It was a weekend of goodbyes for the Mets. David Wright, the captain, had his emotional farewell on Saturday night. Less than 24 hours later, Jose Reyes, Wright’s longtime infield sidekick, took what was most certainly his final at-bat for the team.
And after the starting pitcher Noah Syndergaard notched the final out of a complete-game, 1-0 victory over the Miami Marlins, the rest of the Mets players and coaches exchanged their season-ending goodbyes and hugs in the clubhouse.
Many are expected back next season, but their fates are out of their hands. The Mets, after a disappointing 77-85 season, face a winter of uncertainty with a vacant general manager position.
Jeff Wilpon, the Mets’ chief operating officer and part of the family that owns the team, addressed that issue before Sunday’s game, saying the search for a new G.M. would begin in earnest next week, when the Mets will begin asking for permission to interview other teams’ executives.
“We want someone that is going to help us build something for the long term here and that is going to be sustainable so we can get the fans back here,” said Wilpon, whose team wrapped up its eighth losing season in the past 10 years, and had its lowest attendance since 2014.
The Mets have been without a general manager since June, when Sandy Alderson, who held the job since 2010, left because of a recurrence of cancer. Wilpon said he hoped the Mets would have a new general manager in place by the annual G.M. meetings in early November.
They certainly want to have one by at least the annual winter meeting in mid-December. Without a new hire, the Mets would be led through those crucial off-season gatherings by the current triumvirate of executives: the longtime assistant general manager John Ricco, and the special assistants J. P. Ricciardi and Omar Minaya.
Wilpon said the new general manager would probably be a hybrid, an old-school baseball individual with a scouting background as well as experience with analytics. A plan to improve the Mets’ minor leagues will be an important factor, too.
He added that the Mets’ new front-office leader would come from outside the organization, that a few “untraditional” candidates were in the mix, and that the team was open to creating a new title of president or executive vice president in order to attract a general manager from another team.
As for his own role, Wilpon said he would tell the G.M. candidates that their final recommendations on team matters would go through him. But Wilpon, who has a reputation for being heavily involved in such matters, added, “It’s not something that I’m in the mix of picking the players.”
Will the three executives currently leading, and Manager Mickey Callaway, also be back in the picture? Wilpon said he would “very much” like for them to be back.
“But you can’t go out and pick the best candidate that we want for this position and tell him he’s hamstrung by a number of people that are here,” he added. “We’ll see how that all plays out.”
In the first season of his three-year contract, Callaway had some growing pains, with his communication with players, his tactical abilities and his embarrassing lineup snafu in May. To his credit, the Mets finished well, going 18-10 in September.
Under the tutelage of Callaway and the pitching coach Dave Eiland, Jacob deGrom produced a Cy Young Award-worthy season and Zack Wheeler posted the best season of his career. Outfielder Michael Conforto, shortstop Amed Rosario and Syndergaard improved in the second half. Outfielder Brandon Nimmo, the rookie second baseman Jeff McNeil and relief pitcher Seth Lugo thrived.
But clearly some new pieces are needed. Wilpon said he would defer to a new general manager as to what was needed for the Mets to be in the playoffs again. He alluded to internal conversations about improving the bullpen (which was among the worst in baseball), adding a utility infielder and a proven right-handed hitter (because outfielder Yoenis Cespedes may miss most of next season after two heel operations), and upgrading at catcher (Kevin Plawecki was slightly above average).
Throughout the struggles of this season, several Mets officials, from the coaching staff to the front office, have repeatedly expressed a desire for the team to become younger and more athletic. Improving the defense would probably be one of the bigger benefits; according to several metrics, the Mets were among the worst defenses in baseball.
“If we’re going to built on pitching, we’ve got to catch the ball,” Ricco said.
Another area that has undermined the Mets the past two seasons: a lack of capable depth through the major and minor leagues. Despite new medical protocols and staff, the Mets were still one of the most injured teams, in part, because of several long-term injuries and because new habits take time to take hold.
“Injuries are part of the game, and you have to have the depth in your organization to overcome the injuries that you know are coming,” Ricco said.
Payroll, of course, is always a topic in Flushing. Even though this season’s opening payroll dropped to $150 million, Wilpon made no promises on the amount of spending this winter.
He said that the team’s past reluctance to spend on top-tier free agents and to invest in the team’s lean analytics staff was because of recommendations from the past regime. But, in reality, Alderson, one of baseball’s early adopters of analytics, wanted more than three full-time analytics staffers but could not, and instead had to hire interns.
Whomever succeeds Alderson will inherit a good team with several sizable holes to plug. Whenever they arrive, they will have no shortage of heavy lifting to do.