More than any other new hire to Buck Showalter’s staff, the hitting coach will come under scrutiny.
After a season in which the Mets fired an old-school hitting coach in Chili Davis and went more new-age with Hugh Quattlebaum — but continued to struggle — the team might have found a blend in Eric Chavez, who accepted the position this month.
Chavez will pair with more analytically driven Jeremy Barnes, the new assistant hitting coach, to give the Mets a support network they hope can guide their rebuilt lineup.
“I just love [Chavez’s] sense of urgency and his energy level, but he’s also got some reality,” Showalter said on a Zoom call Monday. “One of the problems a lot of coaches have is they forget how hard the game was to play and how bad they were on a given night. There is a fine line between empathy and sympathy, and we had some great candidates. Eric brought some things we thought we were in need of and has some background in being a part of the New York sports culture.”
Chavez, 44, spent two seasons with the Yankees near the end of his long major league career. He had already accepted the assistant hitting coach position in The Bronx this offseason, but according to new general manager Billy Eppler, an understanding was in place with his Yankees counterpart Brian Cashman that Chavez could leave if the Mets wanted him in the No. 1 position. Chavez had worked as a special assistant to Eppler during his tenure as Angels GM.
“Cash and I had an understanding that if the lead role opened here and he won the day that he would get their blessing, so that is ultimately what happened,” Eppler said.
Chavez joined Joey Cora (third base), Wayne Kirby (first base), Glenn Sherlock (bench) and Craig Bjornson (bullpen) along with Barnes, who previously worked in player development for the Mets, as new arrivals to the staff. Jeremy Hefner is returning as the pitching coach.
Barnes, 34, served as a minor league hitting coordinator with the Astros before joining the Mets last season.
“What we really set out to do was complement the skills of the staff,” Eppler said. “We wanted to diversify who was going to be involved with our players. When we landed on Eric … he gave the criteria and once he established the criteria, that directed us to who we might talk to so we angled for a more technical swing analysis, some people who had some familiarity with using some technology or just being able to read some of the technology with the batted-ball information and it led us to Jeremy.”
Eppler indicated the Mets resisted the temptation to hire additional coaches, with the players’ comfort level in mind.
“There’s a lot of new people around here that are going to be around in that locker room, myself included and Buck included,” Eppler said. “One thing that we’re both very aware of is how players perceive things and how players feel. When you have a lot of different faces and the vast majority of people are new, that could lead to potentially a little discomfort and that’s not what we want.
“We’ll move a little slower through the process and if we find areas that can be supplemented, we’ll add. But we didn’t want to roll out this 11- or 12-person coaching staff which we see throughout the game.”
Showalter and Eppler are prohibited during the lockout from discussing players on the 40-man roster. At this point it’s anybody’s guess when that work stoppage might conclude and if spring training will begin on schedule. Showalter indicated he plans to arrive at camp in Port St. Lucie, Fla., on Feb. 6 or 7.
“I am going to go down there and wait until a player shows up — one that I can talk to,” Showalter said.