Raise your hand high in the air if you can guess which team in the National League doesn’t have a manager signed to skipper its club in 2022. The answer to that bit of a rhetorical riddle is the New York Mets.
And while MLB might lock down the entire sport at 12:01 a.m. on Dec. 2, it’s a particularly bad look to simply punt on naming a manager.
To his credit, Sandy Alderson, who came back to be president of the team under new owner Steve Cohen, correctly said the Mets would wait until they completed their circus-like search for a GM to hire a manager. The Mets would allow the new GM to make that selection.
That GM selection was officially made Nov. 18. It is longtime baseball executive Billy Eppler, who will now have to sing for his supper as GM to either keep that job and have a perceived heavier hitter become his boss or perhaps be promoted to president of baseball operations himself. If things don’t go well in Year One, it’s possible he could just be paid off and let go.
So, this is no ordinary GM hire with a three- or four-year honeymoon. Eppler will have a lot of pressure on him to succeed immediately. His roster deficiencies are quite obvious and plentiful. The good news is he’ll have an owner in Cohen who isn’t shy about spending the way Mets fans desire.
Of course, Eppler will now dig in and make his first key hire during the next couple weeks. He’ll get to choose the next manager of the Mets.
Now, despite the fact that Eppler was GM of the Angels for five years (2016-2020), he truly has made only one hire of a manager. He inherited Mike Scioscia when he was hired. When Scioscia announced at the end of the 2018 season that he would not return for the 2019 season (his decision), Eppler got the chance to hire his man.
His choice was Brad Ausmus, who had previously managed the Detroit Tigers for four seasons to a 314-332 record, a winning percentage of .486. Ausmus would last one miserable season with the Angels. The decision to let him go was made above Eppler and was tied to the belief that Joe Maddon, who had just been freed from his commitment to the Chicago Cubs, would come to the Angels.
The Angels actually let Eppler go through a bit of a charade in which he interviewed John Farrell, Buck Showalter and Maddon.
Eppler’s choice — as revealed in a New York Post article by Joel Sherman and Ken Davidoff — was actually Showalter. Owner Arte Moreno chose Maddon. Eppler was let go after Maddon’s first season as Angels skipper (2020).
That article mentioned listed five possible candidates for the Mets job: Buck Showalter, Brad Ausmus, Eric Chavez, Joe Espada and Raul Ibanez.
I won’t spend the time debating all five. Suffice it to say if you had one season to prove yourself and maybe prove that you don’t need to have someone hired above you, are you taking a chance on a first-time major-league manager? In the case of Chavez and Ibanez, they have never managed a game on any level.
That leaves two realistic candidates — Showalter and Ausmus. While I am a Showalter fan, his career record of 1,551-1,517 comes to a winning percentage of just .506. Not all that impressive.
However, his Yankee years saw him manage to a winning percentage of a more impressive .539. After that, he took over an Arizona club about 18 months before it played its first-ever game. When he was let go by the Diamondbacks, he took over a struggling Rangers ballclub. Lastly, he took over an awful Orioles club in the last two months of 2010.
More importantly and germane to this argument was how he changed the culture and the fortunes of the Orioles from 2012-2016. A team that hadn’t sniffed the playoffs for 14 years played to a 444-366 record (.548 winning percentage) and made three playoff appearances.
We here in Baltimore know it all fell apart in 2018 when the O’s fell into disrepair and won just 47 games against 115 losses.
Showalter has not really come close to being taken seriously since, despite the fact that Eppler wanted to hire him. That was a wired deal for Maddon. We also know Eppler is a fan of Ausmus because he hired him once and didn’t want to fire him. His hand was forced by Moreno.
Ausmus has the four years in Detroit on his resume and the one disaster of a season at the helm of the Angels. Ausmus also has another fan in Alderson, who is known to have had prior interest in him when he was the GM of the Mets several years ago.
If Eppler wants to do the smart thing, he’d hire Showalter with the condition that he considers Ausmus for the role of bench coach and frankly, a manager in waiting.
Showalter loves to have control. He would not have all the control in Queens. But Showalter is the right man for this job. He should be Eppler’s first choice. Showalter is beloved in New York and he can take a bite out of the Big Apple. The risk with all those other candidates is that the Big Apple takes a bite out of them.
A previous version of this story stated that the Mets were the only team in MLB to not have a manager in place. The story has been corrected.
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