By now, any realistic fan, media member, indifferent observer and anyone in between who has paid attention to the nose dive of the New York Mets must realize that there’s no recovering from it and they’re either going to lose 100 games or will come close to it. Since the team has come undone and general manager Sandy Alderson has stepped away due to a recurrence of cancer and he all but said that he will not return, the focus has been on how the Mets might function under the tri-headed interim GM of John Ricco, J.P. Ricciardi and Omar Minaya.
A background note is the status of manager Mickey Callaway.
One can only guess how the Mets season would have proceeded as they sat at 12-2 and let a five-run eighth inning lead against the Washington Nationals slip away with five outs to go and Jacob deGrom on the mound. About to go 13-2 and beat the reeling Nats for the fourth straight time, right there was the season-changer. Callaway’s poor choice of words in the aftermath of the bullpen implosion, saying what was clearly in the back of his mind with the word “tailspin”, only exacerbates the missed opportunity for 2018.
But that’s irrelevant now.
For those who are defending Callaway by saying this isn’t his fault and he should not take the fall for a flawed, injury-prone and shorthanded roster, nor for the dysfunctional organization and mediocre at best farm system, they have a point. That said, while he is not the problem, he is a problem. His strategic gaffes, total lack of awareness of what to do next, and borderline delusional statements when speaking to the media cannot be ignored when assessing whether he should return or even finish out the season.
Should the Mets lose 100 games or close to it with a new GM coming in, the manager will be a point of contention. Further muddling the Callaway situation is the looming presence of Joe Girardi as he waits for another opportunity to manage. Were Girardi – a true star manager – not available, it’s an easy argument to pardon Callaway and leave him alone with this as a learning experience, hoping he’ll be better for it. But like the question as to what would have happened had the Mets won that fateful game against the Nationals, reality is what it is. They lost and Callaway appears in over his head to the degree that he could feel a certain sense of relief should the Mets pull the plug.
Girardi will not turn this current team around, but he’s a known quantity in New York and throughout baseball with a winning pedigree that goes beyond being the Yankees manager and accruing wins, but by either achieving what the talent on his rosters said they should achieve or drastically overachieving based on talent available. He’s a selling point for the organization to say they’re not tolerating the status quo and are taking steps to alter their image.
The situation begs the question of whether 100 losses should automatically cost the manager his job. The answer is not a simple yes or no. The circumstances largely dictate what an organization should and will do. If it is a proven manager and there are mitigating circumstances as to how they fell so far, the manager gets a break.
While they did not lose 100 games in 2017, the San Francisco Giants and Bruce Bochy fall into this category. Bochy did not get fired after the Giants – team with which he won three World Series – lost those 98 games. He has built up enough capital in his near quarter-century as a manager to know what he is.
Teams that set out to lose 100 games by tanking cannot justifiably blame the manager if he succeeds in their unacknowledged goal by losing those 100 games. However, some managers are simply placeholders until the team is ready to contend when a preferable or proven manager will be hired. Dale Sveum lost 101 games for the Chicago Cubs in Theo Epstein’s first year running the club and it was by intent. Sveum had been a popular managerial contender and, in an almost impossible situation with the Milwaukee Brewers when he replaced Ned Yost in September of 2008, brought the Brewers to the Wild Card before losing. Sveum lasted another season with the Cubs before he was fired. Epstein cited various concerns in firing Sveum and they went beyond the club’s record. The team was undeniably awful, but the manager was still held accountable. Epstein is notably ruthless and discarded Sveum’s replacement, Rick Renteria, when Joe Maddon came available.
In his first managing job with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Maddon himself oversaw back to back seasons where he lost a combined 197 games. The organization was undergoing a radical change with a new ownership and pure outsiders, led by Andrew Friedman, running the baseball operations. Using financial terms like “arbitrage”, the Devil Rays – newly christened the “Rays” for 2008 – simply let the roster fulfill its logical conclusion without taking overt steps to improve it in 2006 and 2007. Since the roster was horrible, they lost a lot of games by natural selection. Maddon was hired as part of the solution and not because he was expected to win with a team that could not have won no matter who the manager was. Because Maddon was so experienced as a minor league manager and major league coach, there was a reasonable justification to give him a pass for the endless losing. If the manager is making mostly the right moves – even as he learns on the job – and the players play for him; if he handles the media; if he maintains his focus and has answers even if those answers don’t yield results any better than they were before, there’s reason to retain him.
The Houston Astros went beyond arbitrage under Jeff Luhnow and gutted the entire organization as if it was an expansion team. When Luhnow took charge, the team had just finished a 106-loss season under former GM Ed Wade, so it wasn’t as if much needed to be done to make them worse. After retaining the manager he inherited, Brad Mills and firing him during that first season, Luhnow hired Bo Porter as his manager. Porter might have survived the rebuilding process and been the manager in charge once the Astros turned the corner had he known his place and maintained some semblance of control over the clubhouse. He did neither. Adding in tactical and technical gaffes, Porter openly challenged Luhnow and tried to go above his head to the owner with his complaints about how the organization was being run. He was deservedly fired. Replaced by A.J. Hinch, the Astros are now a powerhouse not because Hinch had a better resume, but because he was part of the solution rather than a glitch that needed to be removed.
Obviously, a large portion of how the manager is judged is based on the players. But there are mitigating factors to consider.
So where are the Mets in this context?
Can they justify retaining a manager who is still learning how to do the job amid an enraged fan base and an indifferent roster? Or should they send a signal to the fans and players that there is the accountability that Callaway continually referenced from the time he was hired and tried to implement?
If there is accountability with the Mets, it has already led to Alderson’s ouster even though his illness is cited as the reason for his departure. If he wasn’t ill, it’s unlikely he would be back for 2019 with how all – not some, all – of his 2018 acquisitions have faltered.
That should only extend to the manager if they’re replacing him with Girardi. Short of that, hiring another no-name who might not be any better is a waste of time. And based on the above criteria, the Mets should not wait. Girardi should be hired to assess the team for the remainder of the season so the club can get a head start on fixing a fixable mess for 2019.