For Luis Rojas, the weirdest baseball year maybe ever is ending in an utterly normal, and welcomed, way: With a full offseason as the Mets’ manager.
He didn’t have such a luxury last winter. He was hired in late January, inheriting a roster and coaching staff built with Carlos Beltran, who was manager for less than three months. Then, of course, came the pandemic-induced halting of spring training, quarantine, a second "spring" training in July and a 60-game season in which the Mets missed the expanded playoffs.
Now, as the world edges toward normal, Rojas is experiencing the rhythms and workings of a baseball winter, for the first time from the perspective of a major-league manager.
That means helping shape his coaching staff — Dave Jauss was his first choice as bench coach, he said — being in the loop on potential player acquisitions and doing some self-assigned homework to become a better manager.
"It’s different," Rojas said with a big smile Wednesday during a video conference call with reporters. "I feel like I’ve got a little bit more room to do things, maybe pause, slow things down and break things into pieces.
"It gives me time. I’m grateful for it. I’m doing the best to take advantage of that. It is a little different now that I have a little more time to prepare."
Rojas’ coaching staff is a work in progress. He confirmed only the status of Jauss — whose hiring was made official by the Mets on Wednesday — and pitching coach Jeremy Hefner. He wanted Jauss, a longtime major-league coach who spent the previous year as a scout for the Yankees, in part because of their pre-existing relationship.
Rojas also said he "expects" hitting coach Chili Davis to return but warned that there might be title changes and additions.
"We might have an expanded staff in order to get ourself better from a preparation standpoint," Rojas said.
Regarding roster decisions, Rojas said he is in daily communication with general manager Jared Porter but is not part of the morning meetings held by baseball operations leadership. He said the Mets haven’t decided whether Seth Lugo will be a starter or reliever — it depends in part on which players the team adds — and declined to say whether Edwin Diaz is the closer or which of Amed Rosario or Andres Gimenez is the starting shortstop.
Rojas mentioned Jeff McNeil, Gimenez and Luis Guillorme as internal options at second base in place of Robinson Cano, who is suspended for all of 2021 after testing positive for a steroid.
While the front office sorts through those items, Rojas is trying to improve as a manager. He said he agreed with team president Sandy Alderson’s assessment that he can be better as an in-game tactician, and he looks forward to being more aggressive with certain strategies, including perhaps using an opener instead of a traditional starting pitcher some days.
"Right now I’m working, I’m reading, I’m expanding, I’m paying attention," Rojas said. "I’m talking and I’m trying to absorb as much as I can and using the model from last year, I feel that I’m on the right path to keep learning."
Maybe a full, normal offseason will lead to a full, normal season.
"That’s the way I’m preparing right now," Rojas said. "It still is challenging for everybody in the world with what’s going on, but the news about the [coronavirus] vaccine gives us the near-future hope of things being back close to normal. I’m looking forward to that. I’m looking forward to having the full season and having the full spring training as well. That’s the way I’m preparing, just to have full everything."
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