Mickey Callaway wasn’t hired by Brodie Van Wagenen. And now he’s out as Mets manager.
The Mets have fired Callaway after two seasons, and with a year remaining on his contract, the team announced Thursday. Callaway finishes his Mets tenure with a 163-161 mark after guiding them to back-to-back third-place finishes.
Bench coach Jim Riggleman also will not be returning. according to sources, although his contract is up.
Van Wagenen and COO Jeff Wilpon met with Callaway in Florida to inform him of their decision. The team already has an “expansive list” of replacements, per the general manager.
“We did feel like this move will give us an opportunity to continue our progression,” Van Wagenen said on a conference call. “And ultimately where we want to go as a team and a franchise.”
Callaway did little to distinguish himself in his two seasons as the Mets’ manager, which are remembered more for embarrassing moments than on the field success. Callaway — who was hired by previous general manager Sandy Alderson — was brought back for the 2019 season after Van Wagenen joined the club last offseason. While the 44-year-old Callaway was retained, it always seemed a matter of time until Van Wagenen would hire his own manager.
“Bringing on a new (general manager), we knew we wanted to give him a chance to prove himself to Brodie,” Wilpon said. “I think having one year left on his contract was a little (problematic) because he was either going to be extended or otherwise he was going to be a lame duck which would have put us into a tough bind with everything.”
Callaway deserves credit for guiding the Mets to an 86-76 record in 2019, yet the general sentiment is the Mets manager cost his team a few wins this season. That loomed large when the Mets missed the playoffs by three games.
A former American League pitching coach, Callaway struggled with late-game bullpen management, making questionable decisions — particularly when it came to utilizing the double switch.
In one memorable game this year, Callaway panicked after his team grabbed a lead in the seventh inning of a game against the Atlanta Braves, throwing top reliever Seth Lugo into the game with little warning. The Mets ultimately lost the game.
Callaway’s biggest blunder came last year against the Cincinnati Reds when his team batted out of order, an egregious mistake that can’t happen at this level. While Callaway has been a good sport about that moment, even joking about it during the New York Baseball Writers Association of America dinner, it was difficult to move past.
“Today’s move is something we feel will continue to give us positive gains at the major league level,” Van Wagenen said, “as we try to improve in the other areas we’ve already invested in.”
Callaway also put himself in the headlines this year for berating a reporter after a tough loss in Chicago that featured questionable managerial tactics. Callaway reacted to an innocent remark by dressing the reporter down in front of his players. Callaway then continued to berate the reporter while asking a media relations official to remove the reporter from the clubhouse.
He did not brush off criticism all that well, which can be problematic in New York.
“From ownership perspective, those things always play in,” Wilpon said. “But that was dealt with earlier in the year and didn’t play into my overall decision or part of this decision for me.”
Within the clubhouse, there was not great affection for Callaway either positively or negatively.
Some liked him more than the previous manager, Terry Collins. Others had issues with how he used his bullpen, particularly the fact that roles weren’t always defined. Callaway’s communication skills were also criticized.
When the Mets were swept by the Miami Marlins in May — bringing Callaway’s job status in question — several players took the blame, saying the series should not fall on the manager since they were the ones underperforming.
The Mets eventually turned things around in the second half, but part of a manager’s job is to put his team in the best position to succeed. It seemed far too often that Callaway did not do that.
“The next step for me is not meaningful games in September but meaningful games in October. It hurts watching those games on TV right now,” said Wilpon in his first comments since the season ended. “I feel unfilled. I feel we left some games on the field we should have won and didn’t fulfill what we really had as a goal which was to get into the postseason.”
The pressure now falls on Van Wagenen to find the right choice to lead this team. The Mets believe they have a roster that should be contending for a championship. Van Wagenen’s team did not deliver on his “come get us” challenge, and his win-now moves such as acquiring Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz have hurt this team’s staying power.
“We’re looking for strong leadership that can keep our clubhouse culture going in the right direction,” Van Wagenen said. “Keep this team unified and accelerate our path here.”
Van Wagenen likes to be flashy, and it would not be surprising to see him try to find a way to corral a top choice such as Joe Girardi, Joe Maddon or Buck Showalter. However, the Mets are not known for paying their managers well. Callaway made less than $1 million this past season, making him one of the lowest-paid managers in the sport.
Each of those established managers will come at a significant cost.
“That’s a better question for Brodie, what the search will bring about,” Wilpon said when asked about if the Mets will splurge for a manager. “And what he thinks is the right person for this job.”
The Mets have a reputation as a team that’s not easy to work for, and tend to hire managers that are easier to control. Callaway was viewed by many as a puppet who did the front office’s bidding. Look no further than how Van Wagenen, according to sources, let the dugout know to remove Jacob deGrom from a game, an allegation Van Wagenen later denied.
One internal candidate could be quality control coach, Luis Rojas, but there is concern if he’s ready to lead.
“The goal is to have the best person regardless of his resume,” Van Wagenen said.
The Mets do not have any other coaches under control beyond this year. The team will pay both Callaway and former pitching coach Dave Eiland, who was fired earlier this season, in 2020.
“As we reflect from an organizational standpoint, progress is good,” Van Wagenen said. “But falling three games short of a wild card spot and finishing third in our division is not good enough. We’re not satisfied with it.”
Van Wagenen also announced that the Mets are planning to retain reliever Edwin Diaz and starter Noah Syndergaard. Both were shopped during the trade deadline.
“Edwin Diaz is going to be on our team next year, that’s our full expectation,” Van Wagenen said. “And Noah Syndergaard is going to be on our team.”
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