I confess. As a golfer, years ago, I tossed a club or two. It was a way of saying, “How dare that club betray me by hitting such an awful shot?”
Which is effectively what Brodie Van Wagenen is said to have done Friday night. Reports issued Saturday said the Mets’ general manager was fuming at manager Mickey Callaway and the coaches for letting another game slip through the bullpen’s fingers. He reportedly threw a chair. He wasn’t angry with the chair, but hey, you can’t throw a roomful of coaches. It was as if he were saying, “How dare they use the lousy relief pitchers that I acquired for them?”
The rookie general manager is learning the hard way that his new job is not as easy as it looked when he was an agent, trying to outsmart general managers. A particular lesson is that when you fire coaches, as he did last month, you make enemies, and when you have enemies, embarrassing moments tend to find their way into the media.
What Van Wagenen needs to learn next is how to graciously accept blame. The season is a mess, and it’s his mess.
To be fair, the analogy to a golfer and a misbehaving 7-iron is not quite spot on. Callaway and ousted pitching coach Dave Eiland are not mere bystanders. They reputedly are pitching savants, yet almost everyone on the Mets’ pitching staff has taken a step backward this year. That includes Noah Syndergaard, the starter in Saturday night’s game against the Phillies at Citi Field.
Syndergaard, a former Van Wagenen client, entered with a 5-4 record and 4.56 ERA. He got off to another lousy start, allowing four runs in the first three innings, including homers by Jay Bruce and Maikel Franco in the second inning.
After Edwin Diaz closed out the Mets’ 6-5 win, with the office furniture presumably unshaken, Callaway declined to speak about the Friday incident, saying only, “I think when we have private meetings, we’re going to keep all that content in that room, for good reason.’’ As for his relationship with Van Wagenen, he said, “It’s fantastic. We’re both passionate guys who want to win.”
It is a safe bet that someone else will be managing the Mets next season, possibly even next month.
But ultimately, the buck has to stop with Van Wagenen. He was the one who dealt top prospects for Robinson Cano and Diaz, who has proved to be a decidedly mediocre closer. He blew the Friday night game that so infuriated the boss.
The issue now is what to do about all of this. You could make a good case for a full tear-down and start-over during the offseason, using Syndergaard as the chief trade chip. Sure, the club is built on starting pitching, but what good is it if there is no bullpen or defense to support it?
There is little use in getting a solid six innings out of someone if the relievers just throw it away, which is what usually happens.
It is dispiriting for the starters to “pitch to contact” if they must cringe every time a ball is put in play. The baseball bromide says a club has to be strong up the middle, but Wilson Ramos is not a good catcher anymore, Amed Rosario is not much at shortstop, Robinson Cano has lost a step at second base and the club really has no centerfielder.
Then again, it would be a waste of Jacob deGrom’s prime years. It would be a waste of Jeff McNeil’s and Pete Alonso’s ascendancy. It would be a pain to work around Cano, whose contract makes him a fixture, like it or not.
The biggest reason of all is this: Do you really want Van Wagenen building an entire roster from scratch?
That is a rhetorical question, by the way. Anyone who has observed the Mets this year would give it a “no.”
Van Wagenen is a bright man and might become a savvy, successful baseball executive someday. But his first season on the job has been the sort that makes a fan want to throw a chair.
Six years ago this week, Syndergaard made his first trip to New York City and his first sojourn to the mound at Citi Field. He was here for the Futures Game in advance of the All-Star Game and said at the time that the whole visit “kind of took my breath away.”
Nothing about this season has been breathtaking. And it is Van Wagenen who is in his Futures Game phase as a general manager. In the future, he must do better, and take some blame.