LOS ANGELES -- Frankly, as a long-time chronicler of the Mets’ alternating swings between catastrophe and euphoria, I’m surprised. Their decision to jettison Doug Melvin from their general manager derby on Thursday was out of character for this franchise.
Melvin, 66, was the safest pick, a baseball lifer with experience drawn from every facet of the game. There’s little doubt he is fully capable of running a respectable front office and durable enough to absorb the inevitable bullets that come with the Flushing job. By going with Melvin, the Mets could have stayed at status quo, with some modest upgrades.
It’s the way this team, as operated by Fred and Jeff Wilpon, usually chooses to do business. It’s why Art Howe was hired to manage the Mets after he “lit up the room” during the interview process. Or why Omar Minaya — a Queens product and Fred favorite — was brought back not once but twice to stabilize the franchise during turbulent times.
There is comfort in the known quantity, yet the Wilpons still have sown a staggering amount of unpredictability into the fortunes of the Mets. And we don’t mean that in a good way. This is a franchise that occasionally wins in spite of itself but most often loses for all of the reasons you’d expect.
Hiring a new GM, the person who ideally will be put in charge of rewriting the blueprint for the Mets, represents a chance for a clean slate. So the emergence of Rays executive Chaim Bloom and agent Brodie Van Wagenen as the two finalists suggests the potential of a new direction for the organization, a path we didn’t envision the Wilpons taking.
The events of this week also didn’t give us much confidence that the club’s decision-makers had thought this whole thing through. Why make such a big production out of saying the candidates would have conference calls with the media if only one — Melvin — submitted to such a request?
In hindsight, the earnest Melvin probably should have passed, too. Instead, he came off as a bit dated by coming out of retirement for this job and describing his first analyst as a former pecan farmer. Was this the Mets’ way of crowd-sourcing an evaluation from their fan base, by taking the pulse of Twitter and talk radio? It sure felt like it.
When Melvin said, “I’m very open to analytics,” you could almost hear the door slamming shut on his candidacy. That quote may have won over a few people in 2008, but not 2018, when you’re either creating your own proprietary baseball tech or risk being labeled a dinosaur awaiting extinction.
It shouldn’t be an all-or-nothing argument, of course. The best front offices aren’t run by machines. But Melvin sounded a bit too analog for these digital times.
We’ll give Melvin credit for doing the conference call, however, a step that neither Bloom nor Van Wagnen could possibly consent to in good conscience. Both issued e-mail statements through the Mets that didn’t serve any purpose, other than to highlight the senseless nature of the exercise.
They still have other obligations, and publicly talking about their thoughts and business practices on behalf of the Mets was never going to happen.
The attraction to Bloom is obvious. Any candidate who helped assemble a 90-win team, in the American League East, at a cost of $68.8 million, naturally would climb to the top of the Wilpons’ list. But in all seriousness, Bloom was among the shot-callers for perhaps the most progressive-thinking franchise in the sport as the Rays rode the “opener” concept and evolving roster flexibility to the brink of playoff contention.
“If we start trying to do something different just for its own sake, I think that’s when you can be led astray,” Bloom told me last month about the Rays’ philosophy. “At the same time, if there is something that we think is going to give us a chance to win ballgames, and it’s new, we’re not going to shy away from it just because of that. You can’t be afraid to be different, but the driver has to be winning.”
Bloom, a 35-year-old Yale graduate, fits right into the young crop of Ivy Leaguers dominating the MLB landscape. But for the Mets, he’s different, as is Van Wagenen, 44, who currently represents four significant players — Jacob deGrom, Yoenis Cespedes, Noah Syndergaard and Todd Frazier. Maybe there’s a benefit to that, but we’re not sure yet how that would even shake out.
All we know is that the Mets aren’t doing what we expected them to do, and in this case, that seems like a positive step.