“I think you’re always taking a gamble,” Alderson said. “You’re always taking a risk on somebody. Nobody is the perfect candidate or the perfect interview, either. There’s always risk in choosing 1 out of 6 or 1 out of 36. But we feel very good.”
Callaway, who was Cleveland’s pitching coach for the past four seasons, directed a group that in 2017 posted the lowest combined E.R.A. in the majors (3.30), led the league in strikeouts (1,614) and issued the fewest walks (406). The won-loss record and E.R.A. of Cleveland’s starting staff (81-38, 3.52) was the best in baseball, and the team’s ace, Corey Kluber, is a leading candidate to win the American League Cy Young Award, which he won in 2014.
Callaway is also credited with the development of Trevor Bauer, who went from a sub-.500 pitcher in his first four seasons to having a 17-9 record in 2017.
Clearly, the Mets are hoping Callaway can work similar wonders with their own pitching staff, which was decimated by injuries in 2017 and posted a 5.01 E.R.A., third-worst in the majors.
“People are reluctant to name pitching coaches as managers or former pitchers as managers, but in our situation, short-term, pitching is everything,” Alderson said. “I think it was a positive factor in this case. We evaluated the candidates and looked at Mickey and tried to look at the short term and long term, and we definitely think Mickey long-term has potential as a manager. And short-term, maybe there will be some growing pains, who knows?
“But short-term,” Alderson added, “what is most critical for our success is the pitching, and I think that he has had so much success recently with a pitching staff definitely was a factor for us.”
Callaway emerged as the winner after a first round of interviews involving five other candidates — a list that included Kevin Long, the Mets’ hitting coach for the past three seasons. Alderson said Long was disappointed not to be chosen, and it was unclear if he would return to the club in 2018.
“There may be another managerial opportunity out there that comes his way, so we’ll just have to see what happens over the next few days,” Alderson said. “He’s been given permission to speak to one other team, but I don’t want to disclose any of that because I don’t know what they’re disclosing.”
But so impressed were Alderson and Fred Wilpon, the Mets’ owner, after a lunch meeting with Callaway that they canceled a second round of interviews to concentrate on him.
“The thing I want to emphasize is we weren’t only looking for a manager, we were looking for a leader,” Alderson said. “There seemed to be a real consistency between Mickey’s approach and our approach and what he was looking for in the way of managing, and what we were looking for in the way of a leader in the clubhouse.
“That’s a visceral reaction, not one that you can put down on a checklist, but to me that said everything.”
Callaway acknowledged being somewhat unfamiliar with the Mets and their personnel while being fully aware of their troubled 2017 season. “I’m looking forward to getting to know everyone here and digging in deep to everything and everybody to see how I can assist them,” he said.
And for sure, the Mets need help.