It goes without saying that the Mets, coming off an embarrassing sweep at the hands of the last-place Marlins over the weekend, were not in a great place, and it’s inevitable that there would be finger-pointing over who deserves the blame for the team’s recent tailspin. That finger-pointing predominantly came in the form of speculation over the security of Mickey Callaway’s job, as many believed he would not survive the Marlins series.
Brodie Van Wagenen has since offered his assurance that the manager’s job is safe for the time being, but if the team continues to struggle then there will inevitably be more and more people in both the media and the fan base clamoring for his removal.
It’s frustrating to have to go through this cycle of speculation for a number of reasons. Mostly, it sucks because these rumors are the results of the immense struggles that the team has gone through over the past few weeks. But it’s also disappointing that the focus has turned almost entirely to Callaway, as that media attention gives the impression that the team’s struggles are predominantly his fault or that firing him would resolve certain issues which have been holding them back. And quite frankly, there is no reason to believe that either of those two things are true.
To be clear, this is not meant to be a defense of the job Callaway has done as manager. Indeed, his performance has been rather frustrating, as numerous elements of his game management—whether it be his lineup construction or his bullpen usage—have left much to be desired. While Callaway did look like an excellent hire when he was first brought on before the 2018 season, he has given us little reason to believe that he is the long-term answer for this franchise, and it may very well be in their interest to let him go in the near future.
Rather, what we should be focusing on here is the extent to which firing a manager in the middle of the season can be expected to have any tangible benefit. And there’s just not a lot of reason to believe that it will usually make much of a difference. It might make certain segments of the fan base feel better—ownership can point to it as evidence that the team is unsatisfied with its current struggles and is trying as hard as it can to right the ship—but generally speaking, the manager alone is not going to win or lose too many ballgames over the course of a season.
Firing a manager can thus often serve as a distraction from the real reasons why a team is struggling—namely, poor roster construction and the underperformance from key players. One could argue that if anything, it’s a net negative to the team’s chances of success, as not only does it send a fairly demoralizing message about where they currently stand, but it also potentially sends a bad signal to any potential future hires. After all, if you’re a manager who’s being pursued by the Mets, wouldn’t it concern you to know that they have a history of scapegoating past managers and not even allowing them to finish the season with dignity?
That is not to suggest, of course, that there exists no scenario in which it would make sense for a team to fire their manager in the middle of the season. But such scenarios usually involve at least one of two factors. The first would be if the manager has so completely and utterly lost the clubhouse so as to have created a tangibly toxic work environment, in which case replacing him would be necessary to simply regain order and peace. The second would be if the fired manager’s replacement would be someone whom the team could envision as a potential long-term answer for the job, in which case giving him a showcase could help them decide whether or not they want to keep him around.
So do either of those rationales apply to Callaway’s situation? It’s certainly hard to argue that the first one does. Again, Callaway has not been great, but he is not responsible for the incredibly poor pitching depth that he was handed coming into the season or the fact that most of his hitters have forgotten how to hit in the past couple weeks. And if Noah Syndergaard’s recent comments to the media about the speculation gives us anything to go by, it would seem that there are players in the clubhouse who still value the job he does and believe he should stick around. Whatever flaws Callaway may have as a manager, it does not appear that he has outright lost this team just yet.
The second rationale is slightly more complicated, as we don’t know exactly who the Mets would replace Callaway with or what qualities they would be looking for in their next manager which could shape their choice. The most common replacement for a manager when he is fired in the middle of the season is the bench coach, who in this case comes in the form of veteran manager Jim Riggleman. It’s possible that the team may decide that after being burned by going with an inexperienced option with Callaway, they would prefer to hire someone who has managed in the big leagues the next time around.
But if the goal of firing your manager is to give the next guy a showcase to see how he would handle the job, then it’s hard to see why that would be necessary for someone with Riggleman’s background. Realistically, there’s little he could do in three or four months of handling this team which would give the Mets any information about the kind of manager he would be that the team shouldn’t already know. If someone like him is the alternative option, then they are better off letting Callaway finish the season and then quietly and respectfully letting him go.
Of course, the team could go with a different option. Recent reports have indicated that Mets think very highly of quality control coach Luis Rojas and could consider him as a managerial option. As someone who is just 37 years old and does not have major league managerial experience, there could actually be value in giving him the last few months of the season to see if he takes to the job and if the front office would like him to stick around beyond 2019. Even in this scenario, though, there’s not necessarily a reason to rush to this decision. It would still make sense to give the team a chance to turn the tide with Callaway still in charge so that they could say they gave him a fair shake. If the team is still struggling deeper into the season and the team makes the decision that he is not the long-term answer, then replacing him with someone like Rojas would be an understandable decision.
But regardless of how this shakes out, it is worth reiterating that this whole conversation does not get to the heart of the real reasons why the Mets are not good right now. Mickey Callaway did not decide to completely and utterly disregard starting pitching depth this season. He did not turn Robinson Cano, Brandon Nimmo, Wilson Ramos, and Todd Frazier into below-average hitters. And he did not make the team suffer from the same poor injury luck that they’ve suffered from years before he ever stepped foot into Citi Field.
Firing him would satisfy some primal urge for blood in the wake of the awful performance we had been subjected to recently, but its only important outcome would be to take our attention away from these much more serious concerns which are far more emblematic of the dysfunction that has haunted the Mets for as long as most of us can remember. If the Wilpons and Van Wagenen really want to fix what is wrong with this team, then the answer is not to fire Callaway right now, but rather to take a look in the mirror.