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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

What exactly is the Mets' managerial game plan? We're not so sure.

New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi looks on

New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi looks on against the Tampa Bay Rays during an MLB baseball game at Yankee Stadium on Thursday, Sept. 8, 2016. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

By late May, the Mets had a good idea they wouldn’t be bringing back Mickey Callaway in 2020. It was likely at 90% certainty by the All-Star break, then cemented when the team’s second-half playoff push fell short.

That’s a long time to figure out who their next manager should be. Or at least develop a feel for what type of manager they’d prefer to be Callaway’s successor.

The Angels knew they wanted Joe Maddon even before the Cubs announced he wouldn’t be coming back or they dumped their own manager, Brad Ausmus after one season, with two more left on his contract.

Closer to home, the Phillies made it clear they wanted a proven winner with experience, so they brought in Joe Girardi, Buck Showalter and Dusty Baker. After Girardi’s second interview Monday, reports out of Philadelphia insist he’s now the favorite.

That would be unfortunate for the Mets, because Girardi was the candidate who checked all the boxes for them, the slam-dunk choice. But as the Mets’ process dragged on, that decreased the odds of Girardi coming to Flushing, in our view. Especially with the Phillies making an aggressive push, because they’ve shown more of a willingness to spend and maybe could get the closest to the $4 million salary Girardi was making in his last season in the Bronx.

When the Mets officially fired Callaway on Oct. 3, both general manager Brodie Van Wagenen and chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon pledged a thorough search for the next manager, looking in a “variety of different buckets.” Based on the known list so far, they’ve kept their word. But looking at this group and all the time it’s taken the team to get here, do the Mets even know what they want in a manager?

We’ve already mentioned Girardi, and aside from throwing coffee on a Wilpon during lunch, he could have been hired on the spot, based on his resume and success on the other side of town. Sure, he was a bit intense in the Bronx, but he can handle the media responsibilities fine, and I’m betting he’ll be a little more patient with younger players this time around.

Maybe Girardi is the one slow-playing the Mets, either using them as leverage with the Phillies or trying to make his Flushing working conditions as agreeable as possible. If I were him, I’d get a few things in writing: more clubhouse autonomy than Callaway got from Van Wagenen and less frequent office visits from the Wilpons.

You also could see the Phillies being more attractive to Girardi for the simple reason that they don’t share a city with the Yankees. He has a World Series ring from his decade-long stay in the Bronx, but based on how that relationship ended, could his ego handle managing in the Yankees’ shadow?

Girardi has a second interview scheduled with the Mets, but are they just stalling to have the decision made for them?

In the past, the Mets have acted quickly when they wanted to. They hired Art Howe on Oct. 24 in 2002 after Fred Wilpon famously said he “lit up the room.” He lasted two seasons. Two years ago, the Mets hired Callaway on Oct. 22 but waited two more days to introduce him at Citi Field to be mindful of the World Series. Both Callaway and the Red Sox’s Alex Cora were the two first-time managers off the board.

If the Mets don’t get Girardi, they can throw the rest of the candidates in the same bucket.

Carlos Beltran’s return to Flushing would be a great story, and we’ve repeatedly lauded him for his high baseball IQ, but he’s still a considerable risk as a first-timer.

ESPN analyst Eduardo Perez would give the Mets their very own Aaron Boone, with the benefit of experience on a big-league coaching staff and also managing in Puerto Rico as well as for Team Colombia in the WBC.

Luis Rojas, the Mets’ quality- control coach, is an up-and-comer, but it isn’t his time yet. As for the others — Derek Shelton, Tim Bogar, Skip Schumaker, Mike Bell — we’ll assume those were information-gathering interviews for maybe the next opening that pops up.

The last time anyone with the Mets spoke on the record about their managerial search was the day of Callaway’s firing. That’s when Van Wagenen emphasized the importance of “collaboration” and someone to keep the “team unified” with a “voice to keep their clubhouse culture.”

If we learned anything from Callaway’s doomed two-year tenure, the Mets need an experienced in-game manager who can communicate clearly and handle two news conferences a day in a professional — preferably engaging — manner.

“I think when we put the formula all together,” Van Wagenen said at the start of this search, “the goal is to have the best person regardless of his resume.”

It’s often the Mets’ definition of “best” that tends to be the problem.

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