PORT ST. LUCIE — Mickey Callaway held his inaugural State of the Mets news conference Tuesday at First Data Field, and is it possible to observe, without any political or personal implications or judgments whatsoever, that he speaks a little like the current United States President?
He threw out an “unbelievable” (quoting his pitching coach Dave Eiland, to be fair), and he said his pitchers, under the watch of the accomplished Eiland, will be “prepared better than anyone has ever prepared them in their life.” Eiland will be part of “the best coaching staff in the big leagues.”
Those superlatives, I think, speak to Callaway’s enthusiasm as he tackles his first managing job. And he channeled many of history’s great leaders when he offered his version of “The buck stops here.”
“It is very evident that we are prepared in every way to go out there and do something special,” Callaway said. “If we do not do things, it’s going to be on me.
“The front office has gotten us the players. The coaching staff is the best coaching staff in the big leagues. … When you get a group like that, you can do something special. And if we don’t do something special with the things we have in place, it’s going to be on the leadership of that. And that’s going to be on me.”
Kudos to Callaway not only for volunteering to fall on his sword, but also to spreading a message of positivity to both his players and the Mets’ emotionally bruised fan base. It can only help.
Nevertheless, in a word: No.
No, it doesn’t fall on Callaway to guide this intriguing yet flawed group to its third playoff berth in four years.
No, unless it turns out he is Ray Handley reincarnated as a baseball guy, he won’t be the primary culprit if the Mets can’t leap back over the .500 wall. Not as long as the Mets still trail the Nationals so dramatically (about $35 million) in payroll.
The Mets wound up doing more this offseason than industry pessimists anticipated, waiting out this ice-cold Hot Stove League to secure Jay Bruce, Todd Frazier and Jose Reyes on team-friendly deals after participating in the December setup-man spending frenzy to land the interesting Anthony Swarzak. They spent their funds so efficiently, in fact, that, as Sandy Alderson has indicated, you shouldn’t be surprised if they add to their pitching staff with a low-priced free agent.
They’ll have a roster that can qualify for the postseason, if enough goes right. Should this club be favored to do so, though? Of course not.
You need go no further than the statistical projection services to find analytical, unemotional proof. Both the PECOTA and Steamer systems calculate the Mets to finish 81-81, and ZiPS has the Mets finishing 80-82. Sounds right. They’re due for better fortune after last year’s 70-92 fiasco.
Why not better than .500? The starting pitching. Even if you think Jacob deGrom can duplicate his 2017 output and Noah Syndergaard his 2016 output, that still leaves three rotation spots. Maybe Matt Harvey, Steven Matz and Zach Wheeler can shake off their extensive histories and attain their former potential, or perhaps ’16 sensations Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo can contribute, or that low-cost free agent can help, or if you’re feeling really lucky, can Rafael Montero discover himself at age 27 and become even league-average?
These are not outrageous scenarios. They lie within the realm of possibility. Last year, two clubs took huge leaps from 2016 records even worse than the ’17 Mets all the way to the playoffs. The Diamondbacks transformed from 69-93 to the opposite 93-69, and the Twins rocketed from 59-103 to 85-77. Neither team made huge additions during the 2016-17 offseason.
The presence of the pitching-savvy duo of Callaway and Eiland should increase the chances of the possible becoming real, yet let’s not confuse that with putting the onus on them.
If this works out as well as hoped?
Then there’ll be enough credit for everyone, from ownership to Alderson to Callaway and his coaches, to share.