With a “come and get us” attitude entering 2019, this iteration of the New York Mets all but fell flat on its face in rising to the occasion. A third place finish in the National League East and a 86-76 record proved not enough to snatch the second Wild Card spot or save Mickey Callaway’s job.
The former Mets manager compiled a 163-161 record in two complete seasons in New York before being relieved of his duties Thursday afternoon. Callaway, a former Cleveland Indians’ pitching coach and first-time manager with the Mets, became the first Mets manager to lose his job after a winning season.
While first-year general manager Brodie Van Wagenen said he did not want this to be a “knee-jerk reaction,” as reported by MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo, it was obvious to media and fans alike that it was time to move on from Callaway.
A heavy American League pitching background never translated to Callaway’s in-game decision making nor his appearance behind the scenes. He never had a hands-on approach with pitchers, did not have the same clubhouse presence he originally promised and was viewed by some players as a front-office puppet, as New York Post’s Mike Puma reported.
Lots of names have surfaced already as potential Mets managerial replacements, from Joe Maddon (unlikely) to Joe Girardi (quite possible) to Carlos Beltrán (might require some relationship mending). Keep an eye also on Luis Rojas, a well-regarded rising star in the organization.
— Anthony DiComo (@AnthonyDiComo) October 3, 2019
So, who should be the man to replace Callaway? Van Wagenen has already said the organization has an “expansive list” of candidates to fill the position. While former Cubs manager Joe Maddon is likely heading to Aneheim, experienced guys like Joe Girardi and Buck Showalter are on the market as well as Luis Rojas, the Mets’ current quality control coach, who would be a first-time manager. The Astros’ Joe Espada (bench coach) and Don Kelly (first base coach) remain in the conversation, according to Newsday’s Tim Healey, you know, the reporter Callaway cursed out in the middle of the season. Carlos Beltran and David Cone’s names have floated around the rumor mill as well.
Maddon would be the ideal replacement, having won a World Series just three years ago, but already seems to be off the market. With a young, talented and controllable core of players already playing the big leagues, the time for a first-year manager has passed. The Mets need to be in “win now” mode, and the statements from the front office align with this idea. With all this in mind, Joe Girardi is the best option and needs to be in a Mets uniform as soon as possible.
“We’re looking for strong leadership,” Van Wagenen said, as reported by DiComo. “We’re looking for a voice that can keep our clubhouse culture going in the right direction, can keep this team unified and that can accelerate our path here. … At the end of the day, it’s less about any shortcomings from Mickey, and it’s more about some of the upside opportunities that we feel some of the potential candidates may bring to us.”
Girardi carries an impressive resume between his time in Florida and New York. Before he spent a decade in pinstripes (after winning three rings with the Yankees as a player), Girardi won N.L. Manager of the Year in 2006 with the Marlins. Though he often butts heads with ownership and would likely do so in Flushing, Queens with the Wilpons, he led a dismal Marlins’ roster (outside of Miguel Cabrera) to a 78-84 season.
In New York, he led the 2009 Bronx Bombers to a World Series title, though that was not too difficult considering his infield consisted of Derek Jeter, Mark Tiexera, Robinson Cano and Alex Rodriguez. While Cano’s and Rodriguez’s careers are blemished with PED suspensions, those are all Hall-of-Fame-caliber players. Some of his more impressive work came in the post-Jeter era, when the Yankees were trying to redefine who they were though free agency and their farm system. It accumulated to a 2017 ALCS appearance when his club finished a win away from a World Series appearance.
Oh, Girardi also knows how to handle the New York media. He has also made it apparent in his time in the broadcast booth with FOX Sports that he very much likes the young core of talent the Mets have in house. An appeal for the club may make it easy to land Girardi in a different set of pinstripes.
The true difficulty may lie in his relationship with the front office. Girardi did not get along with the ownership in Florida, and the Wilpons have been known to be very hands-on in day-to-day activities. Girardi has the experience to not be coddled as a 54-year-old man with 11 years of managerial experience under his belt.
Jeff Wilpon: "For me the next level is not meaningful games in September, but meaningful games in October."
— Mike Puma (@NYPost_Mets) October 3, 2019
That resume also comes with a price tag. The Mets still owe Callaway $850,000 dollars from his contract and have a league-wide reputation to not spend the way other big market teams tend to. Just to give you an idea, Girardi’s last contract with the Yankees (October 2013) was a four-year deal for $16 million. On top of a new manager, there will also be free agents to sign and contracts to extend, so the time is now for Wilpons to open up their wallets if they want to win as bad as they say.
At the end of the day, the Mets need to find the right candidate for the job. Financials should not be an issue, and managerial experience needs to play a role in the final decision. First-time managers are either hit or miss (A.J. Hinch vs. Callaway, for example), and the Mets do not have the luxury to wait for a manager to adjust and develop. Callaway was their shot at that, and it didn’t work out, which is fine. Just don’t mess up this time around.
Kevin Arnold is the associate sports editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com. He tweets @karnold98.