There are wild cards, and then there are wild cards.
There is learning on the job, and then there is learning on the job.
If you think Buck Showalter should become the Mets’ next manager, you’ll receive no argument here. The 65-year-old has forgotten more about baseball than plenty others who filled out a big-league lineup card ever knew. He has endured more second-guessing and scrutiny than the late Franklin D. Roosevelt, who like Buck served four terms at a high-pressure gig.
Yet if you look at the list of candidates that the Mets have compiled, you’ll see that most of them carry some serious credentials. That none of them ranks as an out-of-the-box entry who could crash and burn due to an utter lack of experience.
Multiple sources confirmed that the Mets’ interview list includes Brad Ausmus, Joe Espada, Don Kelly, Matt Quatraro and Showalter to speak to them about their coveted job opening, and the Mets’ regional sports network SNY reported that the interview process began on Monday.
On that list, the names besides Showalter that intrigue me the most are Espada and Quatraro. Espada, as a coach for the Yankees and Astros (and Marlins), has witnessed enough baseball chaos, — think Alex Rodriguez’s 2015 rise from the ashes and his 2016 retirement, the 2017 rise of the Baby Bombers, the 2019 Brandon Taubman incident and a certain 2020 declaration by Rob Manfred concerning illegal sign-stealing by the ’17 Astros — to qualify as an honorary Mets fan. The Puerto Rico native has made it very far down the road in the managerial searches of well-run clubs like the Giants and Cubs. He deserves serious consideration even for a win-now club like these Mets.
Quatraro, a native of the Albany area, spent the four prior seasons on the Rays’ coaching staff, the last three as Kevin Cash’s bench coach. Which means he rode a front-row seat when Cash made one of the more memorable October pitching changes in recent memory, the lifting of Blake Snell in Game 6 of the 2020 World Series. Nope, it didn’t make much sense and didn’t work out, and you can say the same for Showalter’s decision to keep Zack Britton in the bullpen as the 2016 American League wild-card game extended into extra innings. The good ones account for their mistakes and learn from them, and Quatraro’s employers adore him.
If Kelly lacks similar street cred, having coached alongside Espada with the 2019 Astros and then 2020 and 2021 with the rebuilding Pirates, he holds a stellar reputation in the industry. Ausmus ranks as a trickier one. His 2014 Tigers were swept in an AL Division Series upset by Showalter’s Orioles and Detroit hasn’t made the postseason since, and after new Mets general manager Billy Eppler hired him to run the 2019 Angels, he lasted only one season before owner Arte Moreno decided he had seen enough and canned him.
Another name similar to Espada in that he has seen plenty and also knows Eppler: Phillies hitting coach Kevin Long, who has been grilled by reporters for well over a decade about struggling hitters from Derek Jeter to Curtis Granderson to current Phillie Bryce Harper and also is tight with new Mets co-ace Max Scherzer from their time together in Washington.
This situation would be a tough sell to bring aboard someone less conventional a la the Yankees’ 2017 hiring of Aaron Boone, who had only played and broadcasted, or the Cardinals’ 2011 hiring of Mike Matheny, who had merely hung around spring training after he stopped playing. There exist too many moving parts: Steve Cohen looking to improve from his treacherous first season, Eppler trying to institute a new team culture. Francisco Lindor’s own cleanup from a rough first year in Queens. Jacob deGrom’s health. And so on. In retrospect, one of Luis Rojas’ biggest shortcomings was that he hadn’t been exposed sufficiently to the griddle to know how to handle it.
The Mets have put themselves in a solid position to emerge with a good managerial choice. If you can’t be with the candidate you love, you might still love the one you’re ultimately with.
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