Buck Showalter won Manager of the Year in 2022 and big things were expected of him in 2023. We all know the Mets didn’t have a good season this year. The question now is: How much blame should Showalter get for the team’s poor results? Our pal Texas Gus recently posted that he didn’t think Showalter had a good year and it seems few would counter that he did. With the Mets at an organizational crossroad, will Showalter pay the price – deserved or not – for how 2022 played out?
Regardless of how you feel about Showalter and his role in the 2023 debacle, the biggest thing making this such a prominent issue is that the Mets have a new
GM President of Baseball Operations coming in with David Stearns. And usually sooner rather than later, the new GM PoBO wants to pick his own guy as manager.
We’ve seen this play out twice recently. GM Brodie Van Wagenen inherits Mickey Callaway as his manager and one year later (after an 86-win season) he replaces him with Luis Rojas. Sandy Alderson comes back in and keeps Rojas for a year and new GM Billy Eppler replaces him with Showalter. Allegedly, Eppler wanted to hire Showalter while he was running things in Anaheim but was overruled by the owner.
If Stearns wasn’t coming aboard as the new
GMPoBO, it’s likely that Eppler would bring Showalter back. Now, it’s anyone’s guess. SNY’s Andy Martino said it was 50/50 if Showalter would be the club’s manager next year. There are rumors out there that Stearns will bring his manager from Milwaukee – Craig Counsell – to take over.
Showalter went many years without a managerial job before landing with the Mets. Despite his successes running other teams, many felt he wanted 20th Century managerial control of the team, rather than 21st Century taking orders from above on anything important. Mets fans saw how that worked out with Rojas. Do we want to see a repeat performance of a glorified PR man as manager?
Of course, it could very well be that Stearns could do better managing a team thru Counsell than Van Wagenen did thru Rojas. And, Showalter has bent over backwards saying that he welcomed input from numerous parties. Things are very rarely as cut-and-dried as they are sometimes portrayed.
Still, it’s difficult for me to pretend that Showalter didn’t have a major impact on how the team performed in 2022. But can anyone be praised for when things went well and receive zero criticism when things deteriorate? That doesn’t seem right. So, let’s try to list some pros and cons of Showalter’s tenure with the Mets, with an emphasis on 2023.
To me there are two very big plusses for Showalter. The first is that he commands respect and loyalty from his players. In a season that went up in flames, you’d expect there to be some whispers about the manager. But we haven’t heard anything like that. Tommy Pham throws teammates under the bus but doesn’t do that to Showalter. Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander have plenty to say about the front office but nothing about the manager. And these guys are no longer in the organization, so it’s not like they have to worry about repercussions from speaking the truth. David Robertson didn’t want to leave the Mets to play for a contender – that is virtually unheard of these days. Mark Canha loved his time in New York, too. Francisco Lindor is a cheerleader for Showalter. That’s a lot of star power with not a bad word for the manager.
The other thing that stands out for me with Showalter is how he understands and applies the concept of rest for his relievers. Too often under the four previous Mets managers, we saw relievers regularly being used three times in four days and it wasn’t all that unusual for them to have worked four times in five days. The idea that one day off automatically refreshes a reliever, regardless of how much he’s worked, is something that’s just bananas. Showalter doesn’t manage his pen that way. Now, that’s not to say that Showalter is great at managing a pen. He isn’t. But in a year where Eppler built a lousy pen and then Edwin Diaz got hurt, Showalter did a great job of utilizing his pen to suffer no dropoff in ninth inning performance. And he did that by not overworking his three reliable relievers. And we saw what happened with Robertson when another manager was calling the shots.
Now for the cons, at least things that are viewed as cons by me.
Showalter didn’t ask enough from his starting pitchers, especially with how rotten most of his bullpen was. He didn’t really maximize leverage with his relievers. Showalter was more likely to use one of his three good relievers with a four-run lead than he was in a game that they trailed by a single run. He was too deferential to Lindor, Starling Marte and Jeff McNeil, both in terms of playing time and batting order position. Not that he had a lot of options but Showalter gave too long of a leash to Brett Baty.
We have to admit we have imperfect information. Some of this stuff that was just laid at Showalter’s feet may have been things forced on him from above. Another thing that could be considered a con for Showalter – but which we simply don’t know – is did he fight for his players? When Steve Cohen made his decision for the Mets to be sellers, did Showalter just accept that as a company man or did he make a case that this group was worth keeping together?
No one thinks Cohen doesn’t have the right to operate in what he perceives as the best way. But while he should have the final say, he shouldn’t be surrounded by yes men who tell him that every thought he has is great. As a fan, my hope is that Showalter would have stuck up for his team and told Cohen that while things weren’t working, that he believed that how the team played in July was more indicative of the talent on hand than how they played in June. Assuming, of course, that Showalter believed that himself. My ideal manager fights for his players. Did Showalter do that? I don’t know the answer. But gun to my head, my answer in this particular case would be – no. And if that’s true, then that is a con in my book.
Outside of the last critique, all of the things listed as cons are things that could be addressed, if one desired. Stearns could come in and tell Showalter not to be a slave to the 100-pitch boogeyman. Stearns could have a leverage discussion. Showalter could be directed to be more flexible with his lineup decisions. And the GM could have sent a struggling rookie to Triple-A earlier than what happened, just to take away the player from the manager.
But perhaps Stearns will feel it to be just easier to install Counsell as manager, someone who already knows what he wants and will act accordingly. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. But is it the right move?
My firm belief is that creative friction is a good thing. No doubt that’s due to watching the 70s A’s and Yankees experience so much success. Things don’t have to be perfect 100% of the time and no one has a monopoly on truth. You need to be able to tell someone that they’re wrong. Will that happen if the power structure is Stearns-Eppler-Counsell? The best you can say at this point is – Who knows?
It will come as no surprise that my preference is for a manager with the authority to make crucial decisions. My opinion is that Showalter has, or at least had that this year. My hope is that whoever manages the team in 2024 has that authority.
When people defend the idea of a PoBO, they talk about one of his responsibilities to be to set the team’s direction. Hey, somebody’s gotta do it. Can Stearns set the direction as we’re not going to be a slave to pitch counts 100% of the time and then leave it to his manager and the performance staff to see when a pitcher is ready to throw 120 pitches? That’s an idea all of us should be able to rally around.
Should Showalter be the manager to make that type of decision? The Mets can, and have done, a whole lot worse. At the same time, the last thing any of us should want is to see a
GM PoBO saddled with a manager he didn’t pick. We’ve seen this movie before and it doesn’t end well. The guy above him just nitpicks everything until he can get rid of the manager and install his own guy.
At this point, we should just hope the next guy is better prepared than Rojas.