John Harper, for SNY.tv | Twitter |
Brodie Van Wagenen will have pricier decisions to make this offseason if he's going to deliver a contender in 2019, but one of his first moves as Mets' GM should be to ensure competency in the dugout by hiring a savvy bench coach for Mickey Callaway.
That's not to say Gary DiSarcina was incompetent as Callaway's bench coach last season.
After all, DiSarcina came with considerable minor-league managerial experience, and earned honors as Baseball America's minor-league Manager of the Year in 2013 working Triple-A for the Red Sox.
Still, something wasn't right in 2018, from the infamous lineup-card snafu early in the season to the questionable strategic decisions during games. It seemed Callaway surely could have benefited from a bench coach with major-league managerial experience, particularly in the National League.
That was also the strong consensus among a handful of major-league scouts and executives I checked in with on Wednesday.
For that matter, none of the scouts or execs seemed particularly sold on whether Callaway should even be back as manager, and there was skepticism that Van Wagenen would bring him back if it was truly his call.
But, since the Mets have made it clear he'll get another crack at the job, the feeling is the new GM should at least take precautions with the bench coach.
"They need somebody in that dugout who knows how to run a National League game," was the way one scout put it.
The same scout suggested that 65-year old Jim Riggleman, who has managed five teams over the years, including the Reds on an interim basis last year, would be an ideal candidate.
"He's a nuts-and-bolts guy who would be a great asset," the scout said. "He'll make sure Mickey waits until after they announce the pinch-hitter before he makes a pitching change."
Callaway, of course, failed to do just that on a couple of occasions, though he insisted it was by choice, that he was ok with giving the opposing manager the option of pulling back the pinch-hitter for a more favorable match-up.
In any case, a major-league executive agreed with the scout, saying Riggleman had a reputation as being a "solid" in-game manager, and would provide the type of safety net that teams want in a bench coach.
Riggleman received good reviews for stabilizing the Reds last season, taking over for Bryan Price after a disastrous 3-15 start. Still, the rebuilding Reds decided they wanted a fresh start with a younger manager, hiring David Bell last week.
Meanwhile, one concern raised by baseball people was that bringing in Riggleman as bench coach could be awkward, as Callaway might perceive him as a threat to take his job at some point during the season.
Of course, Van Wagenen might see such a move as necessary protection in case Callaway doesn't show improvement in his second year on the job, knowing he has a qualified manager who could take over on an interim basis.
As it is, Van Wagenen seemed careful in his comments on Callaway at Citi Field on Tuesday. When asked about the manager by SNY's Steve Gelbs, the new GM made a point of noting Callaway has a very "positive" personality, saying that's the type of culture he wants build for the Mets.
It didn't sound like the most ringing endorsement, but clearly Callaway is going to get the opportunity to win over his new GM, if indeed that's necessary.
Because Van Wagenen is starting brand new on this side of the industry after years of being an agent, nobody knows what his preference would be for an ideal manager, though he did say he felt strongly about the need to apply analytics in a "real-time" manner to improve the Mets' chances on a daily basis.
The feeling from baseball people who have had dealings with Van Wagenen is that he'll be "cutting edge" in a lot of ways, especially in the way analytics are communicated to players and utilized to maximize match-ups, performance, etc.
"Don't kid yourself," one person said, "he has strong opinions about the way an organization should be run."
How strongly Van Wagenen really feels about keeping Callaway is anybody's guess, but if he's as smart as everybody says, hiring a more experienced bench coach would seem to be a no-brainer.