Had the Cleveland Indians won one of the final three games of the 2017 ALDS and eliminated the New York Yankees while the crosstown Mets were still conducting their managerial search, I firmly believe that Joe Girardi would be managing the Mets right now.
After moving on from Terry Collins – not “firing” him, per se, but by not offering him a new contract – and the rumblings of Girardi’s likely divorce from the Yankees grew louder and louder, the Mets quietly acknowledged that they were “monitoring” the Girardi situation. As a proven winner who could handle New York and would have taken the job, it made perfect sense.
But the Yankees won the final three games of that ALDS and advanced to the ALCS before losing to the Houston Astros in seven games. Even then, there was uncertainty regarding Girardi’s future with the club. His contract had expired; his relationship with several players was reportedly strained; and the replay gaffe in Game 2 of the ALDS stung his reputation despite the silly, sentimentalist narrative that the same players who had grown tired of his constant intensity and tight as a drum style fought back to save him.
However, the 2017 Yankees arrived back on the big stage at least one year earlier than the front office reasonably could have expected. Every one of Girardi’s teams had either achieved what its talent said it should have or far surpassed it. As the club did its deliberations of whether it wanted to retain Girardi, there remained a chance that they would focus on the positive and ignore the negative by keeping him with a new contract.
Could the Mets have waited?
Mickey Callaway was not just on the Mets’ radar, but he was on the short lists of multiple other clubs who were looking for a new manager. Had the Mets not hired him – basically not letting him leave the building without making sure he would take the job – someone else would have. Now, fans who are displeased with some of the rookie mistakes that the neophyte manager is making tactically and verbally would likely say that the Mets, in retrospect, would have been better off. But that is neither here nor there. This is secondary to the reasons that speculation that the Mets would be better off had they waited for Girardi. There’s no answer to that question.
If the Mets sat on the sideline and waited out Girardi and the Yankees, they ran the risk of running into the similar conundrum to ones they have had in the past with Buck Showalter, Lou Piniella and Joe Torre.
Had the timing been right, Showalter could have been hired to manage the Mets after the Yankees dumped him following the 1995 season. Instead, after a relatively strong finish, the Mets had already given Dallas Green a contract for 1996.
When Piniella walked away from the final year of his contract with the Seattle Mariners after 2002 and the Mets had fired Bobby Valentine, Piniella wanted to manage the Mets and the Mets wanted him. The Mariners refused to let Piniella go without compensation and they demanded Jose Reyes. The Mets said no. Eventually, with nowhere else to go, Piniella went to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays who were all too happy to surrender one of the best players, Randy Winn, as compensation for his services.
(A note on “wanting” Piniella: at least the Wilpons did; GM Steve Phillips, who knew that he would be mitigated with the presence of the handsome, charming, explosive and successful Piniella, preferred someone less threatening and got it in Art Howe.)
Following the team’s collapse in September 2007, there were some in the Mets front office who still blamed manager Willie Randolph for the 2006 NLCS loss and definitely held him responsible for blowing a seemingly unblowable division lead in the final three weeks of the season. Torre was let go by the Yankees after their ALDS loss to the Indians to be replaced by Girardi. Had the Mets fired Randolph, Torre would most certainly been interested in remaining in New York and ending his managerial career where it started just to shove it to the Yankees — an organization that shrugged off the work he did for them, never truly seeming to appreciate his contribution to their return to glory.
Girardi’s contribution could be viewed as similarly dismissed. How many managers could have handled the egos in the room when he took over even after having played with many of them as a teammate, extinguished the inevitable bonfires big and small that occur with so high-profile a team, and won? Girardi’s work when the Yankees transitioned from the Derek Jeter/Mariano Rivera/Andy Pettitte years to a patched together group of journeymen and then youngsters he was entrusted to develop. The job he did was overlooked. Getting the mediocre-at-best teams from 2013 through 2016 in at above .500 when there was no justifiable reason for that to happen – and even making the playoffs in 2015 – was remarkable.
Girardi would have cost exponentially more than Callaway did and expected some level of say-so in the club’s construction. For all the talk of the cheapness of the Wilpons, they would have paid Girardi and likely given him some sway in the roster.
Girardi would not be making the tactical gaffes that Callaway has, but could any manager have gotten the Mets off to a better start than Callaway’s 13-2? Is that even possible?
The speculation is nonsense because the circumstances were not right for it to happen, eliminating it as anything more than an “if everything breaks that way” possibility. Unlike the previously mentioned instances when, had the Mets taken that extra-aggressive step, they could have gotten all three of those managers, they had to weigh the chances of Callaway getting another job and Girardi turning around and signing a contract extension with the Yankees, leaving them to again sift through the uninspiring remnants and hire their third or lower choice.
It’s easy to discuss as a “what if?” but there’s no definitive answer, so it’s pointless.