The goal, of course, is to win games and eventually a championship.
But maybe the Mets will win over a country along the way.
“This naming of Carlos Mendoza as manager has made Venezuela very happy,” said Daniel Álvarez-Montes, a baseball reporter for El Extrabase. “We’ve only had one full-time [Venezuelan manager] in Ozzie [Guillen]. I remember the Ozzie-mania in Venezuela, and everyone rooting for the White Sox to win the World Series.
“I feel that’s something that might happen with Mendoza going to the Mets.”
The Mets selected a native of Barquisimeto, Venezuela, to become their new manager, a background that was evident throughout Tuesday’s introductory news conference. Mendoza thanked Mets brass, Mets fans and his own family for the opportunity to manage the club before he addressed his father — the “best coach and best mentor I have had in my life” — while speaking only in Spanish.
The bilingual Mendoza alternated between languages throughout a 41-minute news conference in which he preached about communication skills while he displayed the most important one: The Mets hope Mendoza, in part thanks to his background, will be able to reach everyone.
There are typically factions in big-league clubhouses that might or might not mix. There are usually English-speaking leaders and Spanish-speaking leaders who ensure everyone in their group is putting in the work. Mendoza, who had been the Yankees’ bench coach for the past four seasons, should be able to preside over all segments of the clubhouse.
Álvarez-Montes, who covers the Marlins but frequently makes trips to New York for Yankees and Mets coverage, is a Venezuela native and speaks Spanish and English well. He has conducted interviews with plenty of Spanish-speaking players and coaches and been a part of plenty of group interviews with Spanish-speaking players who speak through interpreters.
He knows how important it is to truly understand and how easy it is to not truly understand.
“Sometimes when you have a Latin player speaking through a translator, he might say what he wants to say — but it will never be the same answer that he will use to a Latin reporter,” Álvarez-Montes said over the phone Wednesday. “I think the same is going to be with players like [Francisco] Álvarez and Ronny Mauricio. They will feel more comfortable with Mendoza because they’ll be able to express in their own language, in their own vocabulary, what they’re feeling; how they’re feeling. … Maybe with an [English-speaking-only] manager, that wouldn’t be possible.”
Already, Mendoza has said he had a 45-minute conversation with Pete Alonso. If he has not yet spoken at length with Álvarez — the future of the Mets’ catching position and a Venezuela countryman — surely that heart-to-heart is coming.
Mendoza’s upbringing, in Venezuela and in the game, will help him in other ways, too. There is also the matter that he should by now understand pressure.
The past 15 years, all spent in the Yankees organization, ensure he knows about the distress that comes with any amount of losing in New York. But growing up in Venezuela, he already had a pretty good idea about the nature of anxiety and a demand of winning.
The Venezuelan Winter League is enormously popular and enormously cutthroat. As a minor league Yankees prospect in the mid-2000s, he played in the league during the MLB offseason. He returned to manage the Cardenales de Lara in 2021 and 2022, jumping back into a league that begins in October and whose postseason finishes in January. Ronald Acuña Jr. played in a Venezuelan Winter League game Thursday night, hours after he was named National League MVP.
“It’s such a short tournament and every game matters. If you have a player not performing for about a week, then all the fans want the player gone,” said Álvarez-Montes, who made the trip from Miami for Mendoza’s news conference. “Fans are all over you from Day 1. … You might have a losing streak or a bad stretch in April or May [in MLB] and nobody will notice.
“If you have a rough start or a rough stretch in Winter Ball, you’re basically out of contention. There’s a lot of pressure to win. Fans are very passionate.”
Álvarez-Montes came across Mendoza for the first time in the mid-2000s at the Venezuelan Winter League because Álvarez-Montes’ mother was a PA announcer for a team in the league. As Mendoza rose with the Yankees, Álvarez-Montes, a baseball writer while in Venezuela, moved to Miami in Dec. 2014 and began covering MLB, intersecting more with Mendoza. The two spoke after the introductory news conference at Citi Field, making for a pretty cool, full-circle moment.
The Mets have hired a unique manager and might have begun building a South American fan base as well.
“I read so many comments of people saying, ‘Well, now I’ll root for the Mets,’” Álvarez-Montes said. “I told this to Carlos, and it was very special to read those comments. People are saying the Mets are the Venezuelan team.
“I think he hasn’t realized yet how big this is not only for him but for the country as well.”
The Baez payoff
Two and a half seasons later, a bit more clarity has been shed on the Mets’ Javier Baez-Pete Crow-Armstrong trade.
One of the more debated swaps in Mets land because of Crow-Armstrong’s ensuing rise as a prospect included a significant cash component, as shared by then-Mets general manager Zack Scott.
Scott, speaking on the “Baseball Isn’t Boring” podcast, said that in addition to Baez and pitcher Trevor Williams, the Cubs sent the Mets financial help, too.
The money “was important at the time to keep us under the luxury tax, which was a mandate,” said Scott, who is now a consultant with Four Rings Sports Solutions.
The 2021 Mets apparently were attempting to duck beneath the $210 million luxury-tax threshold. Baez was due about $4 million for the remainder of that season. Steve Cohen’s Mets apparently strove to slide below the threshold, which was successful: According to Spotrac estimates, the 2021 Mets finished with a payroll of about $201 million.
The players exchanged in the swap will continue to be debated.
Baez was brilliant in two short months in Queens, essentially producing like the team’s best player, OPS’ing .886 with nine home runs, five steals and several gorgeous slides in 47 games. His supporting cast was slumping, though, and Baez led a small revolt of Mets players against the Mets crowd with a thumbs-down gesture, becoming the face of that season’s collapse.
Crow-Armstrong, meanwhile, began the 2021 season as the Mets’ fifth-best prospect and took off with Chicago. The center fielder, after a few big minor league seasons, is tabbed as MLB Pipeline’s No. 12 prospect in all of baseball.
“We liked the player, we loved the person,” Scott said of Crow-Armstrong. “We loved the work ethic, we loved the defense. We had questions about how the bat was going to evolve. We had a farm system that was pretty top-heavy. Didn’t have a lot of interest in the middle tier, which is usually where you want to trade from to make deals.”
A final revelation from Scott: There were bigger deals being discussed with the Cubs, but on July 30, he “got a bad report on the health of Jacob deGrom.” At that time, deGrom was sidelined after feeling tightness in his forearm. Soreness in his elbow followed, which eventually knocked him out for the season.
“It wasn’t clear that he was going to miss the rest of the season, but I knew there was some chance of that,” said Scott, who pivoted away from larger, all-in deals as a result.
Could the Giants’ gain be the Mets’ loss?
There is probably not a direct connection between the Mets and the Oakland A’s deciding to relocate to Las Vegas.
But the A’s abandoning the Bay Area leaves an enormous market solely for the Giants, who are the obvious winners of a sad situation that involves too many A’s fans as the losers.
The Giants should benefit from the windfall and a market that used to support two teams soon being devoted to one.
What will the Giants do with the prospects of deepening pockets in the near future? Perhaps the pricetags of Mets targets such as Shohei Ohtani and Yoshinobu Yamamoto just went up a tad.