There are plenty of reasons to bring back Mets manager Luis Rojas
Now that the Mets’ sale to Steve Cohen has been cleared by the MLB owners and the mayor’s office, what does that mean as far as cleaning house at Citi Field?
The front office is going to take some time to sort it out, with Sandy Alderson’s installation as club president the only official action so far. But the future of manager Luis Rojas also hangs in the balance, considering that Alderson intends to hire multiple positions, with the likelihood of bringing on both a general manager and a head of baseball operations.
Can Rojas be kept on by his new bosses, even if he was the second choice — to the disgraced Carlos Beltran — of the outgoing regime? The signs would point to yes, especially in light of this past week, when two openings were filled by wild cards in Tony La Russa and AJ Hinch.
La Russa already is in the Hall of Fame for his managerial resume. But he's 76 and is nine years removed from the dugout, and the White Sox seem to be letting nostalgia cloud their judgment for a Generation Z roster with championship aspirations.
As for Hinch, he’s fresh off a one-year suspension for being involved in the game’s most notorious cheating conspiracy, and yet the Tigers couldn’t dial him up fast enough. His hiring was announced not even 72 hours after his suspension ended.
If those were the two most attractive options available, the Mets should feel better than they already do about Rojas, who handled an impossible, pandemic-troubled situation remarkably well in his rookie season at the helm.
One source familiar with the Mets’ thinking said they were impressed by Rojas' connection with the clubhouse as well as his feel for in-game strategy despite being forced to deal with a fractured pitching staff that crumbled more with each passing day.
Rojas, who turned 39 in September, displayed maturity beyond his years and experience level as a major-league manager. In other words, this was a front-office gamble that actually seemed to pay off, as difficult as it was to evaluate anyone’s performance during a 60-game season handcuffed by extreme COVID-19 protocols.
Think of what’s valued most in a manager these days — the ability to follow the front office’s plan and make sure that it’s seamlessly integrated among the players in the clubhouse. Look at the two World Series managers, the Rays’ Kevin Cash and the Dodgers’ Dave Roberts. Both adhere to the team’s blueprint to a fault, although for Cash — a universally respected manager — it didn’t work out with Blake Snell in Game 6.
Alderson, who will report directly to Cohen, now is in the process of assembling a baseball-ops group that will be responsible for formulating the Mets’ own game-by-game blueprint, through a beefed-up analytics staff and organizational intel. That leaves it to Rojas — relying on his player relationships built up through the Mets’ minors — to implement that vision down at field level.
When Cohen was emerging as the favorite to become the Mets' owner in late summer, my first reaction was that he’d want to make a number of splashy hires, followed by offseason fireworks in free agency. But he opted for the more familiar in bringing back Alderson — the two became friendly while Cohen held a minority stake — and Rojas’ existing ties to the former GM-turned-president suggests he could be a key asset in the transition.
"It’s a really good professional relationship," Rojas said of Alderson at season’s end. "I just remember how much of a quality baseball person he is."
While Alderson constructed the young, talented nucleus of the Mets’ current roster, it was Rojas who helped develop many of those same players in the minors before joining them in Flushing for the 2020 season.
"When you have a manager like Luis, you want to run through a wall for him," Dominic Smith said.
On paper, the Mets were built to be a playoff team, and with this year’s expanded playoff format, their failure to become one of the NL’s eight qualifying clubs was an astonishing underachievement. But that shouldn’t be pinned on Rojas.
Marcus Stroman's decision to opt out because of COVID-19 concerns was the first domino for a shallow rotation that alternately was frequently hurt or non-competitive after Jacob deGrom.
From a messaging standpoint, Rojas certainly pleased his bosses with fairly bland news conferences. He was no Terry Collins in that regard, but if Cohen and Alderson are going to create a team that’s entertaining on the field, they don’t need someone generating attention at the podium.
That said, it takes time to adjust to the media crush, and Rojas should be more confident in those sessions next year, as well as more polished — especially without Jeff Wilpon’s habitual circling of the manager’s office.
So what might stand in the way of a Rojas return? That depends on what Alderson chooses to do with the positions below him, and who those people could have in mind as potential managers.
Brodie Van Wagenen inherited Mickey Callaway, and he was gone after their one season together — deservingly so. But this case is different because of Alderson’s previous Flushing tenure intersecting with Rojas’ own 13 years climbing the rungs of the farm system.
Another positive? Rojas isn’t La Russa or Hinch.