In his pregame media availability Wednesday, Buck Showalter was asked to compare and contrast managing the Yankees to doing the same now for the Mets. He hemmed and hawed, then verbally ducked into a diplomatic escape hatch, mentioning how long it had been since he had worked in the Yankees dugout.
If you were around back then (I was), you know some memories never fade. So as the unofficial translator for Showalter (I hired myself), let me decode what he actually meant: “I worked for Big Stein, Little Stein runs the Yankees now. If anything, I now work for as close to Big Stein as we have in New York.”
So Showalter has the muscle memory of what it means to work for an all-in owner. The pressure. The implications. The ramifications. And designating Robinson Cano for assignment with $37 million-plus still left on his contract is an all-in move by an all-in owner.
That is really the story from 20,000 feet of Cano’s removal from the Mets’ roster; the one that will persist with this team all season. If Steve Cohen was willing to have a $37 million lunch to maximize each roster spot in May with a first-place team, then everyone should be on red alert. The Mets are going for it this year. So, for example, J.D. Davis and Dominic Smith might have survived the roster cut this go-around, but that is a reprieve for now, not an assurance they will survive the season. It would be a good idea for both to start hitting — and soon.
And everyone in the bullpen should take the same posture. For it has become evident early that this is the Achilles’ arm for the Mets, a condition that became more pronounced Wednesday with the revelation that Trevor May will be gone for at least two months with a stress reaction in a bone between his elbow and shoulder. May had struggled early this season (8.64 ERA), but had a track record for being an above-average workhorse — traits that sure could be used out of this pen.
The way the Mets set up after a Tuesday doubleheader and without May, Adam Ottavino was asked to pitch a third straight day and said he had told the club before the matinee Wednesday that he was primed to do so. He inherited bases loaded, no outs from Tylor Megill in the sixth inning of a scoreless game, allowed all three righty hitters he faced to reach and left with five runs having scored and to what have become rare boos this year at Citi Field.
The fans have been in love-fest mode because Wednesday has been the anomaly. The club has mainly played well and smart and leads the NL East by 4 ¹/₂ games. The big number though is that the Braves are six back. Atlanta is the four-time defending division champ, the defending World Series champ and — until proven otherwise by Philadelphia or Miami — the main threat to the Mets capturing the division crown for the first time since 2015.
In a quest to do that, the Mets felt that, day-to-day, Davis, Smith, Luis Guillorme and Travis Jankowski would be greater assets to winning than Cano. One member of the organization described the choice as “obvious.” But take a step back. The Wilpons would have forced Showalter and the Mets to co-exist with Cano longer regardless of how obvious the choice. They would not have been convinced about sunk costs and fully maximizing the roster.
“This is Steve,” Showalter explained. “He just said, ‘Hey make the right baseball decision.’ ”
But Showalter acknowledged the flip side too, one he learned under Big Stein, George Steinbrenner, “If you are wrong, it is find another manager or general manager.”
This is the league the Mets play in now after Francisco Lindor signed a $341 million contract one offseason and Max Scherzer received the largest per-annum deal in MLB history the next offseason. It is the league in which the 2022 payroll rockets toward $290 million for luxury tax purposes and in which eating $37 million plus to make Cano go away is shrugged off as the price of doing business. As one Mets official noted, when Cohen bought the team he knew the day was coming when he would have to make an early decision on Cano — and he spent the $2.45 billion anyway.
But all of that changes the equation for all involved with the Mets. It makes them the Yankees. It makes them win or else. It means Lindor and Scherzer and a few others can buy, not rent. That list, though, is not long because tolerance has grown a lot shorter with the Mets.
“I don’t want guys going to the field or up to the plate fearing they can be replaced, that’s not good,” Lindor said. “I do like hearing we are here to win and we will do whatever it takes to win and that we have to go out and get that done. And it is not just the players. It’s everyone, the analytics department, the coaches, the general manager, everyone.”
Showalter no longer works for Big Stein, but there is no doubt about the intentions of his Boss.