Clubhouse chemistry crucial for new Mets manager Beltrán

It didn’t take long during Carlos Beltrán’s introductory press conference for even the most casual Mets fan to realize their new manager is anything BUT a hardened lifer with a wise-guy New York vibe. To the contrary, Beltrán came off as an innocent – as guileless as a dove who wasn’t afraid to cry a little as he thanked his parents and family for helping land a dream job.

There are a million reasons why Joe Girardi or Buck Showalter would’ve been the safer pick in Flushing. Both had big-market experience and were proven winners. But Jeff Wilpon and Brodie van Wagenen were looking for a) a younger and more controllable manager and b) one who would be more relatable in the clubhouse, especially with Spanish-speaking players.

Beltrán met both criteria. No. 1 could be problematic, depending on how the Mets play for him. No. 2 was the no-brainer, considering Beltrán’s Puerto Rican roots and his advocacy for Latino players in general. There’s a third component as well, namely Beltrán ’s charisma and candor, both of which were missing in predecessor Mickey Callaway.

It would’ve been impossible to imagine Callaway tearing up during a pre or post-game interview on SNY. He was too scripted and too shallow for that. The former manager tried desperately to stay on message, sometimes repeating word-for-word the lines he’d heard upstairs when it was time to answer questions on live TV. But when boxed in by tough follow-ups Callaway’s attempts to improvise revealed how over-matched he was. The job was simply too big and too demanding for an out-of-towner with no prior training.

Beltrán indeed had several advantages over Callaway, including his rapport with the media as well as his own resume as a player. At different points in his career Beltrán had been a rookie sensation, an elite hitter in his prime and at the end, a thoughtful veteran who helped his team (2017 Astros) win a championship.

Those are the qualities that made Beltrán so attractive to ownership. Given the arc of his career, there’s no Mets player who’ll be beyond his reach. Over and over Beltrán spoke about the importance of communication and keeping an open channel with the entirety of his roster.

Beltrán wasn’t kidding when he said, “I’m going to talk to everyone.” He’d just been handed a paper with each the Mets’ players’ cell numbers; he intended to start making calls and sending texts as soon as the press conference was over.

His message?

“I’m going to be a players’ manager,” is how Beltrán put it, repeating the credo of other recent first-timers like Aaron Boone and Alex Cora. Beltrán spoke to both of them before interviewing with the Mets, both urging Beltrán to play to his strength – his winning personality – and not try to fake his way through as an analytics expert.

Beltrán had one other career asterisk that ultimately proved decisive over runners-up Eduardo Perez and Tim Bogar: a year at Brian Cashman’s side, observing the corporate side of the game. Thanks to the Yankees’ executive Beltrán learned the importance of managers co-existing not just with the general manager but the stat heads and numbers geeks too.

Like many older players, Beltrán was decidedly old-school about analytics: he believes there’s a limit to how much information can be realistically processed by athletes. Yet he said he was fine with listening to non-uniformed personnel. That openness resonated with his bosses.

Van Wagenen spoke glowingly of Beltrán’s “willingness to collaborate” which separated him from Girardi, who’d interviewed last week.

“There were a lot of qualified candidates that brought different things to the table,” Van Wagenen said when asked about Girardi. “We considered all of those candidates and their strengths, and ultimately it was Carlos’ strengths that won the day. It was less about where other candidates fell short and much more specifically about what Carlos’ leadership brings to our team.”

Van Wagenen offered a second, salient thought about Beltrán’s agenda-free demeanor. Actually, the general manager was speaking indirectly about Girardi when he spoke about wanting to “exhale” when entering the manager’s office after a game. Both Van Wagenen and Wilpon were concerned about the pushback from Girardi on a nightly basis, convinced that after 10 winning seasons in the Bronx, including a world championship, the former Yankees manager’s encyclopedia was already complete. There’s nothing the Mets’ hierarchy could add to any conversation.

So imagine how Van Wagenen felt when he heard Beltrán say, “The GM has to be your best friend, literally. You have to communicate with him, you have to be honest, you have to be open, you have got to be able to have tough conversations.”

The bond sounded perfect in theory, of course. Off-season press conferences are nothing if not upbeat and notoriously optimistic. But a harsher reality awaits Beltrán and the Mets after Opening Day. Girardi, serious and detailed oriented,  will be taking over a talented Phillies team that under-performed for Gabe Kapler. And the Nationals, reigning champions, sit atop the division, not to mention the world.

Beltrán? He sold ownership on his motivational skills. His job, then, starting on day one, will be to get the often-unreachable Noah Syndergaard on board. Same goes for Robinson Cano, whose attention clearly waned on Callaway’s watch.

And what about the relationship with the Wilpons – not just smiling during November photo-ops at Citi Field but in real time in April and May? Ask any employee what happens during the first three-game losing streak and you get the same response: the second-guessing campaign goes into over-drive, courtesy of the owner’s son.

It’s not like Beltrán is oblivious to Wilpon’s darker side. The two sparred during Beltrán’s days as a player at Shea Stadium, starting in 2010 when the slugger decided on his own to have knee surgery in the middle of his seven-year, $119 million contract. The front office got its revenge on Beltrán later that year, leaking to reporters that he was one of the players who skipped a visit to wounded veterans at Walter Reed Medical Center.

Beltrán was actually attending a meeting for his youth academy, which is based in Puerto Rico, although he insists he’s long since allowed the wound to heal. When asked about the decade-old feud with Wilpon, Beltrán smartly detoured.

Smart man.

“It’s in the past,” Beltrán said. “I would not be standing here if everything wasn’t clear with the organization. I personally believe that you can’t progress in life if you’re thinking in the past. You have to be able to be conscious and live in the present moment.”

Featured Image: New York Mets (Twitter)