New York Mets infielders hitting coach Eric Chavez during a...

New York Mets infielders hitting coach Eric Chavez during a spring training workout, Tuesday Feb. 20, 2024 in Port St. Lucie FL. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Near the end of the Mets’ miserable 2023 season, Eric Chavez felt uncomfortable and a little guilty.

He was wrapping up his first and, it turned out, only season as the bench coach, having transitioned from hitting coach. Virtually nothing had gone well for the team. Feeling “disconnected,” as he put it, from individuals, he never really settled into that role.

So in quiet, private moments while the team played out the string, Chavez approached some players with a brief, heartfelt message.

He wanted to apologize.

“He felt like we had a lot of success in ’22 and he was sorry that he wasn’t there to replicate that,” Brandon Nimmo said. “But it was a short conversation. And I kind of just stopped him. Like, listen, it’s not your fault that the season ended up the way that it did.”

Others told him the same, appreciative of Chavez’s sentiment but surprised that he felt compelled to express it.

“For some reason, he felt like he needed to do that,” Francisco Lindor said. “I respect that. I appreciate that. He felt for us.”

 

Brett Baty said: “He was like, I’ve been looking back on the year, and I’m sorry that I was doing all these other things and I wasn’t there enough for y’all. We were like, every time we asked you a question, you would help us out and everything.”

Chavez made them a promise, too: If he was around in 2024, he would be more helpful.

The question at the time was whether the Mets’ new bosses would keep him around.

Upon taking over as president of baseball operations, David Stearns was up front with Chavez, according to the coach. Stearns wanted him to stay with the Mets, but he would leave the final decision to the new manager, wanting to give that person autonomy over his coaching staff.

So Chavez, already under contract, had to sit tight for more than a month.

Carlos Mendoza called “right away” upon being hired, Chavez said. They knew each other from their Yankees days, and Mendoza knew what he wanted: Chavez back to being a hitting coach.

“If this is where you want me, that’s where I want to be,” Chavez said. “I’ve always been: I want to be where people want me to be. If you have a desire, if David wanted me in the front office, I would’ve gravitated toward that. I want to be wanted in a certain area.”

Now Chavez again works with the hitters alongside Jeremy Barnes, as they did in 2022, when the rollicking lineup helped the Mets to 101 wins. Last year, when Chavez was Buck Showalter’s bench coach, Barnes handled the hitters with former major-leaguer Eric Hinske (who isn’t with the team anymore).

For Chavez, it didn’t quite work. He made a point to largely stay away from the hitters, not wanting to infringe on Barnes’ and Hinske’s space.

“Even Buck was like, I can tell you’re really out of place right now,” Chavez said. “I didn’t know where to go, where to be. Do I go with the infielders? I wanted to stay away from the hitters, I specifically did that last year because I didn’t want Hinske and Barnes to feel like I was looking over their shoulder. Maybe it was my own insecurity, but I wanted to give them the leeway to do what they wanted to do.”

The Mets’ scoring output dropped by more than 7% from the previous year, though. But as Nimmo noted, that happened for reasons more complicated than a coaching swap.

Together again, Chavez and Barnes are “an amazing combo,” Lindor said.

Chavez is the experienced voice, the 17-year big-leaguer, someone who has “been in the thick of it,” as Baty put it. Barnes has a more mechanical, data-driven approach.

“Him and Barnsey make a really good team,” Baty said. “They complement each other really well.”

Chavez still aspires to be a manager. But for now, hitting coach is the natural fit, apologies long since passed.

“My real passion is pretty much on an individual level, making an impact with people any way that I can,” he said. “I’ve got the experience. I want to share it with guys — the next generation — and give back a little bit. I didn’t feel like I met the standards last year.”

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