Early Monday evening, the Knicks briefly wrested back the crown for the New York metropolitan area’s largest tire fire. Briefly. Because only a little later Monday evening, the Mets were in the news again. And when the Mets are in the news, it’s never, ever for anything good.
If you are looking for a silver lining, it’s that a reporter saying “see you tomorrow” to a manager is not a three-day story. Unfortunately, that is because it’s been bumped by a newer but just as Metsy mini-scandal: GM Brodie Van Wagenen has reportedly been directing managerial decisions from his couch, via text.
The New York Post was the first to report this unprecedented practice:
According to an industry source, it was the rookie GM who instructed Mickey Callaway to remove Jacob deGrom from a game in Arizona earlier this month in which the Mets ace sustained a hip cramp. After deGrom was removed from the game in the seventh inning, the bullpen imploded in a loss that added to the frustration of a 2-5 road trip.
The source said Van Wagenen, who was watching the game at home on TV, communicated with a member of the Mets support staff with an order to remove deGrom from the game. Callaway complied with the order, and deGrom was visibly upset as he departed the field, certain he could continue pitching. The manager was grilled for the move, but at the time insisted the decision was his.
“Hell, yeah, it’s unusual: Sending word to the dugout, telling the manager what to do?” the source said. “I have never heard of that before.”
In short order, other reporters brought confirmation. Matt Ehalt, beat writer for Queens Baseball Club, says there have been multiple instances this season of Van Wagenen texting staffers to get Mickey Callaway to make pitching moves. ESPN’s Buster Olney reports the same thing, citing “multiple organizational sources.”
In recent years, MLB has seen a trend of younger managers, with decisions increasingly being taken out of their hands and being made by front offices instead. This started roughly a decade ago with pitch counts, and by now it’s pretty standard for front offices to be involved with drawing up lineups and dictating favorable matchups. Since these decisions are being made with the benefit of analytics, it’s often just smart baseball to run a team this way, and from one angle, having the front office make in-game moves, like yanking a starter, is a natural outgrowth of this trend. From another angle, this is uncharted territory: While front offices have increasingly encroached upon what were previously managerial moves, and have equipped managers with the information to make educated choices, actual in-game decisions have long been the purview of the manager and the manager alone.
That’s probably due to change, and it’s not really a surprise that it’s the Mets leading the charge, given who their GM is. In a 2017 story on the trend of managers increasingly having their decisions made for them, Van Wagenen—who was then just an agent, and who had never worked for a team—declared that “too many resources have been invested into scouting, player development and roster creation to allow field managers to operate on islands independent from the front offices[.]”
I can’t knock the Mets for getting ahead of what feels like it’ll be the status quo across baseball in not too many years. I can knock them for bringing their own trademark dysfunction to a process that’s supposed to be logical and bloodless. One of the main criticisms of manager Mickey Callaway, held up by both fans and media as a primary reason for his impending firing, has been his bullpen usage. He’s constantly either pulling pitchers at the wrong time, or not pulling them at the right time, or going to the wrong reliever. Well, how does it change your impression of his abilities now knowing he might not be the one who made those decisions?
The source added there was grumbling at the time within the clubhouse that Van Wagenen hadn’t come forward and taken responsibility for the decision, as the perception persisted deGrom was unhappy with a manager fighting to keep his job.
That’s specifically about the yanking of deGrom in that June 1 game, but it forces you to question the source of every decision the Mets have made. This weekend’s blow-up, culminating with Jason Vargas trying to fight a Newsday reporter, had its roots in Callaway irked at questions about not going to Edwin Diaz for a five-out save. Could Callaway have been so short-tempered because it wasn’t he who refused to go to Diaz? Could he have wanted to bring in his closer, but was overruled by Van Wagenen? I have no reason to assume so, but now I also have no reason not to assume so.
An additional and messy layer to all of this is that it’s being leaked now, with tensions at their highest, and that’s assuredly not by accident. Someone or multiple someones have the motivation to put this out there and make Van Wagenen look bad or Callaway look helpless or both. Healthy organizations don’t leak, and they certainly don’t leak to emphasize dysfunction.
Van Wagenen, in Philadelphia on the team’s road trip to help put out the fires caused by the previous controversy, tried to downplay the report that he’s pulling pitchers by text and insisted that it’s normal for him to be in contact with trainers regarding players’ health. Callaway too insisted that the decision to yank deGrom was agreed upon by all parties.
“I think that we got information from all parties and we made the decision to take care of our ace pitcher that’s going to be here for a long time,” Callaway said. “We all thought it was prudent at that point.”
Asked if he has the latitude to manage how he wants, Callaway said, “Yeah, I do, I do. Yeah.”
Maybe not for that much longer. But, as is and has always been crystal-clear, Callaway was never the root of the Mets’ troubles in the first place.