The New York Mets have seen a rash of former players hired the past two offseasons. Are they the right people for their jobs?
Since the New York Mets hired Brodie Van Wagenen, they have seemed to rely on familiarity at every turn. For example, they’ve signed more players represented by CAA, Van Wagenen’s former employer, than any other sports agency.
It hasn’t stopped at players. Familiarity has spread to the coaching staff and the front office. Former players have been hired onto front office and coaching roles left and right the last two offseasons. This is especially true for players with a connection to Omar Minaya.
The former Mets’ general manager and current assistant GM has his fingerprints all over the front office and coaches. That leads one to question the direction the Mets are taking.
Are they simply hiring too many of their former players? Are they letting familiarity dictate hirings? Will this regime dig themselves into a hole that the team can’t escape from?
The only way to answer those questions is to dig into the former players they hired.
Special Advisor to the General Manager: David Wright
David Wright joined the New York Mets’ front office immediately upon retiring. It was a move he was always going to make, for two reasons.
One, the Mets needed to figure out a way they could continue to pay out the money Wright was owed. They didn’t want to keep paying him while he sat at home on the couch. Wright was always going to end up in the front office or coaching.
The other reason is that Wright wanted a role in the front office. He talked about his desire to join the front office a ton during his playing days. He’s seemingly always seen the front office as his second career.
It’s not uncommon for organizations to give former players advisor roles. Every team in baseball has at least one in their front office. There was nothing inherently wrong with the Mets hiring David Wright in 2018.
Baseball Operations Advisor: John Franco and Al Leiter
This pair of signings was announced in 2018. Like with Wright, teams give former players roles like these all the time. The big difference here is that, usually, former players who take up this role have some sort of connection to the game after retiring.
This role is usually given to broadcasters looking to make the change, or recently retired players looking to become scouts. The key is that they were recently engaged in the game.
Al Leiter fits that bill. He was a broadcaster for YES and an analyst for MLB Network. He stayed on as an analyst with MLB Network even after accepting the job.
On the other hand, Franco had no such connection. After retiring Franco had no connection to the professional game anymore. He wasn’t coaching nor was he broadcasting. There’s nothing on his resume that qualifies him for this position.
It made no sense to hire Franco. It seemed more like a gesture to the former captain. In a well-run organization that can be overlooked. The New York Mets are not a well-run organization, and hirings like Franco stand out as a reason why.
Brooklyn Cyclones Outfield and Baserunning coach: Endy Chavez
Here’s where the connections to Omar Minaya truly begin. Minaya signed Chavez prior to the 2006 season when Omar Minaya was the Mets’ GM. He provided the New York Mets with a career year and one of the greatest catches in MLB history.
Chavez officially retired from baseball after 2018. While he had not played in MLB since 2012, Chavez played in independent leagues and international leagues for years. Upon retiring he found a job with the Mets.
Chavez joined Edgardo Alfonzo‘s staff in Brooklyn. He was brought in to teach outfield defense and baserunning, two things Chavez excelled at. It’s not uncommon for recently retired players to get coaching roles in the lower minor leagues.
The assignment to Brooklyn instead of a lower level team was aggressive. However, it wasn’t an egregious mistake. In fact, it was a massive success. With Chavez on board, the Cyclones won their first-ever New York-Penn League championship.
Interestingly, Alfonzo won’t return to the Cyclones in 2019, and Chavez won’t replace him. That said, it’s not out of the question Chavez gets a promotion, which would be expected if he performed well in 2019.
The New York Mets still haven’t named a manager for the Columbia Fireflies, nor have they announced the full 2020 Cyclones staff.
Manager: Carlos Beltran
The 2020 offseason has been one to remember. It all started with Carlos Beltran’s return to Queens. Beltran’s first stint in Queens began in 2005 when Omar Minaya signed him to a seven-year $119 million contract.
His second stint begins as a first-time manager. Beltran has no previous coaching experience. This job is going to be his first coaching job. That said, he did have a special assistant job with the Yankees front office for the past two years.
It’s becoming increasingly more common for teams to hire managers without a coaching background. For example, the Yankees hired Aaron Boone right out of the broadcast booth.
Carlos Beltran was considered one of the hottest managerial prospects in baseball. Three other teams requested to interview Beltran for their managerial openings, he declined choosing to only interview with the Mets.
Only time will tell how this hiring goes. Whatever the case may be, the Mets can at least say they aren’t the only team that hires managers without an experienced coaching background.
Pitching Coach: Jeremy Hefner
Yet another Omar Minaya connection. Omar Minaya drafted Jeremy Hefner in 2005, though Hefner didn’t sign.
Hefner retired after the 2017 season. He then joined the Minnesota Twins front office as an advance scout.
Hefner reinvented himself with the Twins. He threw himself into analytics learning everything he can about the new advanced stats taking over the game.
Hefner is now considered one of the most analytically advanced coaches in baseball. He was incredibly impressive during his tenure with the Twins. After just one season as an advance scout Hefner earned a promotion to assistant pitching coach.
The Twins pitching staff saw major improvements in 2019. It’s hard to tell how much of that was Hefner and how much was pitching coach Wes Johnson. Nevertheless, Hefner became the most sought after pitching coach prospect in baseball for the 2020 season.
He always had his eyes set on the Mets. One front office executive told Andy Martino of SNY that he was interested in hiring Hefner, but was told he was headed to the Mets. It turned out to be true.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with this hire. The New York Mets got this hire perfect. Hefner earned his shot at a pitching coach job.
Syracuse Mets’ Manager: Brian Schneider
Schneider is the latest signing. He too has a connection to Omar Minaya. Minaya traded for Schneider before the 2008 season in a deal involving former Mets’ top prospect Lastings Milledge.
Schneider retired after the 2012 season and began coaching a year later. He joined the Miami Marlins’ organization in 2014 as the manager of their A+ affiliate, the Jupiter Hammerheads.
After just one season as a manager, Schneider joined the Marlins major league staff. They brought him in as the team’s catching coordinator.
Schneider worked with J.T. Realmuto in his rookie season in 2015. He held his position with the Marlins until the end of the 2019 season.
Schneider’s job was to teach catcher defense to the Marlins’ catchers. Realmuto is now arguably the best defensive catcher in baseball. It’s hard to say how much of an impact Schneider had though.
Jorge Alfaro came over to the Marlins with a good reputation defensively and was one of the worst defensive catchers in baseball in 2019. So, it’s possible that Realmuto was dragging Schneider up instead of the other way around.
Considering Schneider has a year of managerial experience and years of major league experience this doesn’t seem like a bad process hire. However, this doesn’t seem like a hire a team makes without direct knowledge of the person they’re hiring.