The Bucks Stop Here

Another post-season miss for the Mets, which means once more I can’t think the unthinkable.  One upside to being a Pessimistic Die Hard Realist is that I intend to live as long as possible until the team actually wins another World Series.  We’re now 37 years and counting, which is more than five times the drought of a Cubs fan and more than seven times the drought of a Red Sox fan and more than 12 times the drought of a Dodgers fan, and is even than a purist Dodger fan who thinks the 2020 sprint isn’t a “real” title.  Sorry, when it comes to stubborness, I win.  And if that’s what it takes to keep me going, so be it.

But if they do end my drought in 2024 they will be doing it with a new leader, as Buck Showalter was shown the door on Sunday as a disappointing 77-85 2023 campaign came to a thud with a 9-1 home loss to the playoff-bound Phillies.   Showalter had won 101 games last year, plus a post-season game for the franchise for the first time since 2015, and was a genius pretty much until the final week, when he ran into an Atlanta Braves buzzsaw that stole the title, and then was the unfortunate recipient of meltdowns from the reliable Chris Bassitt and Max Scherzer in a three-game home playoff loss to the overachieving Padres.  The pitcher that did win a game for them, Jacob de Grom, was deemed too expensive a risk to take moving forward, and, in hindsight, the $185 million the Texas Rangers invested in him that the Mets did not seemed precient.  de Grom hasn’t pitched since May due to yet another injury, but he did get to watch Texas win a road playoff game this afternoon thrown by another New York castoff, mostly due to seven shutout innings from another New York castoff, Jordan Montgomery.

He was joined on the bench by Scherzer, who wore out his brief welcome after continuing to underachieve in 2023.  At $43.3 million for a season, nothing less than perfection was expected.  A similar gauntlet was thrown down to Justin Verlander, who was acquired from Houston to fill deGrom’s void.  All of that spending led to nothing but more heartache, which if you’re the Die Hard Optimist that Mets owner Steve Cohen is, even if you have the billions to cover your mistakes, you ultimately see the error in your ways.

The team isn’t happy about Showalter’s departure, as Andrew Tredinnick of penned earlier this week:

As Buck Showalter ventured out of the dugout and toward home plate for the final time as New York Mets manager, his players and coaches all emerged to give him a round of applause along the first-base line.

The Citi Field scoreboard flashed the message: “Thank you Buck.”

The show of respect came following the news before the game that Showalter would not manage the Mets beyond the 2023 season. In his two seasons with the Mets, the veteran manager, who was in his fifth stop across 22 seasons, earned the respect of the clubhouse.

“Special. Very cool, very cool,” Francisco Lindor said of the reception for Showalter. “I wish it wouldn’t happen like that. I wish he was still here.”

But a day later, when new president David Stearns was announced, it was pretty clear that he was bringing an analytic-centric approach to the game that had no room for an old-school baseball expert like Showalter.  All indications are that Stearns will be bringing in Craig Counsell, his partner in crime in Milwaukee who has played a Moneyball-like hand in bringing the Brewers to the playoffs in five of the last six seasons, which is four more times than the Mets have been there.  No, they haven’t been all that successful once they got there.  But they did get there.

So while the right words were said regarding what so many fans want, which is to have better health and Pete Alonso signed long-term, a cautionary tale of Stearns’ track record was told by the New York Post’s Mark W. Sanchez:

The same executive who once disrupted the Brewers’ clubhouse (and arguably tanked their 2022 season) by trading closer Josh Hader will not be afraid to make unpopular decisions if he believes a move is worth making.

Can we extrapolate this tendency and wonder whether Stearns’ willingness to make the right baseball move — and not the most-applauded — can be extended toward Pete Alonso?

Just about every Mets fan on the planet wants to see the face of the organization — the best power hitter in the franchise’s history and the undisputed clubhouse leader — return not just next year but be extended, making him a Met for life.

Locking up Alonso this offseason would grant Stearns significant goodwill with the fan base. Even if the move backfired, odds are it would not look like a poor decision for another several years, buying Stearns plenty of time.

But maybe a president of baseball operations who is looking to make transactions he believes in rather than moves that prompt applause would be more open to trading Alonso, who can be a free agent after next season and is a first baseman, a less-premium position and a position at which players tend to age poorly.

The Brewers are anything but a star-laden team.  Their first baseman was journeyman Carlos Santana, who actually homered in Game 1 of tonight’s playoff game against Arizona.  Their top hitter is a resurrected Christian Yelich.  They ultimately replaced Hader with number two Devin Williams, who had 36 productive saves.  But they’re winners.  And that’s really the gift that the man who can afford anything he wants, including the team he cherished since he was kid, wants more than anything.

And, for that. he’s now willing to pay less and be loved less.

I can’t begin to tell you how many fans in online groups are aghast.  They are more on the other side of the spectrum of fandom.  And many among them who were quizzed on Stearns’ body language and subtle use of waffling language said they were simply too busy with life to notice.

I’m trying to be, but I’m not as of late.  But I’d argue I have higher personal stakes than I do.

So good luck, Mr. Stearns.  You run your numbers and you find your diamonds in the rough.  It’s not as rough as the sledding I have ahead of me.  I’ll be rooting you all on nonetheless.



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