Mets' core makes Flushing a desirable destination for managerial candidates
When Sandy Alderson picked the sage but feisty Terry Collins, then 61, to be his first manager in 2010, the newly hired GM chose him over Wally Backman, Chip Hale and Bob Melvin.
For Collins’ successor, Alderson went in the opposite direction, selecting a first-timer in Mickey Callaway, only 42, over a group of finalists that included Manny Acta, Joe McEwing and Kevin Long.
Every GM wants to hire his own manager, partly because of the importance of that relationship but also based on his vision of what he believes the team requires to succeed. With the Mets, it’s even more complicated, because Fred and Jeff Wilpon have considerable input in how the on-field product operates.
Brodie Van Wagenen, unlike Alderson, did not get to hire his first manager. He inherited Callaway last November, and that forced marriage showed plenty of cracks early this season. Former agent Van Wagenen’s emphasis on cozying up to the players undermined Callaway’s authority, especially with the GM’s frequent clubhouse presence.
Eventually, they made it work, and the Mets’ 46-26 mark after the All-Star break kept them in the wild-card hunt until the season’s final week. But with Callaway still emitting a Not Ready for Prime Time vibe and the Mets growing into a contender, it’s likely the front office will opt for a change in the coming days.
The club’s decision-makers did not meet Monday, according to a source, but a resolution to Callaway’s status could come as early as Wednesday. The question is whether Van Wagenen can get a more trusted brand name in an effort to make up for the handful of games that kept this 86-win team out of the postseason.
That challenge potentially got more difficult Monday when the Angels announced the firing of Brad Ausmus and reports suggested they have the inside track on Joe Maddon, who spent 30 years in the organization before managing the Rays and Cubs.
We’ve repeatedly said in this space that Maddon would be a good fit for the Mets, based on his polished media skills and a winning track record while guiding young players.
The Angels being in the mix, however, represents a problem, given his connection to the franchise and a deep-pocketed owner in Arte Moreno, who probably would be most willing to come close to the $6 million salary Maddon was pulling down in Chicago.
The rock-star contract for a manager is a vanishing trend, all but gone already, and any Maddon path to Flushing would necessitate his taking less money for a desirable opportunity.
The same goes for Joe Girardi, who was earning $5 million from the Yankees when they opted not to renew him after the 2017 season, which ended in Game 7 of the ALCS. The knock on Girardi was that he didn’t relate well to the Yankees’ talented young core, and given that a similar situation now exists in Flushing, he’d have to convince the Mets that he’s learned from whatever missteps he made.
The Mets have not only the runaway Rookie of the Year in Pete Alonso and a likely back-to-back Cy Young Award winner in Jacob deGrom but the pillars of a solid rotation and few holes outside of bullpen help. They finally turned in their first winning season since 2016, so if there is a next manager, they will inherit some very positive momentum.
“That’s a special team in there, they can accomplish a lot,” Callaway said Sunday. “This might be the hardest part to form as a team. Guys can perform as individuals all they want, but to become a team, like they are, that’s tough. So they definitely have that going for them and we’re going to be good for a long time because they have that bond and trust one another inside that locker room and out on that field.”
The use of the word “we” caught my attention as everyone searches for clues about his future, but he was still in uniform, and he insisted that the front office hadn’t told him anything “in depth” about the club's plans for next season, although he is under contract through 2020. Still, with the Mets scheduled to have their organizational meetings this week, he was headed home to Florida, and no one had spoken publicly about his status since July. Van Wagenen mostly has avoided reporters rather than get drawn into a discussion about the manager.
We should know his true feelings soon enough.