Managers are hired to be fired. Some managers are even hired and fired almost annually, as was the case with Billy Martin and George Steinbrenner with the New York Yankees.
At some point in every season, dysfunction turns into defeat, defeat morphs into frustration and frustration grows until some manager’s key card.
Here we are, not even Memorial Day, and we are beginning to hear Mickey Callaway’s stay as manager of the New York Mets has reached its expiration date.
Why the hub-bub? Well, the Mets were swept by the Miami Marlins over the weekend, getting shut out over the last two games. The Marlins suck – no really, really suck. Losing three straight to them is an embarrassment.
The Marlins had won only 10 games before they met the Mets. On Sunday, they faced Sandy Alcantara, averaging nearly five walks per nine innings with a 5.11 ERA. He dispatched them with two-hitter that took less than two hours to play.
Combine this recent failure with the fact Callaway was hired by former Mets GM Sandy Alderson and you get a recipe for quick change. Incompetence, laziness and dilemma. And the Mets are batting three-for-three.
After Sunday’s loss, Mets starter Noah Syndergaard was asked about the cauldron beginning to bubble around his manager. His answer was succinct.
“As far as our manager’s situation goes, I respect the hell out of Mickey,” Syndergaard said. “I think he has tremendous leadership values. I think it’s B.S. what’s going on right now with this speculation that there could be a change because we’re so early in the season and are a very small step away from putting this all together.”
Unlike their crosstown rival, the Yankees, who have a starting lineup on the injured list, the Mets had been comparatively healthy until last Thursday when Michael Conforto suffered a concussion in an outfield collision with Robinson Cano.
But while the Yankees have thrived under less than favorable conditions, the Mets have faltered despite good health and their missteps have been amplified in the city that never sleeps.
“It was terrible,” Callaway said after the sweep. “We’re better than this.”
The Mets have now lost five straight and sit five games under .500 after a six-game road trip to Washington and Miami. And while that certainly is not disastrous, there are danger signs the club has become complacent. And that is not good.
The worst sign of all has been the lack of hustle from Cano, their $30 million second baseman. He has often been accused during his career of not running hard to first base and he has reprised that bad habit this season.
If the most veteran player on the team, a guy who is expected to lead by example, insists on dogging it on the bases, what kind of impact will that have on their prospects?
Callaway usually meets with Mets owner Jeff Wilpon and general manager Brodie Van Wagenen after road trips. And this week’s summit will no doubt be highly charged.
“Overall, the mood of the team is still very positive,” said Syndergaard. “I think we’re a long ways from pressing the panic button. I think we have dug ourselves into a little bit of a hole. I’m positive we’re going to get out of it.”
Callaway, the former pitching coach of the Cleveland Indians, says he is not worried about his job. Then again, when was the last time you heard a manager or coach of any professional team admit they were concerned about being fired?
“The best teams in the game, any sport, go through that,” Cano said. “That’s why you can never take anything for granted.”
Now, back to Cano. After being called out by the media for past transgressions, and saying always hustles on the bases, he was caught in another embarrassing situation on Sunday.
Batting with runners on first and second with one out, Cano hit a dribbler the umpires ruled fair. Instead of not taking any chances, Cano stood at the plate to argue with the home plate umpire. Not a good look. And an easy double play for the Fish.
“That’s just a reaction at the time,” Cano said. “You’ll see that, every time I hit a ground ball, I was the first one trying to beat it.”
Worse than Cano’s lack of hustle was Callaway’s decision to defend him – again.
“You’ve got to have a little common sense when something that doesn’t happen very often happens,” Callaway said. “Things are piling up on Robbie right now.
“Come on, let’s face it. You hit into a double play. The ball lands foul and spins into fair territory. He hit it, he looked down, he saw it hit foul, and by the time he looked back up, the ball had spun into fair territory and the play was over. He realizes he has to run. It’s not like he’s doing that on purpose. Anybody in their right mind knows that nobody would do that.”
If Callaway is fired, its going to be super-interesting to see who Van Wagenen replaces him with. He seems to be very new school, hip to the modern thought processes propelling the game forward.
Would he try to hire a guy like Joe Girardi or Buck Showalter? Or would he look to an up-and-comer with less experience.
The Mets, who have eight losing seasons in the last decade, return to Citi Field this week and it likely will be the most important seven days of Callaway’s reign. The Mets play the Washington Nationals and Detroit Tigers and are in danger of becoming irrelevant. We might be close to the days of $40 box seats on the secondary ticket market while the Yankees bask in first place.
USA Today projects that firing Callaway now will cost the Mets about $2 million. And they can easily replace him in the interim with bench coach Jim Riggleman, who has made a career taking over for axed managers.
Still, that will be a bargain compared to what it will cost them if they are truly serious about bringing in a veteran manager. And if there is one thing true about the Mets, it’s that they aren’t as willing to spend as indiscriminately as the Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers.
In Callaway’s defense, the suggestion has been made he really doesn’t have the freedom to make big decisions alone. Those directives are coming from the top. And if that’s truly the case, the Mets will find it very difficult to hire a single-minded manager to help lift them from the quagmire.
Also in defense of Callaway, Cano and catcher Wilson Ramos, the two major acquisitions made by Van Wagenen, are struggling at the plate. Outfielder Brandon Nimmo has taken a big step back. Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom is getting pounded. It is not a good situation.
The Athletic points out something else interesting about the Mets current situation. They are last in the National League in defensive runs saved, which means they also stink defensively.
What must Mr. Met be thinking?