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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

In terms of checking boxes, Aaron Boone may have edged Luis Rojas

Manager Luis Rojas of the New York Mets

Manager Luis Rojas of the New York Mets looks on from the dugout during the second inning against the Miami Marlins at Citi Field on Thursday, Sep. 30, 2021 in the Queens borough of New York City. Credit: Jim McIsaac

During the second half of the Mets’ season, a private discussion with a team official about Luis Rojas was an overwhelmingly positive one.

Solid communicator with an even-keeled demeanor who handled the clubhouse well. A good conduit to the front office.

The conversation eventually veered off into how challenging it can be to manage the 21st century MLB player, which is not an unusual topic these days for any organization.

What was never mentioned was Rojas’ in-game strategy, or his lineups, or the bullpen moves that typically are listed as key parts of the manager’s responsibilities.

It wasn’t difficult to draw the conclusion that these were not the biggest priorities, given that the Mets’ front office — with their newly-beefed-up, data-based infrastructure — was crafting the blueprint for each game, down to the pitch counts.

This is not unique to the Mets, of course. Across town, the Yankees employ a small army of analysts, and all those terabytes of information are boiled down to provide "suggestions" for Aaron Boone to use. The expectation is that those "suggestions'' will be followed to the letter.

These are not recent developments, but understanding the manager-front office dynamic helps to put hirings/firings in perspective. And the PR aspect of the job, too.

If not for the pandemic, which necessitated the socially distanced Zoom interviews, maybe Rojas would have been able to show more of his personality rather than engaging in daily briefings that came off as if he were a prisoner in the bowels of Citi Field.

It worked for Terry Collins, who survived the Mets’ rebuilding process and the missteps that came later in part because he was smart enough to realize he was managing in the media capital of the world.

The manager is the only team employee who has to address reporters twice a day for seven-plus months a season, and the value of having someone in the position who promotes the team’s narrative — or at least deftly handles the outside attacks upon it — can't be overestimated.

Rojas showed improvement in some of those areas. But as a rushed hire in the wake of Carlos Beltran’s 77-day tenure, followed by having to navigate a once-a-century pandemic in his rookie season, the odds were stacked against him from the jump.

Even with the Mets residing atop the NL East for three months, it was impossible to determine how much Rojas’ presence had to do with that. Once the late-season crash required a fall guy, Rojas was made-to-order for that role, fairly or not, and his parting statement included a nod to the "results-oriented business."

Mets owner Steve Cohen probably summed up Rojas best on Twitter, saying, "He is a good man who represented the Mets with dignity and calm during two extremely trying years."

That’s high praise, considering alleged serial harasser Mickey Callaway technically was his predecessor. The Mets can do (and have done) much worse than Rojas.

As for who’s next, that should depend on the incoming president of baseball operations — the Mets’ recruiting process just got underway — but it’s obvious the team could use a more forceful hand on the wheel.

Rojas, who turned 40 in September, didn’t have the major-league gravitas to keep the clubhouse in check when cracks appeared, and with acting GM Zack Scott on administrative leave because of his DUI arrest, the front office was too splintered to back him.

It’s not as if the Mets had plenty of reasons to fire Rojas. The clubhouse’s ambivalence — and uninspired play — just didn’t provide any rationale for keeping him.

Over in the Bronx, with Boone, it’s a somewhat different situation. Like Rojas, his contract expired this season, but Yankees GM Brian Cashman seems content to get just what he needs out of Boone — stability, with the added bonus of the late-season bounce that got them the wild card.

Cashman didn’t surface much during the regular season, leaving the PR duties to Boone. And when Cashman did make his presence felt at the team’s darkest point, calling the Yankees "unwatchable" on June 29, he also issued a vote of confidence for Boone, saying that none of the mess was the manager’s fault.

You could argue that the Yankees have gone backward under Boone, whose playoff trips went from the ALCS in 2019 to the Division Series last season to the wild-card exit on Tuesday. Then again, Joe Girardi was dismissed after a heart-breaking seven-game ALCS loss to the cheating Astros in 2017, so there are more heavily weighed factors to Cashman than any October advancement that doesn’t include a World Series.

Perhaps the most important? Boone’s relationship to Cashman, followed by his connection to the clubhouse.

Would someone other than Boone have better motived this largely underachieving group? Hard to say. Players tend to gravitate toward bosses who do what’s best for them individually — like many workplaces — and Boone is only following the orders of the people upstairs.

"Just being in control of that room and really taking care of me as a veteran player," Brett Gardner said of Boone after Tuesday’s season-ending loss. "Always being honest with me and communicating with me and just keeping his door open all the time and that line of communication open."

For the modern front office, that’s really all they want out of a manager. Communication with the players, the GM, the media. Oh, and to not do anything embarrassing for the franchise.

Boone likely checked enough boxes to stay.

Rojas ultimately didn’t.

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