Because I observed last week’s truly amazing chain of events in Flushing from the press box at Camden Yards — covering New York’s American League squad — I thought I’d take this opportunity to sound off on a few of the more newsworthy items.
Winning is a cure-all for whatever is ailing a team, but we all realize that with the Mets, the patient’s prognosis can change on a daily basis, or even hour by hour.
Staying with Mickey Callaway for the “foreseeable future,” as Brodie Van Wagenen described the situation, really didn’t surprise me for a couple of reasons.
First, going the Jim Riggleman route before Memorial Day wouldn’t leave them much of a fallback position if the team didn’t rally around him, and the front office clearly wasn’t ready to take that risk with the season at stake. You get to fire Callaway only once, so you had better make sure you do it to maximize the benefits.
The last time the Mets fired a manager in-season was Willie Randolph in 2008, under considerably different circumstances. It was extremely rare for the club to do it so early — June 16 or 17, depending on which coast you were on — and Randolph’s Mets were 34-35 but coming off an 88-win season doomed by an epic collapse.
The unfortunate part for Randolph is that some of the strongest clubhouse personalities had mobilized against him in a rebellion fueled by Tony Bernazard, officially listed as the team’s vice president of player personnel but a figure whose behind-the-curtain voice had grown more impactful in some instances than general manager Omar Minaya’s.
Minaya was close with Randolph and didn’t want to fire him. But with Bernazard driving the bus to some degree and the Wilpons susceptible to his influence, they wound up with one of the worst-botched firings in pro sports history: Flying Randolph across the country, having him lead the team to a 9-6 victory over the Angels, then announcing the move with an email sent at 3:11 a.m. ET.
We look back on that now because Callaway doesn’t face the same clubhouse rebellion and is only two months into his second season on the job. In fact, it’s not unusual for players whom we’ve talked to about unrelated matters to give him unsolicited praise.
Affection for a manager is fickle, of course. But Van Wagenen spends plenty of time talking to players — on the field, in the clubhouse — and you’d think that if enough wanted Callaway gone, he’d be gone by now.
And while we’re on the subject of Van Wagenen, if the day arrives that he does decide to fire Callaway, he’s going to have to rethink some of his standard operating procedure.
Kudos to Van Wagenen for wanting to keep the lines of communication open with his players — he can’t shed his agent DNA — but spending an excessive amount of time roaming the clubhouse and behind the batting cage can be detrimental to the guy in the manager’s chair.
Regardless of the GM’s intentions, that undermines the authority of a manager, and that’s not a healthy dynamic for a team’s chain of command.
Callaway already is saddled with the unenviable task of presiding over a roster stocked with Van Wagenen’s former clients, and there’s no doubt that his poor handling of Robinson Cano’s Hustlegate controversy was out of deference to his boss.
You’d have to think Van Wagenen removed those handcuffs from Callaway in Monday’s slew of crisis meetings, but the manager’s subsequent discipline of Cano wasn’t so smooth, either.
Callaway has had trouble climbing the learning curve in this job, but it’s not entirely his fault. How could anyone feel comfortable working for a GM who didn’t hire him and a very hands-on COO in Jeff Wilpon, who already was tight with Van Wagenen from his agent days?
On top of that, the Mets try to script nearly every word Callaway speaks during his media sessions, which is a few steps beyond providing the coaching he definitely needed heading into his second season.
It also was a bad look Monday having Callaway give his media briefing under the watchful gaze of Van Wagenen and Jeff Wilpon; both were standing a few feet away, against the wall. A better show of support would have been to let Callaway have the room to himself after Van Wagenen’s statements.
If the Mets were going to keep Callaway, fine. Then let him do the job. Don’t make the news conference room feel as if he were dragged into the principal’s office.
It’s hard to imagine strong personalities such as Buck Showalter and Dusty Baker coming to Flushing under this power structure. Obviously, both are highly acclaimed managers, but we can’t see them reacting well to how things are done with the Mets, especially ownership’s very active involvement. Just because Showalter, 63, has experience dealing with the difficult Angelos family during his nine-year Orioles tenure doesn’t mean he’d want to sign on for that again.
And what do the Mets have stashed away in a rainy-day manager’s fund? Showalter earned $3.5 million in his last season with the Orioles. Baker was on a two-year, $4 million contract with the Nationals.
That said, installing a media darling like Showalter or Baker certainly would help the Mets’ perpetual PR issues, just as the feisty, grandfatherly Terry Collins was able to do even during the worst stretches — on the field or off.
As obsessed with trying to control the narrative as the Mets always have been, they never seem to get any better at it. A strong, confident and occasionally humorous voice in the manager’s chair can’t eliminate the organization’s pratfalls, but it can mitigate them, and that’s a useful talent in Flushing.
As for Joe Girardi, he’s likely to have other choices at season’s end — the Nationals, the Giants, maybe the Cubs if Joe Maddon isn’t extended. We’d never say anything is impossible, but would Girardi really consider managing 10 miles down the road from the Yankees after how it ended for him in the Bronx? And going head-to-head with them four times a year? Doesn’t seem like an ideal scenario.
Watching Rajai Davis and Carlos Gomez party like it was 2014 in helping the Mets sweep the Nationals last week was a credit to Van Wagenen’s front office, which took advantage of another free-agent freeze-out in the offseason to collect proven major-leaguers on minor-league contracts, something that couldn’t be done as cheaply years ago.
The motivation likely was twofold. With the Mets starting their first year in Syracuse — the Triple-A franchise the Wilpons purchased — they wanted to put a competitive roster there to go with the box-office curiosity of Tim Tebow, and through Friday, that team was 24-22.
And in the wake of the Davis/ Gomez success, Van Wagenen pulled off two more minor-league signings Friday, adding Ervin Santana and Matt Kemp. At worst, these two provide a few more (former) big names for Syracuse. At best, maybe they chip in at Citi Field, but that seems to be a long shot.
Santana, 36, has made eight starts (38 innings) since 2017 with an 8.53 ERA and 15 homers served up during that stretch. Kemp is only 34 — two years younger than Cano — and was an All-Star in his 2018 return to the Dodgers, hitting .290 with 21 homers in 146 games. This year was a different story, as Kemp had a .200/.210/.283 slash line in 20 games (62 plate appearances) with the Reds before his release.