In his pre-game media availability Wednesday, Buck Showalter was asked to compare and contrast the Yankees’ management with the Mets now. He whispered and gasped, then verbally ducked into a diplomatic escape hatch and mentioned how long it had been since he’d worked in the Yankees’ dugout.
If you were there then (I was), you know that some memories never fade. As Showalter’s unofficial translator (I hired myself), let me decipher what he actually meant: “I worked for Big Stein, Little Stein runs the Yankees now. If anything, I work as close to Big Stein now as I do 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 consequences. And naming Robinson Cano for a job with over $37 million left on his contract is an all-in move by an all-in owner.
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That really is the story of 20,000 feet from Cano’s removal from the Mets roster; the one that will last all season with this team. If Steve Cohen was willing to lunch $37 million to maximize every May roster spot with a first-place team, everyone should be on the alert. The Mets want it this year. For example, JD Davis and Dominic Smith may have survived the roster cut in this breakthrough, but that’s breathing space for now, not a guarantee they’ll survive the season. It would be a good idea for both of them to start hitting – and soon.
And everyone in the bullpen should have the same attitude. Because it was revealed early on that this is the Achilles’ arm for the Mets, a condition that began 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 , became even more pronounced . May struggled earlier this season (8.64 ERA) but had a track record as an above-average workhorse – traits that could certainly be exploited from this pen.
Just as the Mets lined up after a doubleheader on Tuesday and without May, Adam Ottavino was asked to pitch for a third straight day and said he told the club before Wednesday’s matinee he was ready to do so. He inherited loaded bases, no outs from Tylor Megill in the sixth inning of a scoreless game, let all three righty hitters he faced reach and went with five runs after scoring and boos infrequently during that one year at Citi Field.
Fans were in lovefest mode because Wednesday was the anomaly. Above all, the club has played well and cleverly and leads the NL East with 4 ¹/₂ games. The big number, however, is that the Braves are six back. Atlanta is the four-time defending division champion, the defending World Series champion and — until Philadelphia or Miami prove otherwise — the biggest threat to the Mets, who capture the division crown for the first time since 2015.
To accomplish this, the Mets felt Davis, Smith, Luis Guillorme and Travis Jankowski would be more profitable on a day-to-day basis than Cano. A member of the organization described the choice as “obvious”. But take a step back. The Wilpons would have forced Showalter and the Mets to coexist with Cano longer, no matter how obvious the choice. They would not have been convinced of sunk costs and full roster maximization.
“This is Steve,” Showalter explained. “He just said, ‘Hey, make the right baseball decision.’ ”
But Showalter also acknowledged the downside he learned under Big Stein, George Steinbrenner: “If you’re wrong, find another manager or general manager.”
This is the league the Mets now play in after Francisco Lindor signed a $341 million deal during the offseason and Max Scherzer landed the largest annual contract in MLB history next offseason. It’s the league where the 2022 payroll will skyrocket to $290 million for luxury tax purposes and where eating more than $37 million to make Cano quit is dismissed as the price of business. As one Mets official noted, when Cohen bought the team, he knew the day would come when he had to make an early decision about Cano — and he spent the $2.45 billion anyway.
But all of that changes the equation for everyone associated with the Mets. That makes them the Yankees. It lets them win or else. That means Lindor and Scherzer and a few others can buy, not rent. That list isn’t long, however, as the Mets’ tolerance has gotten much tighter.
“I don’t want guys to go out on the field or on the plate and worry they can be replaced, that’s not good,” Lindor said. “I like to hear that we’re here to win and we’ll do anything to win and that we have to go out and get that done. And it’s 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’s no questioning his boss’s intentions.
This article was originally published in The New York Post and republished with permission.