Fast forward to early November. You’re tuned into MLB Network for Awards Week, and next up is National League Manager of the Year.
It’s Mickey Callaway.
Don’t laugh. If the Mets’ incredible rebound vaults them into the wild-card game, or even a narrow miss, you can bet Callaway will receive some support from BBWAA voters, most likely from outside the New York chapter.
It happens. This award is far more subjective than the others, and those who choose to only go by a cursory look at the Mets’ second-half rise to contention may type in Callaway’s name without a second thought.
We’re more interested in what the Mets think, however. And it wasn’t that long ago when there seemed to be zero shot of Callaway returning next season to finish out his three-year contract. They barely hung onto Callaway in late May after a 20-25 start and were furious with him over his expletive-filled clubhouse outburst at a Newsday reporter a month later.
But the tiny percentage chance has inched upward, and if Callaway does get the Mets to the playoffs, would Brodie Van Wagenen still change managers?
That depends, and could hinge on the futures of two people in attendance for Tuesday night’s game at Citi Field -- Cubs manager Joe Maddon in the visitors’ dugout and Joe Girardi up in the broadcast booth.
Maddon, now in the final season of his Cubs’ deal, always has been a perfect fit for Flushing. The quirky, anti-establishment style sharpened during his Rays’ tenure was enough, even before he attained legendary status with the Cubs’ title in ’16. Maddon’s ability to keep the media entertained also figured to be a huge plus for the New York market, and especially for the Mets, a franchise constantly fretting about its perception and frequently putting out fires.
The latter qualities helped keep Terry Collins at the helm for seven years, considerably longer than most expected, and Maddon, 65, is smoother at the mic. Maddon talked for about 20 minutes on the dugout bench before Tuesday’s game, a chat that included some positive words about the Mets.
“I’ve been on the Mets all year,” Maddon said. “I thought they were better than their record indicated early on and now they’ve finally arrived at that point. They’re interesting, man.”
So is Maddon’s situation on the North Side, where the Cubs chose to let this season finish before they discuss a potential extension, meaning he may reach free agency. Maddon talked earlier this month about how he wanted to return, and spoke optimistically about staying for a few more years.
But the Cubs have had a roller-coaster season in battling the Cardinals for the NL Central title while holding off the Mets (and others) in the wild-card race. And when a managerial relationship gets to this point, waiting to see where a team ends up as a contract expires, things get more unpredictable.
Look what happened with Girardi. His 10th season in the Bronx wrapped with a Game 7 loss to the Astros in the ALCS, piloting a young Yankees’ team that got there ahead of schedule, and Brian Cashman still decided it was time for a change. Girardi, like Maddon, was making big money, playing out a four-year, $16-million extension, and the sport is shifting away from paying marquee managers that type of cash.
That adds another dimension to the Maddon talks. He originally signed a five-year, $25-million contract with the Cubs, but the final three seasons got bumped up to $6-million each after ending the franchise’s 108-year championship drought. Would Maddon expect a raise in his next Cubs’ deal?
And if those negotiations did fall through, could the Mets get Maddon or Girardi for less? You’d have to believe that Van Wagenen would love to make another big splash, but the Wilpons have shown no inclination to pay that much for a manager. Collins earned roughly $1.5 million in his last season, two years after getting to the World Series. Callaway’s annual salary is $850,000 and he’s already on the books for next season.
I asked Callaway before Tuesday’s game if there was something in particular he’d done to help get the Mets back on track, or anything he’d learned along the way. He praised the team’s “consistency” and even-keel mentality the most.
“Nothing stands out,” Callaway said. “Just staying the course. We’ve felt all along that we’ve had a really good team. Parts haven’t clicked at the same time throughout the season, but when they click, we’re a pretty good team.”
Callaway somehow averted catastrophe this season. It will be up to the Mets to determine how much that is worth.