The Mets’ Mickey Callaway era — two seasons marked by disappointment on the field and turnover in the front office — is over.
Chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon and general manager Brodie Van Wagenen flew to Florida on Thursday morning to fire Callaway in person, four days after his second season as manager ended with the team again failing to make the playoffs.
Van Wagenen said he already has an “extensive list” of potential replacements and will consider candidates with all degrees of experience: veteran major-league managers, minor-league skippers and “outside-the-box” options — much like he was a year ago before he was hired.
Callaway’s hold on his job appeared tenuous for much of 2019. The Mets made the change now because they believe it will help them get better, Van Wagenen said.
“Conversations like this are difficult, especially when people are putting their heart and souls into their work,” he said on a conference call. “But we did feel like this move will give us the opportunity to continue our progression and ultimately get us to where we want to go as a team and as a franchise.”
Bench coach Jim Riggleman, hired last offseason to help Callaway run games, also will not return, a source said. The organization still is making decisions on the rest of the coaches, most of whom are not under contract for next year.
With a three-year contract through the 2020 season, Callaway still will be paid a salary reportedly in the neighborhood of $1 million next year.
Callaway, 44, finishes his Mets tenure with a 163-161 record. The Mets were a losing team for most of his time running the bench, but they went 46-26 in the second half this year to inject themselves into the National League wild-card race. They finished 86-76 and in third place in the NL East, three games out of a postseason berth.
“I feel unfulfilled. We left some games on the field that we should have won,” Wilpon said. “To me, the next level is not meaningful games in September but meaningful games in October.”
Managers typically have a longer leash than two seasons, but Callaway’s circumstances changed last fall. Wilpon let go of Sandy Alderson — the GM who hired Callaway — and replaced him with Van Wagenen, a prominent player agent whose clients included Jacob deGrom, Yoenis Cespedes, Robinson Cano and Todd Frazier.
Van Wagenen stuck by Callaway throughout the team’s tumultuous 2019, including at the start of the second half, when the Mets were 10 games under .500 and the GM declared Callaway would “absolutely” remain for the rest of the season. In June, the Mets fired pitching coach Dave Eiland and bullpen coach Chuck Hernandez, replacing them with a trio of promotees: pitching coach Phil Regan, pitching strategist Jeremy Accardo and bullpen coach Ricky Bones.
Heaping praise upon the man he had just fired, Van Wagenen highlighted the progress the Mets made under Callaway — a nine-win improvement over 2018, breakout seasons from several individuals — and commended his “consistent work ethic, good attitude and passion.”
“We have no doubt that these characteristics will allow him to find success in his next opportunity as he draws from these experiences going forward,” Van Wagenen said.
Asked what traits he will look for in a new manager, Van Wagenen said he wants to “build off of some of those that Mickey had.”
“We’re looking [for] strong leadership, we’re looking for a voice that can keep our clubhouse culture going in the right direction, can keep this team unified and that can accelerate our path here,” he said.
Callaway admitted last year to being consistently surprised by the size and intensity of the New York media corps — every day in the Big Apple was like the playoffs in Cleveland, he said — and seemed not to improve at his twice-daily meetings with reporters in his second season. Throughout his two seasons, Callaway also seemed to struggle with the in-game strategy so common in the National League.
Billed as a pitching genius and a Terry Francona mentee after serving as the Indians’ pitching coach, Callaway promised to change the Mets’ culture when he was hired in October 2017. He was described by Alderson as “a contemporary thinker in terms of strategy.”
“We’re going to care more about the players, more than anyone ever has before,” Callaway said at his introductory news conference.
Now the Mets will seek a replacement. Van Wagenen said he did not ask Wilpon about money — having two managers on the books at once or potentially paying up for a bigger name, which the Mets historically have not done — when contemplating Callaway’s fate.
“The game plan and the goal is to find the right person to take us forward,” Van Wagenen said. “Progress is good. But falling three games short of the second wild-card spot and finishing in third place in our division is not good enough. It’s not our goal and we’re not satisfied with it.”
Mickey Callaway was fired after two seasons despite being one of only six men to manage the Mets to a winning record:
Manager Seasons Record Pct.
Davey Johnson 7 595-417 .588
Willie Randolph 4 302-253 .544
Bobby Valentine 7 536-467 .534
Bud Harrelson 2 145-129 .529
Gil Hodges 4 339-309 .523
Mickey Callaway 2 163-161 .503