Buck Showalter talks load management, belief 2023 Mets would have made playoffs

Buck Showalter led one of the best seasons in recent Mets history. After managing New York to a 101-win season and a Wild Card berth in his first year in Queens, the team took a big step back in 2023.

Showalter, who had one year left on his contract, was not retained by the organization after the hire of David Stearns as the team’s new president of baseball operations.

Speaking on Tuesday’s Foul Territory podcast, the former Mets skipper spoke about a number of topics involving his former teams and baseball in general.

Showalter, a 22-year managing veteran, is as old school as they come. But he’s adapted well to the new analytically-driven parts of baseball. He said as much throughout his tenure with the Mets, but one aspect he could not understand was the load management.

“We had a guy that hit a triple and two doubles and they came in and said he probably needs a day off because he ran too much around the bases,” Showalter explained. “So what do you want me to tell him? Don’t get any hits so you can play the next day?”

The game in question was Sept. 12 against the Diamondbacks. Brandon Nimmo finished 3-for-4 with the triple, two doubles and a walk.

“I didn’t quite understand that one,” Showalter added. “I said okay, you go out there and tell Brandon Nimmo that he’s not playing today because he did too well last night.”

The Mets analytics group didn’t get their way as the outfielder would play the next day, albeit in left field instead of his usual center.

But the analytics department was far from the issue with the 2023 Mets, who finished 75-87 and missed the postseason. Many of their top players didn’t play up to the back of their baseball cards, and the injuries to regulars like Starling Marte did not help New York get off to the fast start they were hoping for.

However, the loss of All-Star closer Edwin Diaz in the World Baseball Classic is what many point to as the main reason for the Mets’ disappointing season. Showalter recalls when he found out about the injury.

“I had just turned off the lights and get into the bed when Brandon Nimmo text me and it said, 'Are you watching this?’, Showalter explained. “You know those times in your life where you know exactly what you were doing when you heard about it? That’s one of them, and I turned it on and I knew we had a problem. … I felt really bad for [Diaz] and his family. I just hope he comes back and pitches well for them this year. He’s a good man.”

Aug 13, 2023; New York City, New York, USA; New York Mets relief pitcher Edwin Diaz (39) at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 13, 2023; New York City, New York, USA; New York Mets relief pitcher Edwin Diaz (39) at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports / © Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Despite the loss of Diaz, the 1-2 punch of Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander, two future Hall of Fame pitchers, were supposed to help the Mets over the hump in the postseason.

They, like many other players, did not pitch consistently enough to help the team to a better record by the time the trade deadline approached. The organization ultimately decided to become sellers at the deadline.

Showalter wasn’t always privy to those moves, but believes the team could have turned things around enough to stay in contention.

“I still think if we stayed the course we would have slipped in [via] Wild Card. I’m always going to think that,” Showalter recalled. “They walked in and someone was saying bye to me and I looked up and said, ‘what’s going on?’’ Tommy Pham got traded. That’s the first time I knew we were abandoning ship, sorta speak. I had Max Scherzer in there that day because he was trying to make up his mind.”

Scherzer had a no-trade clause and was mulling over his options when he said he was told the "vision now is for 2025-26," which sparked the trade to the Rangers.

“Max’s biggest issue going to Texas was that he was abandoning his teammates,” Showalter added. “That he was jumping ship. That’s the way Max is wired. The competitive part of him always comes out.”

The Mets had a 50-55 record and a 13.2 percent chance when Scherzer was dealt on July 30.

While the Mets did not meet expectations in 2023, the prospects and flexibility in salary gained in the aftermath allowed them to make incremental improvements to the roster ahead of 2024. Whether that translates into enough wins to make the playoffs, we’ll just have to wait and see.