HOUSTON — Here is an important question for the Mets — do they know they could be the Nationals right now?
Their strength, the rotation, is Washington’s strength. Their weakness, the bullpen, was Washington’s weakness. They did not get off to a great start, but it was way better than 19-31, a record so bad that Nationals vice president of international operations Johnny DiPuglia joked, “In May, I thought we’d all end up working at the Salvation Army.”
The Mets went 12-7 against the Nationals this year to which Washington GM Mike Rizzo said, “They played us as tough as anyone all year. When their rotation is healthy and pitching well, they are as tough as anyone we play.”
The Mets, under Brodie Van Wagenen, decided to go for it last offseason and go for it again at the July trade deadline, and they are a win-now team that can tell interested managerial candidates you are inheriting a club not all that different from the NL champs. Would the Mets’ similarities to the Nationals be a tipping point if Joe Girardi has a choice between the Phillies and the Mets — because Girardi sure seems the favorite in Philadelphia and has yet to secure that job?
And would it be of interest to whomever the Mets’ supposed mystery candidate is? I have always thought that if Van Wagenen could name anyone manager, it would be Houston’s A.J. Hinch, not just because they are best friends, but because Hinch is the state of the art currently in managing.
He emphasized his skill set before World Series Game 1 when he put a human face yet again on the inhumanity of the Astros. One of their assistant GMs, Brandon Taubman, had put the organization in a horrible situation by verbally attacking a group of female reporters, who perceived what occurred as an act of harassment.
The Astros, as they have before with problematic public issues, handled it horribly with not just ludicrous press releases, which they would wind up negating with future press releases. But by not having any of Taubman’s actual bosses such as owner Jim Crane or GM Jeff Luhnow address the matter before Game 1. Instead, it was left to Hinch, who found the right avenue of apology, sensitivity and sympathy.
I wonder if Hinch has grown exhausted of being the sheriff in a lawless town, of putting his credibility at risk to protect malfeasance. Would he look to escape a four-year deal (after one season) that, ironically Van Wagenen negotiated, and within which he should have gotten crisis management bonuses included? I have asked Hinch several times about the Mets job this postseason, including since the Taubman episode. Each time he has insisted he is not leaving Houston, that he loves his team and his family loves this area. But his pal, Van Wagenen, might want to triple-check after this latest debacle before returning to Girardi, Eduardo Perez, Tim Bogar, etc. to succeed Mickey Callaway.
Callaway did not survive the same hot seat from which Nationals manager Davey Martinez emerged. Martinez ultimately had a better defense, better hitting duo (Anthony Rendon/Juan Soto) and better infrastructure in Washington. But the parallels to the NL champs (albeit with currently a more worrisome long-term future) makes the Mets’ managerial opening at least intriguing and probably enticing.
The Cubs came to the conclusion that has been expected for a year — that David Ross would succeed Joe Maddon as their manager.
When the Cubs allowed Maddon to enter the 2019 season as a lame duck, it was understood that he would not be back in 2020. Ross, an important leader on Maddon’s 2016 Cubs champions, was seen even in spring training as the front-runner, with Cubs bench coach Mark Loretta and MLB Network’s Mark DeRosa, who the Cubs had tried to hire as a coach the past few years, as the strongest challengers.
Astros bench coach Joe Espada emerged as a strong challenger to Ross. But Ross had a head start and greater familiarity with Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer that Espada could not overcome. That threatens his chances with the Giants as well, where their president of baseball operations, Farhan Zaidi, has stronger history with recently fired Phillies manager Gabe Kapler and A’s quality control coach Mark Kotsay.
Espada also is a peripheral candidate for the Pirates managerial opening, where former Rangers manager Jeff Bannister and Twins bench coach Derek Shelton are seen among the favorites. But Pittsburgh is perceived to be moving slower than what at one time were eight teams with managers to hire this offseason.
On Wednesday, there became greater clarity for the more languid pace. Frank Coonelly, who had been the Pirates team president since 2007, resigned and admitted in a press release that after embarrassing results on and off the field in 2019, “It was clear that change was necessary.”
The Pirates were 25-48 in the second half, had a few clubhouse clashes that became public and had their star closer, Felipe Vazquez, arrested in September for
allegedly soliciting a child for sexual acts.
The Pirates said they plan to name a new team president Monday and a source said it will be Travis Williams, who was most recently the president of business operations for the Islanders after having a long stint as a Penguin executive.
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