monday, Aug. 26, Harvey was shut down with a partially torn ligament in his right elbow that left his status for next season uncertain. He hopes to avoid Tommy John surgery with a strengthening and throwing program, though the Mets don't sound too optimistic.
"Certainly losing Matt was a shock to the system, and I think emotionally we've all had to recover from that a little bit," Alderson said. "Even if Matt doesn't have the surgery, it's going to affect our plan."
The plan all along was to compete for a playoff spot in 2014.
With about $40 million in player salaries coming off the payroll, the Mets expect to be active in free agency. Desperate for productive bats and a steady shortstop, New York could eye outfielders Shin-Soo Choo and Nelson Cruz.
"I'm really excited about what we might be able to do this off-season," Alderson said. "Certainly we'll have more payroll flexibility than we've had since I've been here."
Alderson, Collins and chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon are part of the brain trust headed to Florida to begin organizational meetings Tuesday. Alderson said next year's budget will be set early on.
The Mets own the 10th selection in the June draft, which means they wouldn't have to forfeit it to sign a top-tier free agent who receives a qualifying offer from his previous club. The top 10 picks are protected, eliminating a significant concern.
Eager to upgrade in many areas, the Mets nevertheless will keep in mind the bloated contracts they gave to injury-prone Johan Santana and Jason Bay.
"Those are cautionary examples of what can happen," Alderson said. "It's great to say, well, we have financial flexibility and then blow it on players' deals that don't work out and put yourself right back in the same situation we were in before. At the same time, at some point you've got to go for it. So, having flexibility is great. But at some point you've got to put yourself on the line. And I think what we're going to try to do is balance the level of our commitments with the desire to continue to maintain some flexibility going forward. Not just next year, but years after that."
Trading some of their ballyhooed minor league pitching might be one way for the Mets to add offence. But that route can be risky.
"I find it tough sometimes to trade young guys. And I think that fans identify with the young guys," Alderson said. "Having said that, we're at a point now where we are in a position to make a deal for an established player (by) giving up some resources. But we have to be careful that we don't turn a strength into a weakness. And with Matt out, it makes it a little more difficult to give up the two or three guys that we know are right on the cusp."
Alderson was encouraged by New York's .500 record over the final 100 games and acknowledged that was a significant factor in the decision to keep Collins, who is 225-261 in three seasons as Mets manager. His entire coaching staff also was retained.
"We've got the base. Now we've just got to make sure guys play up to their potential," Collins said. "We have the players to do it. They've got to buy into it."
The team went 41-40 on the road this year, but both men were dismayed by a 33-48 mark at home that left the Mets a dubious 103-140 at Citi Field over the past three seasons.
"I think part of it is the player mix," Alderson said. "Part of it has got to be something to do with the home environment here, whether that's here at the ballpark, whether it's in the clubhouse, whether it's on 45th and Sixth Avenue. I don't know. There are a variety of factors that we're going to have to look at hard, because we can't allow this to continue."