I sometimes suspect that our little corner of the baseball universe is disproportionately obsessed with matters of so-called “lolMets” persuasion. Sure, sometimes the club’s top players miss games due to hand, foot, and mouth disease or food poisoning from eating undercooked chicken. Sure, sometimes its highest-paid position player breaks his ankle while dodging a wild boar on his ranch. And sure, sometimes the new general manager just happens to be the agent for the franchise’s most important names.
But every MLB team is full of foibles and bizarre mishaps, and at least on the field the Mets have generally seemed perfectly normal. Many others would be jealous of the Queens franchise, which boasts the defending NL Rookie of the Year, the two-time defending NL Cy Young winner, and a World Series appearance as recently as 2015. Add in a hearty helping of New York media bias and a light sprinkle of Napoleon complex compared to the Yankees, though, and the Mets transform into a persistent, if exaggerated, online joke.
Even I must admit, however, that the Mets’ unexpected involvement in this week’s sign-stealing fiasco and fallout bears a mark of lolMets catastrophe. To recap: The Astros, either led by or with participation from then-player Carlos Beltrán, illegally used technology to steal signs en route to winning the 2017 World Series. On Monday, commissioner Rob Manfred levied punishment against Houston, and Astros owner Jim Crane fired manager A.J. Hinch and GM Jeff Luhnow shortly thereafter. On Tuesday, Red Sox manager Alex Cora left his post in Boston because of his involvement with sign stealing in both Houston—as the Astros’ bench coach in 2017—and reports that he brought similar tactics to Boston, where the Red Sox won the 2018 World Series. And on Thursday, Beltrán stepped down as Mets manager just two months and 15 days after his hiring.
In other words, three teams have now lost their managers as a result of this scandal. And the Mets, fittingly, are the only member of that trio not to gain a World Series trophy in return.
First with the Carlos Beltran news was @TBrownYahoo. The fallout from the sign-stealing scandal widens. Every name on the baseball side of Rob Manfred’s report — Jeff Luhnow, AJ Hinch, Alex Cora, Carlos Beltran — has now lost his job.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) January 16, 2020
Before the sign-stealing revelations of the past couple of months, Beltrán seemed like an inspired choice for Mets manager—far more than just the return of a man whose playing career with the franchise has been unfairly condensed to one strikeout, and one unflattering freeze frame. Beltrán is a borderline Hall of Famer who enjoyed the best seasons of his 20-year career with the Mets. In seven seasons with the team, he received five All-Star nods, four sets of MVP votes, and three Gold Gloves; he posted more WAR with the Mets than any other organization. If he is one day enshrined in Cooperstown (now more of a question, if the fallout from the scandal besmirches his legacy), his plaque might feature the club’s cap.
Moreover, even before his playing career ended, Beltrán seemed like a natural fit to become a manager. Immediately after retiring following the Astros’ 2017 title, Beltrán interviewed for the open Yankees position; a year later, he won the Mets job after New York fired Mickey Callaway. Among the double-digit GM and managerial searches this offseason, Beltrán was the sole candidate of color to receive a job.
But within two weeks of Beltrán’s hire on November 1, The Athletic released its initial report on the scope and substance of Houston’s “banging scheme”—thanks for that phrasing, MLB—and his brief managerial tenure began its downward spiral. In a follow-up story on November 13, The Athletic reported that “both Cora and Beltrán played a key role in devising the [Astros’] sign-stealing system.” Beltrán denied the accusation.
I wish Carlos Beltran had the signs after I walked in the 2006 playoffs.— Paul Lo Duca (@paulloduca16) January 13, 2020
That denial would have been impossible to maintain going forward, after MLB concluded that the Astros had, in fact, cheated, and that Beltrán—the only player named in Manfred’s report—had, in fact, participated in the scheme. The corporate-speak, per the team’s statement Thursday, is that the Mets and Beltrán “agreed to mutually part ways”; the reality is that a club already drawn to distraction like a moth to flame could not have feasibly kept Beltán, nor could opponents or fans have trusted in the integrity of Mets games with Beltrán in the dugout and the sign-stealing winds still swirling across the sport.
Now, the Mets, like Houston and Boston, will search for a new manager with less than a month until pitchers and catchers report. Funnily enough, whichever candidate fills Beltrán’s vacated position—complete with a 0-0 career record!—will step into a fairly comfortable role, at least from a talent perspective. Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, and Marcus Stroman top an elite rotation; Pete Alonso, Jeff McNeil, and others form a potentially deep and frightening lineup; and the Mets as a whole project to contend in 2020. FanGraphs’ current projections peg the Mets as the second-best team in the entire National League, behind only the Dodgers and narrowly ahead of the Nationals, Cubs, Braves, and more.
But in true Mets fashion, these reasons for optimism are wholly overshadowed by the chaos outside the diamond. The Mets made a shrewd, forward-looking hire as soon as the offseason began—and were met with tremendous upheaval before the same offseason ended. This was a Houston scandal with a Boston subplot, yet the Mets somehow stumbled into the spotlight and, once there, immediately spilled a plate of food all over their shirt and tripped off the stage. So it goes at Citi Field, now and always. This time, the derision is entirely warranted.