PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Not long after his offseason introduction to Jim Riggleman, the longtime National League manager whom the Mets hired to become his bench coach, Mickey Callaway attempted explaining to Riggleman some of his more controversial stratagems from last summer. Several minutes into the breakdown, Riggleman interrupted
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Not long after his offseason introduction to Jim Riggleman, the longtime National League manager whom the Mets hired to become his bench coach, Mickey Callaway attempted explaining to Riggleman some of his more controversial stratagems from last summer. Several minutes into the breakdown, Riggleman interrupted him.
"See how long it took you to explain that?" Callaway's new bench coach said. "Don't overthink it."
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Consider those words Callaway's new mantra, following an offseason that gave him plenty of time to harp on his rookie mistakes. Callaway's lineup card snafu -- the Mets batted out of order one afternoon in Cincinnati -- may have been the most publicly damaging of them, but there were other, lesser infractions that chewed him up inside. Callaway reflected on those this winter. He sought feedback from new general manager Brodie Van Wagenen and from others inside and outside the organization. He asked them all what he can do "to be a better manager."
"I think if I take that approach -- let me correct that: I know if I take that approach, that I always am looking to get better every day, you're going to get the best product," Callaway said. That's how I go about my business and that's what I feel is very important in any job, and I'm looking forward to Year Two."
Improvement will be critical for Callaway entering what appears to be a more complicated situation in 2019. In conducting entry interviews with more than two dozen players on Wednesday, Callaway sat some of them down -- including Jeff McNeil, the one-time second baseman now ticketed for the outfield -- to allay what playing-time concerns they may have. In the infield alone, Callaway must find reps for Jed Lowrie, Amed Rosario, Robinson Canó, Todd Frazier and, eventually, Peter Alonso -- not to mention Dominic Smith and J.D. Davis and a number of others, should they prove worthy this spring.
In the outfield, Callaway must balance McNeil with Juan Lagares and Keon Broxton in one open spot -- a process that will prove more difficult should McNeil struggle defensively at an unfamiliar position. While it's true, as Callaway says, that injuries "naturally take care" of some playing-time issues, that won't make the conversations any easier with hungry players this spring.
A stronger antidote would be winning. After jumping out to an 11-1 record in his inaugural year as manager, Callaway went 25-52 (.325) over his next 77 games, including a franchise-worst 5-21 mark in June. That the Mets rebounded to post the NL East's best record from July 1 through the end of the season is a credit to Callaway, who also knows May and June cannot be ignored.
Both halves of the season are part of his resume now, part of his story. And while the Mets have bolstered Callaway's chances with an improved roster, better players come with increased expectations. The implications of Riggleman's place on the roster -- he's been an interim manager four times already in a decades-long career -- have gone largely unspoken in Flushing, yet must be clear to Callaway: win now, or someone else will get the chance.
Callaway, for his part, said he views Riggleman as a mentor, not a threat, and Riggleman has said he doesn't believe there will be "any issue with any perception, because I think we're going to get that out of the way real quick by the way we work in Spring Training."
For Callaway, that means a spring of communicating outward following a winter of reflecting inward. It also means a spring that sets the clock ticking. The real evaluation, he knows, will commence on Opening Day.
"We shouldn't be here if we don't think we're better than everybody else and we want to win," Callaway said. "We want to come to the field every day energized, and we want to win every game we possibly can. The group that we have in there, I'll take them over anyone. I'm excited to go to war with them this year."
Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo, Instagram and Facebook.