Once the Mets determined Joe Girardi was not going to be their manager, their front office understood that the net was removed and they were walking a tightrope on a windy day.
All that was left on their candidate list was risk. Girardi was such a simple solution. He was a proven manager. In New York. With a championship on his résumé. With the fans clamoring for him. Girardi’s greatest detractors would confirm he could manage a major league team on a high level.
But the connection the Mets were looking for between ownership, baseball operations and a new manager never materialized. Thus, Girardi was not going to succeed Mickey Callaway. So it came down to this within the risk — who in their view had the highest ceiling of all the remaining candidates lacking major league managerial experience?
Answer: The Mets will be holding a press conference, likely Monday, to introduce Carlos Beltran.
This choice is another sign that Brodie Van Wagenen’s administration will — for better or worse — be bold. The Mets during Wilpon ownership have been so concerned with public and media opinion. But not now. That Girardi is in Philadelphia and Beltran in Queens — along with Robinson Cano, Edwin Diaz and Marcus Stroman — bullhorns that Van Wagenen shuns the outside noise and follows his process, his belief system.
Beltran is a fascinating hire. You could tell me that he is about to embark on a second Hall of Fame career as a manager based on his baseball IQ and how players gravitate to his knowledge, persona and serenity and, sure, sign me up. And you can tell me that managing in 2020 is such a snake pit of relentless interviews, second-guessing and, in this job, the scope of New York and a tough ownership group, that Beltran will look at his $222 million in career earnings next June 7 and say, “What did I do this for?”
A month ago, when Beltran’s name first surfaced I would have said, “No way.” He holds a place in Mets infamy by taking Adam Wainwright’s curveball to end the 2006 NLCS, though I always thought that was misplaced — every hitter would have been frozen by that pitch. More importantly, he left the organization at public odds with the Wilpons about the care of his knee. I just couldn’t see the sides building a bridge back to one another from that nastiness.
That Beltran beat out candidates such as Nationals first base coach Tim Bogar, Brewers bench coach Pat Murphy, ESPN’s Eduardo Perez and Twins bench coach Derek Shelton emphasizes that the Mets grew more and more comfortable with him. Van Wagenen led a deliberate, multi-round search to the point one of Beltran’s friends joked yesterday, “We haven’t talked since Round 20 of the process.”
But the rounds were advantageous for Beltran. He apparently did not do great in larger groups early, but did with Van Wagenen and Jeff Wilpon in the more intimate second phase. He grew on the Mets. And to know Beltran is to understand why his candidacy began to separate from others. To see the high ceiling that made him the one worth the risk.
Beltran has a low pulse and a sky-high baseball intelligence — he was one of the foremost sign stealers and pitch-tipping experts in his playing days. He is bilingual. He is a star. He played for both New York teams and has positive relationships with reporters in town. He turned down the chance to interview with the Cubs and Padres — he lives in New York, and it was the Mets or nothing. He projects both dignity and resolve.
Betran will have instant credibility with the clubhouse and a strong chance of creating a unified culture. Multiple people who know Beltran feel his finishing school was the year he just spent as a special assistant to Brian Cashman with the Yankees. It gave him clearer insights into how modern front offices evaluate players, make decisions and see the role of a manager — especially when it comes to the manager/GM relationship.
Beltran is just 42 and has never served in uniform as anything but a player. So a strong bench coach, especially to deal with the National League game, is vital. Yet, even with the strong bench coach and all Beltran’s assets, managing is such a pressurized, unique job. It forces expertise in multiple areas and necessitates the need to be both soft counselor and gruff drill sergeant when necessary to players who are one click away from exposing problems to the world. So it is impossible to calibrate how anyone will handle that beyond on educated guess.
Cashman took that risk, moving on from Girardi after reaching ALCS Game 7 in 2017 and going with the untested Aaron Boone, who has validated the decision.
Now we see if Van Wagenen’s instincts are as good. Beltran comes to an NL East that has the champs in Washington the two-time division winners in Atlanta and Girardi in Philadelphia. He comes to an organization with major league talent, but questions about willingness to spend, prospect depth and dysfunction at the very top.
The Nationals just won the World Series as a wild card. Now, the Mets grab a wild card of their own. Beltran is a fascinating hire. High risk. But the potential for high reward won him the Mets job.