NEW YORK — Following days of meetings with top ownership and baseball operations officials, Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen decided this week that he wanted to move on from manager Mickey Callaway. Mostly. Van Wagenen still intended to meet with his manager, talk to him and debrief. Whether that meant giving Callaway an opportunity to save his job, Van Wagenen either did not know or would not say.
With that as the backdrop, Van Wagenen and Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon flew to Callaway’s home on the Florida Panhandle on Thursday morning. There, the three men talked about the season — what went right and what went wrong. They asked for Callaway’s opinions. Then, at the end of the meeting, Van Wagenen informed Callaway of his dismissal.
“We didn’t want to make an emotional decision,” Van Wagenen said hours later, on a conference call. We wanted to collect all of our thoughts, and have an opportunity to go through it more in a methodical fashion rather than go through it with a knee-jerk decision.”
Thus ended Callaway’s tenure, following two full seasons and a 163-161 record. Callaway, 44, is under contract through 2020, meaning the Mets will pay out the roughly $850,000 remaining on his deal. He becomes the first manager in franchise history to lose his job after completing a full season with a winning record. (The Mets fired Davey Johnson and Willie Randolph the year after winning seasons, but both had losing records at the time of their dismissals.)
Prior to joining the Mets, Callaway served as pitching coach for five seasons under Terry Francona in Cleveland, including the team’s American League pennant-winning season in 2016. In New York, he succeeded Terry Collins, the Mets’ longest-tenured manager, who remains in the organization as an advisor. Like Collins, Callaway drew criticism for many of his in-game moves, including the incorrect lineup card that he submitted during a 2018 game in Cincinnati. Callaway also managed to keep the Mets in the 2019 playoff race into late September, despite falling 11 games under .500 in mid-July.
This season, Van Wagenen twice backed Callaway publicly, most notably after the manager became engaged in a clubhouse altercation with a reporter in June.
“This isn’t easy,” Van Wagenen said. “Conversations like this are difficult, especially when people are putting their hearts and souls into their work. But we did feel like this move will give us the opportunity to continue our progression, and ultimately get us to where we want to do as a team and as a franchise.”
“We all spend a lot of time talking about baseball and doing things together,” added Wilpon. “I’ve got to tell you, it’s not easy letting somebody go, especially somebody you like and [who] you respect, like Mickey. He was a true gentleman, and professional when we met with him this morning.”
The Mets on Thursday also informed bench coach Jim Riggleman of his dismissal, according to a source. Other members of the coaching staff appear safer, including hitting coach Chili Davis and interim pitching coach Phil Regan, though decisions on their futures will come at a later date.
Much depends on the identity of the next manager. The Mets have already established an “expansive list” of candidates, according to Van Wagenen, at a time when the MLB landscape is full of possibilities. Experienced managers including Joe Maddon, Joe Girardi, Buck Showalter, Dusty Baker, Robin Ventura and Brad Ausmus are all unemployed. One of Van Wagenen’s best friends is World Series-winning Astros manager AJ Hinch; even if the idea of trading for Hinch is too complicated, his bench coach, Joe Espada, could be an option. So could Luis Rojas, the Mets’ quality control coach who is well-regarded by both players and staff. Former Mets pitcher and current Yankees broadcaster David Cone told the YES Network on Thursday that if asked, he would interview.
To land their top choice, the Mets may need to act quickly. Six other teams — the Cubs, Angels, Pirates, Royals, Padres and Giants — also have managerial openings. Mets officials planned to remain engaged in organizational meetings this week, with an eye toward contacting prospective candidates in the coming days.
“We’re looking for strong leadership,” Van Wagenen said. “We’re looking for a voice that can keep our clubhouse culture going in the right direction, can keep this team unified and that can accelerate our path here. … At the end of the day, it’s less about any shortcomings from Mickey, and it’s more about some of the upside opportunities that we feel some of the potential candidates may bring to us.”