Joe Girardi, the managerial candidate it seemed most Mets fans hoped their team would choose to succeed Mickey Callaway, will be at Citi Field on March 30.
Only he’ll be wearing a grey jersey with Phillies written across it.
In a move that will result in quite a few juicy back pages for the New York tabloids, it’s the Phillies that have decided Girardi’s championship resumé is exactly what they need to end their playoff drought.
Meanwhile, the Mets, a team that perhaps is second-guessed by its fans more than any other in MLB, seem set to hire a manager with no managerial background and live with the consequences of letting Girardi join their rivals.
The two different philosophies by two contending rivals will lead to plenty of‘what-ifs in the years to come as they battle 19 times per year. Odds are that executives of one of the teams will be shaking their heads in a few years as the other team reaps the benefits of their decision.
A rivalry that could use some juice just received an injection.
Does experience matter?
While free agency has yet to start, Girardi has the potential to be one of the biggest NL East additions by any team.
Both the Mets and Phillies entered the offseason needing a manager after they opted to end their two-year runs with first-time managers.
Gabe Kapler, known for his reliance on analytics, just didn’t seem to know how to push the right buttons, sometimes relying too much on the data when the human element of the game also needs to be incorporated.
Callaway, a former pitching coach, did not do well with the X’s and O’s, too often making questionable moves and managing game to game instead of taking the bigger-picture approach. He also seemed better suited for a small media market.
With both teams trying to contend now, the natural progression would be to hire a manager with experience that could help them get over the hump. Having someone who’s handled the job before could mean a world of difference.
Enter Girardi, who won a title with the Yankees and even did well with the Marlins.
He represented an instant upgrade in both teams’ dugouts as a well-respected tactician who is known for coaxing a few extra wins out of his teams each year. An extra three wins this year would have had the Mets in a play-in game for the second wild-card spot.
The Phillies clearly value experience as shown by their talks with fellow reported candidates Buck Showalter and Dusty Baker. That veteran group speaks to a team that believes it needs a capable, respected manager to get the most out of the roster.
While they dealt with plenty of injuries last season, the Phillies underachieved. Girardi now will be tasked with getting the most out of Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto and Rhys Hoskins, and trying to maximize a pitching staff that only has one top-notch pitcher. Girardi is known for handling a bullpen well.
Perhaps the biggest question is how Girardi will mesh with the clubhouse after questions about his personality arose when the Yankees ended that partnership, although it’s possible that both sides just needed a break after 10 years. Developing a strong bond with Harper is a must.
Will the Mets regret their decision?
Even though Girardi landed with the Phillies, the juicier side to this move is seemingly how it will affect the Mets since they are the ones who are going to learn if passing on the 55-year-old at this point was a sound decision.
The Mets had interest in Girardi, but there were signs they didn’t place as much emphasis on experience as the Phillies did. It’s easy to gauge what traits a team is looking for by sizing up the candidate pool, and the Mets’ query is filled with men hoping for their first chance like Carlos Beltran and Eduardo Perez.
The easy hire would have been Girardi —whom the fan base would have approved of — since the Mets are in a win-now mode with a window that is closing. The Mets are an organization that takes stock in the public’s reaction to their moves, and Girard would have been praised. It would have been easy to sell a future in which the Mets can make the playoffs with Girardi at the helm.
Yet, for all of Girardi’s strengths, it seemed the Mets were never head over heels for the former Yankees manager, and Mets fans now have to hope that the team passed on Girardi for baseball reasons rather than due to financial concerns and the ability to control their next manager.
There had been skepticism that the Mets would hire someone like Girardi since he’s likely to command a notable salary when Callaway earned less than $1 million, and he would have been harder to control than a first-timer. Callaway, whether fairly or not, was viewed as a puppet for the front office.
Girardi likely would not be as willing to go along with whatever the front office wants. That’s why collaboration is such a buzz word this time of year since some teams want a manager who’s going to be more willing to be told what to do.
The Mets wouldn’t be the only team that follows this method, but they have not earned the benefit of the doubt.
It’s certainly possible that whichever candidate they select perhaps could be a hit like Aaron Boone or Alex Cora, but that manager is always going to be compared to Girardi, which is an unfair burden to be placed on a rookie in the biggest media market. Neither Boone nor Cora had that held against him when he started, although Boone’s flaws during the 2018 postseason were highlighted while Cora seemingly made every right move.
If Girardi can get the Phillies to play at a higher level than they have recently, and the Mets experience growing pains with their green choice, there will be plenty of questions surrounding why a New York team allowed Girardi to head down the turnpike to the Phillies.
Conversely, if the Mets can find their own version of Boone or Cora, and Girardi can’t overcome the Phillies’ pitching deficiencies, general manager Brodie Van Wagenen will be praised for having the boldness to avoid taking the path of least resistance.
March 30 can’t get here soon enough.
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