A year ago, almost to the day, a sinking NL East team with a franchise-record payroll and deep-October expectations fired its manager. The decision changed everything.
But the 2023 Mets, despite a number of similarities, are not the 2022 Phillies, who went 65-46 (.586) after Joe Girardi’s dismissal on June 3 and rode that momentum all the way to the World Series.
Citing that evidence, maybe you could build a case for the same lightning striking twice, this time roughly 100 miles north at Citi Field, where the vastly underachieving Mets can’t seem to do anything right lately under the guidance of Buck Showalter.
Would firing Showalter reverse that downward spiral, which had the Mets on a seven-game losing streak and four games under .500 (30-34) before their 5-1 victory over the Pirates in Saturday’s matinee? Well, the move worked in Philly, so one might argue the same magical turnaround would not be outside the realm of possibility.
But likely? Probably not. And the Phillies’ rationale for axing Girardi, whose fourth year at the helm was just another rerun of a dysfunctional series, doesn’t necessarily fit what’s going on in Flushing at the moment.
Showalter is coming off a 101-win season, and though that campaign cratered badly during the final few weeks, accomplishing that with the Mets — regardless of payroll — is not easy to do. Also, from a front-office perspective, Steve Cohen is a relative newcomer to the game in his third year as owner, and general manager Billy Eppler doesn’t wield the hammer of the Phillies’ Dave Dombrowski, who has taken four different teams to the World Series and won twice.
It’s worth noting that Dombrowski didn’t hire Girardi in Philly, so he didn’t have the same loyalty that bonds Eppler and Showalter.
As ugly as the season has been, especially in losing the first four games of this road trip through Atlanta and Pittsburgh, early June — still more than six weeks away from the Aug. 1 trade deadline — is considered a bit premature for any regime-changing actions, barring any clubhouse blow-ups or friction along the chain of command.
That doesn’t mean Showalter isn’t wearing a bull’s-eye on his back, hung there by Cohen’s $375 million payroll, the highest in baseball history and nearly $100 million more than what Hal Steinbrenner spent on the Yankees for this season.
Ultimately, the team’s performance winds up being the manager’s responsibility — fairly or not — and now that Showalter is in the second season of a three-year, $11 million contract, he’s in an increasingly dangerous place when it comes to job security for people in that seat.
And that performance lately has been ghastly. Blowing at least a three-run lead in each of those three gut-punch Atlanta losses was a franchise first for the Mets, and that’s saying something when you think back to all the periods of unintentional comedy since 1962. But you can’t blame Showalter for the managerial gymnastics of trying to navigate through nine (or more) innings when the rotation consistently bows out early and the bullpen is undermanned.
As for Showalter’s public comments after getting swept by the Mets’ bitter rival at Truist Park, and him being “proud” of their efforts despite Thursday’s meltdown in the 13-10 loss, that’s the nature of the game these days. It’s not what the fans want to hear, obviously. But calling out players in the media isn’t as much a part of the manager’s handbook as it used to be, and with the higher-priced ones often having the ear of the front office, making enemies like that in the clubhouse isn’t a smart strategy.
Showalter appears to be walking that modern tightrope as these losses pile up, leaving it to the players themselves to take the blame. And there’s really no legitimate excuses. Aside from Pete Alonso’s wrist injury, the Mets’ lineup has been mostly healthy and Cohen is paying more than $128 million for a rotation that is pitching far below expectations. As for a bullpen that lost Edwin Diaz to a freak WBC injury in March, it’s on Eppler to give Showalter more reliable options, and who knows how long 38-year-old closer David Robertson will be able to turn back the clock (if the Mets even get him the ball).
Friday’s 14-7 loss to the Pirates was a new low as only a fruitless five-run rally in the ninth inning got the Mets within a touchdown. And for a bumbling team that was betrayed by one of its $43 million co-aces, Justin Verlander, in the previous loss (three innings, five runs), to have the $341 million shortstop Francisco Lindor kick a costly double-play grounder that opened the floodgates Friday was demoralizing.
“I want to say that it’s part of the season, but I have been saying that way too long,” Lindor said afterward. “It’s time to turn the page. It’s time to start to be better. We have got to be better.”
That’s already a tired refrain, and the Mets aren’t even at the halfway point of the season. Making matters worse is the fact that Alonso could be out for as long as a month with his wrist sprain/bone bruise. With the team’s biggest run-producer on the shelf, this doesn’t seem like the optimal time to expect a boost from any leadership shuffling, whether it’s the coaching ranks or elsewhere.
As Cohen’s payroll suggests, the Mets should have the answers on the current roster. But it’s been close to a system-wide failure across the board, and if these disturbing trends continue, Cohen is going to have to turn his attention from writing big checks to determining who’s to blame for his bad investment. It won’t be early for too much longer.
For the Mets to finish with 90 wins, which seemed to be the floor for most preseason predictions, they’d have to go 59-38 (.608) over the remainder of this season. Even last year’s miracle Phillies were well short of that pace, but 87 wins still got them a wild card.
The Mets can’t worry about the math, though. They’re having a hard enough time these days just getting one win, and somebody eventually has to pay for that when the price tag is $375 million.
Clint Frazier returning to Yankee Stadium this past week with a beard and nose ring was made possible only by his taking up residence in the visitors’ clubhouse. But Frazier expressed no ill will toward the Yankees — even calling general manager Brian Cashman “a cool dude” — and was thankful for the White Sox giving him a third chance to stick in the majors after he flamed out with the Cubs and Rangers, who released him in late April.
When Frazier was asked if he thought the Yankees’ perpetual need for a leftfielder might have put him on their radar this past winter, he smiled.
“If anyone would do it, it would be Cash,” said Frazier, who was hitting .233 with a .661 OPS through 15 games with the White Sox. “I don’t know how it would go, but baseball is about production, right? You put up with people if they do well. If I did well, I’m sure it would be all right. If I did bad, I’m sure it would be a repeat of stuff I’ve already gone through.”
As for some other former Yankees, Aaron Hicks — also sporting a beard these days — is looking nothing like the Bronx version, batting .364 (8-for-22) with a home run and a 1.072 OPS in eight games (seven centerfield starts) for the Orioles. And Gary Sanchez? Last seen across town with the Mets, he has five homers and 11 RBIs in 10 games (34 at-bats) for the Padres.
There’s a number of reasons why the 1998 Yankees had “Best Ever” inscribed on their World Series rings, and YES analyst Jack Curry details just about all of them in his new book, “The 1998 Yankees: The Inside Story of the Greatest Baseball Team Ever.”
From George Steinbrenner thinking of replacing Cashman after the Yankees’ season-opening three-game losing streak to Scott Brosius recording the final out of the World Series on the same exact play he envisioned during drills with Willie Randolph, Curry provides a front-row seat to a season that will never be duplicated. And with a week to go before Father’s Day, the perfect gift for your one-of-a-kind dad.