John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
The consensus on Buck Showalter as a potential Mets' managerial candidate comes from interviews with scouts, executives, and media members who all know him well, and it is straightforward: his attention to detail, in-game managing, and knack for having his team prepared is all second to none.
He wants to do it his way, which can mean everything from input into personnel decisions to potential clashes over the level of day-to-day front-office involvement that characterized Brodie Van Wagenen's first year as GM.
Should that scare off the Mets?
"Not if they want to win," says one executive who has a history with Showalter. "Not to disparage Mickey Callaway, but the players on that team would be in awe of Buck when they see how detailed he is in every way, how he puts them in the best position to win every night.
"With a team like the Mets that has a lot of pieces in place, a great in-game manager could make a big difference. But there's no way around it -- Brodie is going to have to be willing to take a step back.
"I'm not saying Buck will be opposed to analytics or anything like that. He's a smart guy who's been attuned to that stuff since his Yankee days 25 years ago. But he's not going to want to be in meetings the day of a game about who should play left field that night, who should hit second, that type of stuff. He doesn't have patience for that."
Indeed, Showalter has a reputation for wanting as much control as possible, especially early in his career. Working for the Yankees, Diamondbacks, and Rangers, his style produced results but his micro-managing eventually wore out his welcome with players as well as the front office.
Over the years, say people who know him, Showalter became smarter especially in dealing with players, making a point of listening to them and involving them in some of his policy-making.
In Baltimore with the Orioles, for example, he allowed players to take batting practice on the field in shorts and t-shirts on hot days. And while that may seem like a small matter, some saw it as a significant concession for such a staunch traditionalist.
Yet someone close to Buck says whatever he's done to adapt over the years has simply been to stay relevant as a manager, and that he remains every bit the old-school guy who decades ago railed about what a bad look it was for baseball when Ken Griffey Jr. was wearing his hat backwards.
"He still fights those instincts," was the way one person put it. "He just doesn't let them take over anymore. He's a brilliant guy who recognized times were changing and he had to change with them. I think he does have more patience with players now.
"And he can be great with his bosses if he respects their smarts and their work ethic. I think that was an issue in Baltimore."
The reference there was to Showalter's relationship with GM Dan Duquette, which multiple people say soured dramatically over the years, at least partly because the manager questioned those very qualities in Duquette.
As a result, sources say Buck pushed for more control over personnel decisions, and even made it clear to others in the organization that he didn't think much of Duquette.
"If Buck doesn't respect you, he's not going to play along," one person close to the situation said. "I don't think that would be a problem with the Mets, though. From what you hear, nobody works longer or harder than Brodie, and that goes a long way with him.
"But even then, Brodie would have to give up some control if he wants to make that relationship work."
With that in mind, a long-time scout noted that nobody is more hands-on, even running spring training drills, than Showalter.
"He's secretive about some things," the scout said. "In spring training, we can't get into the ballpark until 11 (a.m.) because he's out there running drills himself that he doesn't want anybody to see.
"So what would happen if Brodie came to him and said the sports science people, which every team is buying into now, say the players need to be off their feet at times, or spring training workouts should start later so players get more sleep?
"Same thing during the season. The sports science people decide that after so many days Jeff McNeil will get a scheduled day off. Well, if McNeil is swinging a hot bat, there's no way Showalter, or Joe Girardi either, is going to go along with that, where I'm sure a first-time manager is going to get in line with it, just as Mickey Callaway did."
All of this might give Van Wagenen pause. He was involved in decision-making to the point of famously calling from his couch during a game in Arizona to tell his medical staff to make sure Callaway pulled Jacob deGrom out of the game, after the Mets' ace incurred what turned out to be a cramping of his leg muscles.
So why would he back off for someone like Showalter? The consensus among the people I talked to again was straightforward:
"Because he wants to keep his job," was the way one person close to the situation put it. "This is his hire. He promised the owners he would win right away. He's limited in the moves he can make and the money he can spend on players.
"The best way to improve his team is to get a strong manager. He has to convince his owners the salary would be money well spent."
Not everyone I talked to loves Showalter's style, but even those people acknowledged he has been one of the best in-game managers in baseball over the years.
He did have one infamous hiccup, if you will, as Orioles' manager, leaving Zack Britton in the bullpen while losing the Wild Card Game to the Blue Jays in 11 innings in 2016. Britton was the best reliever in baseball that season, and Showalter stuck to something of a traditional strategy, waiting for his team to take a lead before using his closer.
Yet it was hard to believe that such a shrewd manager would let his season slip away without using his best reliever, especially when the game got into extra innings, and he has never really fully explained his reasoning for it.
Still, baseball people make the point that it took some great managing to get that Orioles' team to 89 wins and the second Wild Card spot.
"I think that was one spot where Buck outsmarted himself," says a scout. "He wanted to squeeze a couple of innings out some other guys and it cost him. But if you watch him handle the bullpen and manipulate games on a daily basis, he's as good as they come."
Showalter has won, at least to a certain level, everywhere he has managed. But he has also been fired, once after taking the Yankees to the playoffs for the first time in 15 years because of George Steinbrenner's rather famous impatience, but other times at least partly because his bosses grew tired of his controlling nature.
For a Mets' team that desperately wants a winner right now, dealing with those control issues would seem like a small price to pay.