Among the publicly known candidates, Buck Showalter stands out as the obvious favorite in our view. And the reasons are clear:
1. New York experience
2. Baseball IQ
3. Culture builder
Seeing as this is the Mets, those are significant qualifications. Especially when you consider this was a team that last season had:
1. Players strangling each other in the dugout
2. Crediting fictional coaches for their early success
3. Spending the mental energy to give a coordinated thumbs-down gesture to their own fans
In reality, it’s difficult to know exactly how much a manager is allowed to do in this data-driven era for baseball. Sometimes, a manager can be too smart for his good in defying the analytical blueprints formulated by his front office. That could be a concern for the old-school Showalter, who at 65 is not what anyone would characterize as cutting-edge.
That was likely a conversation that came up during his Zoom interview Wednesday with the Mets, a team that needs to find the sweet spot between an experienced dugout presence and number-savvy bench lieutenant. Team owner Steve Cohen reportedly favors Showalter, certainly for those reasons stated above. But he’s also on the record stressing the importance of the analytical side in his club’s decision-making, as you would expect from a hedge-fund billionaire.
Cohen didn’t beef up the Mets’ front office from five analysts to 26 over the past year only to have a manager that refuses to consult all of that proprietary info on his iPad. Not to say that Showalter is against any of that. He hasn’t managed since 2018, when the Orioles fired him after a 115-loss season, so the Mets don’t really have a grip on how his views may have evolved over the past three years other than watching him on the MLB and YES networks.
But it took a while for the Mets to get up to speed with 21st-century baseball, and not everyone plays nice with the data crowd. Terry Collins is the longest-tenured manager in franchise history, and despite his popularity, bristled at the avalanche of numbers that landed on his desk before each game. That was four years ago, and nothing compared with what the Mets are churning out now.
Collins didn’t get to 551 wins by accident, however, and he wouldn’t have survived the Flushing rebuild to eventually make it to the 2015 World Series if not for his ability to change. Having flamed out in his three previous stops as manager, including Japan, Collins’ combustible nature didn’t figure to last long with the Mets. But he learned the landscape in Queens, excelled at the front-facing media requirements, and earned the trust of his players.
If anyone knows how challenging the Mets’ gig is, it’s Collins, and he had to deal with the micromanaging of former chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon. Cohen isn’t quite on that level -- he often reminds us that he has a "day job" separate from running the Mets. But after already investing $254.5 million in the 2022 roster, and more on the way when this lockout lifts, Cohen should be taking a more active role when it comes to his money’s performance. Showalter would seem to be the most trustworthy brand name in that regard.
"It’s time to make an impact. The impact is Buck Showalter," Collins said this week during a guest spot on SNY. "He’s one of the most prepared guys I’ve ever been around."
Collins’ time in Flushing didn’t end well (it never does) but he’s one of only five managers to get the Mets to a World Series, so his endorsement carries more weight than most. And given where the Mets are, coming off last season’s embarrassment, they must realize Showalter is the right guy to stabilize things, to fortify the foundation they couldn’t really build on during Cohen’s rookie campaign.
That’s not a slight to the other candidates, particularly the highly-regarded coaches Joe Espada, Don Kelly and Matt Quatraro. They just feel like a riskier leap to take. But Willie Randolph was a first-timer when the Mets hired him to replace the colossal bust Art Howe, and he guided them to a 97-win season in his second year. So it can work, even if the Mets’ only other two rookie managers of the past quarter-century, Mickey Callaway and Luis Rojas, turned out to be way over their heads.
In short, the Mets need to hire someone who knows what they’re doing. Showalter brings that, having done it across town in the Bronx, as well as building an expansion franchise out of the desert sand with the Diamondbacks. Overall, he’s got two decades of experience, in four MLB stops, and there’s no substitute for that.
The Mets’ last two managers were newbies that survived a total of four seasons. It’s a track record that should give Cohen pause this time around, and point him to Showalter.