New York Mets manager Mickey Callaway vowed to create a strong clubhouse environment, but his recent quotes are concerning.
Accountability. At the start of Spring Training in Port St. Lucie, that seemed to be the favorite word of the New York Mets‘ first-year manager, Mickey Callaway. Remember when Dominic Smith was late for their Grapefruit League opener and he got scratched from the starting lineup?
This is what Callaway said about it, via Anthony DiComo of MLB.com:
“We have expectations for guys…If they don’t meet that expectation, then we have to hold them accountable.”
A change in culture was definitely needed in the Mets’ clubhouse, so this was like a breath of fresh air. And after Callaway talked a big game with holding players accountable, actually following through in his first test was a great sign.
Despite that, things have been a little weird lately. The first instance took place at the start of June when the Mets were in the midst of their freefall. Upon getting swept by the Chicago Cubs in embarrassing fashion at home, Callaway had this to say about the pressure his squad is feeling, via Howie Kussoy the New York Post:
“Let’s be honest, this is a tough place to play. New York is tough on players. It’s tough on everybody. If they were in Cleveland or somewhere else, maybe they wouldn’t feel that pressure, but you are playing in New York. We do play in New York. We have passionate fans that want to see a good ballclub out there, so we have to do some things to get over that and make sure that we’re focused every second of the day that we’re out there.”
It didn’t matter what he said after that first line, because nobody was really listening. So, this was the first real instance of that whole accountability thing not really happening.
The latest instance came Tuesday night at Coors Field after a 10-8 loss at the hands of the Colorado Rockies. Starting pitcher Jason Vargas lasted a season-low 2.1 innings after allowing seven runs on nine hits, which included surrendering back-to-back-to-back home runs.
Here’s what Callaway had to say in general about pitching at Coors Field, via ESPN New York:
“When you come to Coors Field, you tell your pitchers to not worry about what happens here and you move on…Forget about it.”
In normal circumstances, this makes a ton of sense. However, it’s hard to be in a forgiving mood when a pitcher like Vargas struggles. You know, because based off his 8.60 ERA in 37.2 innings so far this season, it’s not like he can just chalk up this outing to the environment.
The only solace we can get from this is that Vargas didn’t try to make any excuses for Tuesday’s horrific outing:
“They were just bad pitches and they all got hammered.”
Indeed they were.
All first-year managers have a monumental challenge on their hands, but especially when they’ve never managed professionally before. Just by looking at the trajectory this team has been on the last three months, nobody can blame Callaway for losing sleep over it.
He started out with the highest of highs before encountering the lowest of lows. Now is about the time he’d like to see things balance out a bit so there can be some idea of what “normal” is.
Callaway has already had to toe a thin line on multiple occasions as Mets manager. He’s had to deal with a number of sensitive situations with players — Vargas, Matt Harvey, Jose Reyes, Jay Bruce, and his entire bullpen are a handful that immediately comes to mind.
The problem here is that there isn’t a whole lot of wiggle room for the rookie manager. It’s not like he has someone readily available to plug into the lineup if another player isn’t performing up to expectation.
He needs to keep building his players up to help them find answers, not the opposite. Vargas’ case is a perfect example. He’s supposed to be the rotation’s stabilizing veteran, yet has been anything but that. Who exactly would step into his role if he was removed?
Many would point to Robert Gsellman, which would make sense outside of the fact that it’d further deplete the bullpen. He and Seth Lugo have been two of Callaway’s most valuable relievers. Lugo has already been inserted into the rotation while Noah Syndergaard works back from his finger injury, so also taking Gsellman out would leave that area of the roster more short-handed than it already is.
Even if Vargas did get removed from the starting staff, how would he get back on track? It’s not like he can help get left-handed hitters out later in games — they own a .434 wOBA against him so far in 2018. You could do a simulated game, but they only do so much.
There’s no way around it. Callaway is in one of those “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situations. He pushed all the right buttons through the season’s first month, and it feels like every time he’s pushed one since, it’s been wrong.
Him changing his tone from the start of Spring Training to now isn’t necessarily the alarming part — it’s his choice of words. That probably comes with the territory, though. He’s learning what it’s like to manage in a big media market on a daily basis and the importance of choosing your words wisely.
This is the very definition of “baptism under fire”. Things haven’t gone so well recently, but hopefully, he starts catching on sooner rather than later.