Frequently with managerial hires, clubs will look to select an individual who brings something to the table that the previous guy lacked. It’s why many were looking for Joe Girardi to get the Mets’ job. After two years with a manager who was learning on the job, fans wanted an experienced hand in the dugout. But the Mets did not travel this direction, as they went from a guy with no managerial experience to a guy with … no managerial experience.
While fans are frustrated that Girardi was there for the taking but the Mets let him go to Philadelphia, instead, they seem pretty much on board with Carlos Beltran as the team’s new skipper. Clearly, he’s well-regarded in the industry and he gave the right answers in three rounds of interviews, so hopefully he’s on the same page with the GM. Now if he can play nice with the media, we’ll be all set.
Still, the dinosaurs among us still cling to the belief that a manager should bring something to the dugout, too. With that in mind, let’s revisit an old Bill James quote and apply it to Beltran and the Mets. James said that the first job of a manager was to ask (and answer) what needs to change. Here’s my wish list for Beltran, fully recognizing that he won’t have the autonomy – or magic wand – in all (any?) of these areas.
1. Keep the twin pillars of leverage and rest in the front of his mind with his bullpen deployment.
2. Pick positions for Jeff McNeil and J.D. Davis early so they can work on that in Spring Training.
3. Handle Robinson Cano like he was any other player on the club, not one with a divine birthright.
4. Match Noah Syndergaard with Tomas Nido and don’t make a big deal out of it.
5. Install Brandon Nimmo as your leadoff guy and keep him there.
6. Keep starting pitchers as healthy as they were under Mickey Callaway.
7. Be flexible with the role and usage of Seth Lugo.
8. Don’t hire Terry Collins as your bench coach.
Whenever possible you want your best relievers on the mound when the game is on the line. If he’s on your roster, you don’t use Jacob Rhame with a one-run lead unless there’s no other option. Conversely, you don’t use your best relievers when you’re up five or more runs unless they haven’t pitched in days and you’re just looking to get them work. Let the lousy pitchers get the mop-up innings and use your good guys when the game’s on the line. It’s not that hard, yet we saw Callaway mess this up regularly.
Here in the offseason, the Mets are unsure of who’s going to play third base and who’s going to play left field. Perhaps during the offseason, the club will make a move or two that makes it obvious who’s going to play where. But if they don’t, the two likely guys are McNeil and Davis. McNeil is likely better defensively at both positions, so it’s not an easy task to give them a position. But do it early so that both guys can get as many reps as possible at their likely home. My preference is to see McNeil at third base. Last year, 3B on the Mets got 465 chances, compared to 272 for the club’s LF. Since McNeil is better, put him where he’ll see the ball more often.
Cano was installed as the club’s third-place hitter and was in that spot in the order every game he started until he returned from the IL for the second time. By that time he had a .650 OPS and was acting like an anchor in the middle of the order. And even when they dropped him, it was only to the fifth slot. By all means, if Cano is hitting like he did on the Mariners in 2016, bat him in the heart of the order. But if he’s hitting like 2019 Cano, batt him eighth. Or put him on the bench.
In 1966, in the middle of the Vietnam War, the late Senator George Aiken of Vermont recommended that the U.S. simply, “declare victory and get out.” The Mets should install Nido as Syndergaard’s personal catcher, declare victory and get out of the way. In the past two years, Syndergaard’s ERA with Nido as his catcher is 2.41 in 153 IP. With anyone else behind the plate, it’s 4.75 in 199 IP. Wilson Ramos needs days off. Give them to him when Syndergaard is pitching. This is a big problem with an easy solution. The Mets need to stop being so pig-headed about it.
Nimmo broke through in the majors late in the 2017 season, where he followed up his minor league numbers by proving he could get on base at a great clip. When he finally got the chance to play full time in 2018, he was even better, as he posted a .404 OBP, which was the fourth-best mark in the majors. But when he battled injuries last year and tried to play with them, the Mets were quite eager to move him elsewhere, unlike what they did with Cano. Even when he came back healthy in September, they had him batting low in the order. It wasn’t until September 16th when they installed him back in the leadoff spot. They went 9-3 in the 12 games he led off.
Callaway gets blamed for a lot of things. And rightly so. But one thing that happened when he was around was that the starting pitchers were remarkably healthy. In his two years on the job, the Mets had eight pitchers make at least 25 starts in a season. And Jason Vargas was on track to do that before he was dealt. Vargas and Marcus Stroman, the guy who replaced him in the rotation, combined for 29 starts. In the two previous seasons, only three pitchers made at least 25 starts in a year for the Mets. Could be nothing but a coincidence. Or it could be something that Callaway did. Beltran should look to keep whatever routines the starters had under Callaway.
Lugo started the year as a quasi-long reliever. He ended the season as the team’s closer. How does he enter 2020? No one knows at this point. It’s possible he might even start the year in the rotation. Wherever he winds up, it’s a decent bet that he’ll be needed in a different role later in the year. Last year, the Mets were adamant that he not be used as a starter. And they really couldn’t afford to lose him from the pen. It’s a strong possibility the same thing will happen this upcoming year, too. But even if the rotation isn’t an option, it’s still on the table to shift bullpen roles. Ideally, the two big reliever acquisitions last offseason revert to 2018 and Lugo can be moved to a multi-inning guy. Beltran and the Mets need to be prepared to make the switch if possible.
Collins is a nice guy. But he often seemed overmatched in the dugout trying to come up with the right move on the fly. Why would you hire someone with that skill set to be a bench coach? While a veteran guy with National League experience is a good idea for the position, let’s make it someone who doesn’t spend hours trying to figure out a lineup and seemingly that long to decide which moves to be made during the actual game. What’s R.A. Dickey doing these days? He’s a smart guy who pitched in the NL and was a teammate of Beltran’s. Make him the bench coach. Anyone but Collins.
Good luck Beltran. You were one of my favorite Mets as a player and it would be terrific if one day that phrase would be altered to include manager, too.