After the Mets won the final game of their season with a walk-off home run in extra innings Sunday, Manager Mickey Callaway quickly transitioned to lamenting the fact that his team would again have to watch the playoffs instead of competing in them.
“The next month will suck,” Callaway said after the Mets missed the postseason for the third straight season.
It got worse for him on Thursday. Jeff Wilpon, the team’s chief operating officer, and General Manager Brodie Van Wagenen flew to the Florida Panhandle in the morning to meet with Callaway, who had previously announced his plan to drive 19 hours from Queens to his off-season residence in Santa Rosa Beach. After listening to the manager’s assessment of the team and sharing feedback, they decided to fire Callaway, who finished his two-year tenure with a combined record of 163-161.
In a conference call with reporters after the announcement of the move, Van Wagenen and Wilpon commended Callaway for what Van Wagenen described as the manager’s “perseverance through this season’s many, many ups and downs.”
Wilpon added: “For me, the next level — and what I’ve expressed to Brodie and to everybody else — is not meaningful games in September, but meaningful games in October. It hurts watching those games on TV right now.”
The Mets (86-76 this season) were not eliminated from the playoff race until the last week of the season. They finished third in the National League East despite the fact that the rookie Pete Alonso led the majors in homers and pitcher Jacob deGrom challenged for a second consecutive Cy Young Award.
“I feel unfulfilled,” Wilpon said. “I feel we left some games on the field that we should have won, and we didn’t fulfill what we really had as a goal, which was to get to the postseason.”
Van Wagenen said that conversations with members of ownership and employees in the baseball operations department had allowed him to assemble an “expansive list” of candidates to replace Callaway.
There will be plenty of competition in the market. Managerial jobs are open in Chicago, Anaheim, Pittsburgh, Kansas City, San Diego and San Francisco.
In recent days, the Cubs fired Manager Joe Maddon, who led the team to a World Series win in 2016, and the Angels removed Brad Ausmus from his managerial role after one season. The former Yankees managers Joe Girardi and Buck Showalter are also available for hire.
Callaway was not the first casualty of the team’s failure to meet heightened expectations under Van Wagenen, who was hired ahead of this season. The pitching coach Dave Eiland and the bullpen coach Chuck Hernandez were dismissed in June as the Mets struggled early, ultimately falling 11 games under .500 in mid-July.
The team rebounded in the second half of the season and won 15 of 16 games during a stretch when the bullpen improved and timely hits came. But Van Wagenen and the owners saw the overall performance — which left the team three games out of the National League’s second wild-card spot — as unsatisfactory.
“It’s encouraging,” Van Wagenen said, “but I think we all recognize that we’re never going to measure ourselves, and certainly our opponents are never going to measure ourselves, by half-seasons of success.”
Hired to replace Terry Collins after five seasons as the Cleveland Indians’ pitching coach, Callaway, 44, did not make it to the end of his three-year contract with the Mets. This was his first managing job in the majors, and he quickly faced an embarrassing episode: The Mets batted out of order against the Reds in May 2018 and were penalized an out. At the time, Callaway allowed that the mistake “probably cost us the game.”
After the Mets went 77-85 that season, Callaway knew he needed to show marked improvement. But his star pitchers struggled to get going, the defense was often deficient, and the bats were slow to produce sufficient runs. Callaway’s frustrations reached a visible peak in June when he shouted at a reporter in the clubhouse after a close loss against the Cubs at Wrigley Field. The team lost the next six games to finish 10-18 in June.
Plenty has changed since Callaway took the job. Sandy Alderson, the general manager who hired him, took a leave of absence from the team in the summer of 2018 to address a recurrence of cancer. After Alderson decided not to return, the Mets replaced him last fall with Van Wagenen, a player agent who had no experience in a team’s front office. Van Wagenen told all who would listen that the Mets were in a win-now mode.
“The win-now and win-in-the-future mantra is important to us,” Van Wagenen said Thursday. “This year, we had a winning season — 10 games over .500 is a winning season. Now, is it our goal by the end of the day? Absolutely not.”
Billed as a pitching guru, Callaway got little support from his hurlers early this season. DeGrom, who had a 1.70 E.R.A. in 2018, struggled to find his command before closing out the season with 23 consecutive scoreless innings. Noah Syndergaard finished with a career-high 4.28 E.R.A. Closer Edwin Diaz, whom Van Wagenen acquired in a trade shortly after moving into his Citi Field office, posted a 5.59 E.R.A. and blew seven saves.
Unsolicited, Van Wagenen said that both Syndergaard and Diaz would remain with the Mets next season.
Now, with Callaway in his rearview, Van Wagenen will search for his own manager.
“Our goals right now are to accelerate our progress, and we don’t want to take the foot off the pedal,” Van Wagenen said. “We want to keep going forward in aggressive fashion.”