The Mets are on quite a roll this offseason. Free agency doesn’t start for another two weeks or so, but Sandy Alderson, in tandem with the Wilpons, already has made significant gains in the court of public opinion for what he’s done since the end of a 70-win campaign.
First, there was the firing of trainer Ray Ramirez, an obvious response to the crippling spate of injuries that doomed the Mets before the All-Star break. Will that decision ultimately improve the health of the roster? Maybe, maybe not. But put it this way — it probably won’t hurt, and Alderson can use the PR bump.
Next was the Mets’ purchase of the Syracuse Triple-A affiliate, a huge development that allows them to ship their MLB-ready reserves from the Las Vegas desert to the same time zone, a short-hop flight from Flushing. The only reason the Mets wound up in Vegas in the first place was that no other site was available, and the marriage worked about as well as one performed at an Elvis chapel off the Strip.
And lastly, for now, is the hiring of Mickey Callaway — the Indians’ highly respected pitching coach — as the 21st manager in Mets history, replacing Terry Collins, who was bumped upstairs when his contract expired at the end of the season. The team has yet to announce the move, as reported by Newsday’s Marc Carig, but this merits another victory dance from Alderson.
Like the other two, it’s a move that appears to make sense on the most basic level. The Mets remain a team built around an elite young pitching staff, so why not bring in someone such as Callaway, who helped groom some excellent arms for the 2016 American League champs — including this year’s likely Cy Young Award winner, Corey Kluber.
Initially, there was a belief within the industry that Callaway was merely brought in so the Mets’ front office could pick his brain on how to remedy their pitching ills. It’s not an uncommon ploy for teams sifting through managerial candidates. But that’s not how this played out, and as first-timers go, Callaway checked plenty of boxes.
It’s always a smart idea to mine personnel from winning organizations, and the Indians are at the very top of the sport in that department, with Callaway benefiting from the opportunity to work with Terry Francona, currently the gold standard for MLB managers. While Francona appears to have a good relationship with his players, he’s not governed by them, and Callaway is going to require a similar stance in taking over the Mets’ clubhouse.
Collins’ authority seemed to erode by the end, which happens with most managers, and that led to the rotation’s stars — Noah Syndergaard and Matt Harvey — disregarding any attempts to rein them in. Callaway needs Alderson’s strong backing on this, obviously. But as we’ve seen with past Mets teams, there tends to be some confusion about who’s really in charge — the puffed-up players or the manager supposedly calling the shots. Syndergaard was the most glaring example from this season, and his stubborn refusal to undergo an MRI after biceps tendinitis may have led to a partial lat tear that forced him to miss nearly five months.
Alderson should have stepped in to prevent that, but a manager also can help broker communication between the two. It’s Callaway’s responsibility to be the GM’s man on the ground, and as a former coach who specializes in pitching, he’s well-equipped to identify problems and communicate the means to solve them. Because the Mets let go longtime pitching coach Dan Warthen, who had built strong ties to the Mets’ current staff, they need another strong voice in that department, which Callaway instantly provides.
Of all the first-time candidates the Mets considered, Callaway’s pitching background, from a top-notch organization, makes him the best fit. We thought Alex Cora might be a match, based on his big-market playing experience and potential as a tutor for Amed Rosario, but the Red Sox hired him Sunday. As for Kevin Long, he has an excellent resume as a hitting coach, but we’re not sure his chumminess with the current roster would have been a plus.
Callaway provides a fresh voice, which usually helps in replacing a longtime manager who had been tuned out. It’s a move that — on paper — should be an improvement.