John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
The more you hear about Luis Rojas, the more reason there is to believe he could be a good major-league manager. But is he ready in 2020? Will his inexperience cost the Mets in a win-now season? How will he react to being grilled daily about every significant decision he makes?
So many questions that nobody can answer until the games begin, and it's the great unknown that makes this such a huge gamble for Brodie Van Wagenen, especially with the expectation of a change in ownership that could raise the stakes even higher for the GM this season.
To me, it's the reason it made more sense to go get a proven commodity like a Buck Showalter or a Dusty Baker, especially after the Carlos Beltran hire backfired on the Mets and added a level of chaos that begged for credibility in the manager's office.
Van Wagenen and his staff clearly believe continuity is more important at this stage after a winter's worth of preparation. As a guy who has been labeled a rising star in the organization, Rojas certainly makes the post-Beltran transition as seamless as possible.
But it was only a few months ago when Mets' brass deemed Rojas not ready for such a huge jump, to the point where he wasn't among the three finalists for the managerial job.
Is process that important in baseball? Even in this era of an analytic overload revolution, it's not like a football coach installing a new offensive system that needs to be mastered.
It's still baseball.
Could it be, then, the Mets are using the time crunch to justify another hire that will result in the type of interactive relationship that was clearly a priority last fall when they passed on Joe Girardi as a rather obvious choice.
Van Wagenen calls it collaboration. Most everybody else calls it control, meaning the front office will have as much say as it wants in dictating lineups and such. At least until the game starts.
We'll see. In many ways, Beltran was going to be at least as much of a gamble, maybe more, considering that Rojas has several years of managing experience in the minors and the Dominican Republic winter league.
However, Beltran was expected to bring instant credibility in the clubhouse as a former All-Star player with a well-known reputation for having a great baseball mind.
Rojas, meanwhile, never played in the big leagues, and as managers like Showalter and Terry Collins will tell you, that matters in a major-league clubhouse, as players need to see for themselves the new guy can do the job before they buy in on him.
These days that can be trickier than ever, as a manager like Rojas will also need to prove he is his own man, and not simply someone carrying out orders for the front office.
On the other hand, the 38-year old Rojas does have baseball in his blood, as the son of Felipe Alou, a highly-regarded former big-league manager, and the half-brother of Moises Alou, a former All-Star player who is involved in running the Dominican Republic winter league.
Perhaps more significantly, Rojas already has relationships with Mets' players, having managed some of them when they were in the minors and as a member of the big-league staff last year as a quality control coach, working with players individually, interpreting analytic information in ways they could use most effectively.
As such, the news of Rojas' hiring on Wednesday was greeted enthusiastically by players, at least publicly.
"Loved having Luis in '17 and '18 as my AA manager," Pete Alonso tweeted. "It's awesome playing under him and having him on staff last year as well!!!"
"Love love love it," Marcus Stroman chimed in via Twitter as well. "Loved being around him on the bench last year. Always teaching and full of knowledge. Super laid-back and brings nothing but great vibes each and every day."
Furthermore, Mets' people say veteran Robinson Cano quickly came to have high regard for Rojas, to the point where he may have influenced Van Wagenen in making this hire.
All of which sounds like a nice way to start a career as a major-league manager. But those relationships will change now that Rojas is in the big chair, and it's his job not only to motivate players but also hold them accountable for anything from showing up late to not hustling.
Indeed, if Cano was instrumental in helping Rojas get the job, how will the young manager react when his star second baseman fails to hustle out a ground ball, something that became a major issue for Mickey Callaway on at least a couple of occasions last season?
Perhaps more significant, how will he handle postgame press conferences? Will he say he walked the No. 8 hitter to pitch to Bryce Harper because he wanted to force a journeyman reliever named Mike Morin out of the game, as Callaway rather famously did last year?
Or will he be secure enough to admit he made a mistake?
Will Rojas make the right calls to the bullpen, even if it means bruising egos now that the Mets have some big-name choices for the late innings?
Again, so many questions for a guy who hasn't done it, especially in New York for a team that figures to need every edge it can get in a highly competitive NL East.
Someone like Showalter almost certainly would have assured such an in-game edge, but the Mets weren't interested.
It doesn't mean Rojas can't prove to be a good hire. Plenty of people seem to think he'll be very good, at least in the long run. At the moment, however, with possible change at the top looming, the short run appears more critical for Van Wagenen.