When Mets General Manager Brodie Van Wagenen introduced Luis Rojas as the team’s new manager at Citi Field on Friday afternoon, Van Wagenen declared the occasion a proud day. He welcomed Rojas, who has been with the organization for 15 seasons, as “one of our own,” and cited Rojas’s consistency as a key factor in the decision to promote him.
“It’s a credit to an entire organization,” Van Wagenen said.
But even for the Mets, the ongoing off-season has been notably awkward. Less than three weeks before players report to the team’s workout complex in Port St. Lucie, Fla., for spring training, Rojas became the second Mets manager hired in the last three months. He ascended to the position a week after the departure of Carlos Beltran, who was hired in November but parted ways with the team last week after a report by Major League Baseball’s commissioner implicated him in the Houston Astros’ sign-stealing scandal.
“We had a number of difficult days,” Van Wagenen said in Friday’s biggest understatement. “This is a very different feeling today, and we’re excited for that. It’s an unfortunate circumstance for baseball, but today’s a good opportunity and exciting time for the Mets.”
Passed over in the search that gave Beltran the job, Rojas, 38, had expected to spend the season on the Mets’ bench as Beltran’s deputy. Rojas had managed in the minors for eight seasons, as well as in the Dominican Republic, and he was supposed to offer an experienced hand to Beltran, who played 20 seasons in the majors but had never been a manager at any level. Now the job of leading the Mets belongs to Rojas.
“I still live in a dream right now,” Rojas said Friday.
Known for his attention to detail with planning and logistics, Rojas’s approach spoke “loudly,” according to Van Wagenen, who nonetheless hired Beltran in November. After Beltran’s departure, team officials met with Rojas in New York this week and concluded he was the best fit for the vacant job. Like Beltran and Mickey Callaway, who was fired in October after two seasons as the Mets manager, Rojas has no previous major-league managerial experience.
Though Rojas reached the major leagues only last season — as the first quality control coach in Mets history — he helped develop several of the team’s current stars while they made their way through the farm system. He traces his roots in the franchise to his first days working at the team’s training academy in the Dominican Republic, and he eventually was chosen to manage Mets teams in the Gulf Coast rookie league as well as in Class A and AA.
His steady demeanor and energetic gait made an impression on members of the front office along the way, Van Wagenen said. And since getting the promotion, he said, he has already communicated with several players, including Jeff McNeil, Steven Matz and Noah Syndergaard.
“It’s great that I know them, but it’s even better that they know me back,” Rojas said. “It’s something that’s going to help us click even quicker with the ideas and strategies.”
Rojas was born in the Dominican Republic and grew up in major league clubhouses. His father, Felipe Alou, won 1,033 games in 14 years as a manager in the majors, and his brother, Moises Alou, played 17 seasons, the last two with the Mets. Neither was present for Rojas’s news conference, but the succession was clear. Felipe wore No. 17 as a manager, Moises No. 18, and on Friday the Mets co-owner Jeff Wilpon slipped a No. 19 Mets jersey over Rojas’s collared shirt.
Rojas spoke in both English and Spanish when expressing gratitude, and he thanked his family for preparing him for this opportunity. Rojas referred to his time with his father as a university for baseball studies, but he did not commit to a certain style.
“My style of managing is the team that I have,” Rojas said. “We have a really good roster. We have really good starting pitching. We have a really good bullpen and we can score some runs. I feel pretty good about it right now.”
He will get his first feedback this weekend. While some Mets employees managed Rojas’s news conference on Friday afternoon, others were preparing to host a fan fest for the first time in team history, at Citi Field on Saturday. As part of the program, Rojas will meet with fans in a town hall format.
“We’re moving forward,” he said.