PORT ST. LUCIE — Eric Chavez accepted his new position with the Mets over the winter with one eye on keeping the coaching staff intact and the other on his managerial aspirations.
Unless the team promoted assistant hitting coach Jeremy Barnes to the lead role, they would likely lose him to another organization. Chavez, who held the hitting coach title, was approached by general manager Billy Eppler and manager Buck Showalter about shifting to bench coach. This was after Glenn Sherlock, who held that job last season, had agreed to become the team’s full-time catching instructor.
Chavez, 45, spent his first games at Showalter’s side as the bench coach over the weekend.
“When I signed here I told Buck that I want to manage and I have been pretty clear about that,” Chavez said. “This gave me the opportunity as sort of a stepping stone, but there was a little reluctance because still now I enjoy being around the hitters. During the game I am still talking hitting with the guys, but for me to take that next step it was a good opportunity.”
Showalter, 66, appears in no hurry to retire, but drops in the occasional gallows humor about being elsewhere after his contract expires following the 2024 season. Plenty of variables are in play, which in part explains Eppler’s reluctance to say whether the organization is grooming Chavez to become the next Mets manager.
“We stay present here,” Eppler said.
Chavez downplayed the idea he could follow Showalter in the manager’s seat anytime soon.
“I don’t have that vision at all,” Chavez said. “Long term for me I have got a while to go. I know I am going to put a lot of hard work into this thing and see the game differently than I have in my entire life and just seeing the things that [Showalter] thinks about, that he talks about. It’s pretty eye-opening.”
Chavez’s relationship with Eppler dates to 2011 when Eppler was working in the Yankees’ front office and Chavez played for the team. After Chavez’s retirement as a player, the two reconnected with the Angels, where Eppler had become GM and was looking to hire a manager. Chavez interviewed for the job that went to Brad Ausmus and ultimately took an advisory position with the team.
Chavez also had a brief managerial stint with the Angels’ Triple-A affiliate in Salt Lake City. Before the 2022 season, Chavez became the Yankees’ assistant hitting coach, but left before serving in the role to join Eppler with the Mets.
Eppler said “intellectual humility” is Chavez’s greatest strength.
“He knows what he doesn’t know,” Eppler said. “He’s very open-minded. He asks a lot of questions and he sees the game and thinks the game really well, so if you ask for an opinion he will be able to formulate one and a diverse one.”
Chavez, as the hitting coach, was heavily involved in the game planning last season, and that workload is increasing in his new role. Most notably, he will now have a louder voice in lineup construction.
“It’s a crash course,” Chavez said. “I am no longer seeing the game the same way anymore. It’s really weird and taking a little bit of adjustment. It’s just weird how my mind is working differently now. So it was something I really wasn’t prepared for, but like anything you put more time into it and I will be more comfortable with it.”
Eppler is quick to credit Sherlock for agreeing to move from bench coach so the pieces would fit on the staff. Sherlock was rewarded for the move, according to a source, by receiving a contract extension beyond this season.
The moves have left Chavez in position to receive a managerial education from a four-time Manager of the Year and perhaps in position to eventually succeed him.
“I think Eric has got a diverse skill set, but how his career shapes, I think that is difficult for anyone to predict,” Eppler said. “He’s got a very good mind for the game, but his focus is the very present.”
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