Deesha Thosar: The 2021 Mets would have benefitted from a veteran manager

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The Mets waited less than 24 hours after their final out against the Braves, a Francisco Lindor groundout to third base, to oust Luis Rojas as manager following his second year at the helm. It was a dismissal that was expected after the Mets lost more games than they won, and the cracks in the clubhouse showed that a veteran leader is likely to be more in tune with these temperamental players.

In early May, Lindor and Jeff McNeil tussled in the tunnel and covered up their disagreement with a bizarre story involving a rat or a raccoon, only to have Mets acting GM Zack Scott handle the player and PR mess with a more honest assessment.

Scott said the cover-up story was not ideal, no one in the organization would recommend handling the situation that way, and emotions were high. Give credit to Scott for being the adult in the room. As for Rojas, he took an alternate route, saying: “We’re a better ballclub tonight because of whatever happened last night.” That simply wasn’t the case, and Lindor and McNeil did not suddenly mesh at shortstop and second base, nor did the clubhouse become “better” because of it.

It was one of the first moments this season that Rojas, a still-rookie manager, seemed in over his head in the position.

Next was the thumbs down fiasco. Javier Baez, Lindor, Kevin Pillar and possibly a few other players started putting their thumbs down after getting a hit, be it a single or a home run. When Baez explained that players were putting their thumbs down for the fans, as a response to the crowd booing the team for its disappointing performance, the sports world broke into a frenzy.

The unbelievable explanation from a player who, at that point, had played just 17 games with the Mets was weird, offbeat, and insulting to fans who paid to watch the team play. Rojas took the route he usually would in times of controversy, saying he wasn’t aware of the players’ thumbs-down celebration.

Hours after Baez’s description of the gesture, team president Sandy Alderson released a harsh statement that said the thumbs down was unacceptable, there would be a team meeting to discuss it, and that fans are allowed to react and boo any way they want, and players must respect that. Alderson’s statement was over the top, and it took the situation to another level.

It’s hard to imagine Alderson needing to step in the way he did if Rojas, the manager who was tasked with supervising the many personalities of the clubhouse, had handled the situation both in private and with a decent and honest explanation to the public.

Then we saw Taijuan Walker openly getting upset with Rojas over his early hook from an August start against the Giants. Walker had allowed two hits against one of the best offensive lineups in baseball, and he was only at 74 pitches. Once a couple of runners got on base, in part due to sloppy defense from the Mets, Rojas emerged from the dugout to a pissed off starting pitcher. Walker, astounded with Rojas’ decision, mouthed the words: “What’re we doing here?”

Pitchers getting pissed at managers for being taken out of their starts is nothing new in baseball. But that was just one such example of Rojas diligently following the front office and analytics-based suggestion to take Walker out once he was set to face the order for a third time. Often, Rojas lacked a feel for the game.

One week ago, owner Steve Cohen tweeted his appreciation for Rojas in two sentences that appropriately summed up what he meant to the Mets organization. “Want to thank Luis for his work as a manager,” Cohen wrote. “He is a good man who represented the Mets with dignity and calm during two extremely trying years.”

In a two-year span of Mets chaos that included an abrupt promotion from quality-control coach to skipper, managing in a COVID-19 pandemic season, a highly publicized ownership change, and four different GMs, it is a wonder Rojas was able to speak to reporters twice a day and keep his calm, even-keeled demeanor no matter the situation. In many ways, Rojas’ composed attitude was singularly impressive amongst the disarray around him.

But, for all the reasons outlined, the Mets needed a veteran managerial presence in 2021. The club has lacked stability in the front office and at manager, and its next step should be locking down an individual who has seen at least most of these situations unfold. The tough part, of course, will be getting a veteran skipper to handle the tall task of managing in a New York market with the usual headaches that accompany a messy Mets organization. And that’s something this ballclub has struggled to do.