Barring any last-minute change of heart, Mickey Callaway is expected to be in uniform, managing the Mets, in Monday night’s series opener against the Nationals at Citi Field.
As of right now, it appears Callaway won’t be the scapegoat for the team’s 20-25 start, five straight losses to NL East weaklings or getting swept by the mail-it-in Marlins.
You may not agree with that course of action, but try looking at the situation from this perspective: If the Mets’ decision-makers choose to jettison Callaway in mid-May and Plan B doesn’t immediately revive this slumping roster, guess who loses their human shield in the manager’s office? If Jim Riggleman isn’t Davey Johnson 2.0, then who gets barbecued?
Here’s a hint: not Riggleman. At that point, we start taking a closer look up the ladder, and rightfully so. That’s four months of turning the magnifying glass on the shot-callers upstairs, and we’re betting that they’re not ready for that kind of heat before Memorial Day.
Actually, we’d think the same way. Aside from the type of clubhouse mutiny that helped scuttle Willie Randolph in June 2008 or the civil war that claimed Bobby Valentine at the end of 2002, the Mets can afford a little more time to see if Callaway is capable of engineering a turnaround in the short term.
This being May, Brodie Van Wagenen & Co. still have more to gain than to lose by riding Callaway for a bit longer, but we’re not talking about months here, or even weeks.
The Mets, currently in a 6 1⁄2-game hole, are chasing the flawed Phillies, not the 2018 Red Sox. At the very least, it’s worth giving Callaway this homestand, with visits by the Nationals (19-27) and Tigers (18-26), to pull out of this season-threatening spiral. If the Mets don’t improve, he probably doesn’t deserve to keep his job.
“I believe in these guys,” he said Sunday after a 3-0 loss to the Marlins in which they had two hits (a day after a 2-0 loss to the Marlins in which they had one hit). “I understand that everybody’s disappointed. The fans, ownership, myself, the team, because this is not who we are. We have to figure out who we are. I truly don’t believe this is the type of team we are.”
Bill Parcells, a casual Jersey Mets fan, would disagree with living in such record-denial. But there is a kernel of truth in Callaway’s assessment.
A handful of the Mets’ critically important players are performing like impostors or are absent entirely, and not all of that should be put on the manager. Robinson Cano, Wilson Ramos, Jeurys Familia, Jed Lowrie. Those were Van Wagenen’s imports, so ultimately, a chunk of the blame must go to the GM for acquiring them.
Take Cano, who was vilified during the Meltdown in Miami — and rightfully so — for his failure to run out a pair of ground balls that turned into double plays. After Friday’s episode, the chorus railed that Cano should be benched for Saturday’s game (he was not). Then a similar thing happened Sunday when Cano didn’t leave the batter’s box on a 5-foot roller that hugged the foul line in the fourth inning.
It was terrible optics, to borrow a favorite phrase from Sandy Alderson, and conventional baseball wisdom suggested that Cano immediately be yanked from the lineup to make an example of the repeat offender.
If this were any other Met, Callaway would be foolish not to apply those standards.
But can he really be expected to humiliate Cano in those instances? And why would Van Wagenen penalize the manager for letting Cano be Cano? The eight-time All-Star was Van Wagenen’s former client during his pre-GM life at CAA and part of the blockbuster December trade (along with Edwin Diaz) that was supposed to spark Van Wagenen’s winter makeover of the Mets.
If anything, Van Wagenen would want his manager to protect Cano, who’s looking every minute of his 36 years (.250 batting average, .679 OPS) through 41 games. So it’s no surprise that that’s exactly what Callaway did when given the opportunity this weekend. He just got burned because Cano didn’t reward his manager at the plate.
“It’s just piling up on him, and it’s tough,” Callaway said. “Stuff like that happens when things are going bad.”
Callaway is barely treading water, but Cano really can’t be the anchor that drags him under. He’s one of Van Wagenen’s made men. Blame Callaway for reminding us way too much of Art Howe, right down to the postgame “we battled” mantra, but let’s see if the Mets have any fight left at Citi.
If not, this debate is over, and Callaway’s tenure in Queens should be, too.