Over 45 pitch-perfect minutes Tuesday, the richest owner in baseball history introduced himself to a frothing New York Mets fan base by saying if the team doesn’t win a World Series in the next three to five years, he will consider it a disappointment.
He continued on with words they’ve waited years to hear. He would not meddle in baseball operations. He would devote resources to winning now and building a farm system simultaneously. He would gladly spend gobs of money in pursuit of it. Most of all, he would choose the pursuit of greatness over the acceptance of mediocrity.
In other words, Steve Cohen said, he’s going to be everything that the Mets haven’t been.
The arrival of Cohen as the white knight of the beleaguered franchise became official Friday, and Cohen’s first press conference Tuesday afternoon outlined what’s expected to be a blistering first 100 days.
From reminiscing about his first game at the Polo Grounds to calling the ownership of a team “a civic responsibility” to saying his $2.45 billion purchase was a “dream come true,” Cohen hit every note, every beat. He wasn’t the hedge-fund guy worth $14 billion. He was Steve from Great Neck.
“I’m essentially doing it for the fans,” Cohen said. “When I really thought about this, I could make millions of people happy, and what an incredible opportunity that is.”
For a franchise without a World Series title since 1986, one whose ownership by the Wilpon family over recent decades has been a masterclass in mismanagement, Tuesday registered as monumental – as the day the Mets not only became a big-league franchise again but leapfrogged into baseball’s upper echelon.
It wasn’t just the words of Cohen. In the next 45 minutes, Sandy Alderson, the team president, himself copped to a goal that sounds audacious for a team with as checkered a history as the Mets: “To create an iconic major league franchise respected for its success – competitive and financial success – and how it achieves that success and for its commitment to fans and community.”
Months ago, as Cohen re-engineered a purchase that had fallen through earlier in the year, he received a memo from Alderson about what the Mets could and should be. The bit about the iconic franchise was its second paragraph, a vision statement, Alderson said, to untether the Mets from their history and reimagine themselves as a competent, whole, functional franchise – more like the New York Yankees or Los Angeles Dodgers than foundering second banana.
That spoke to Cohen, who sees in baseball a number of similarities to the hedge-fund business. While billions in fines were levied against Cohen and his previous firm for insider trading, he was clear in his expectations for the Mets under his ownership.
“I want professionalism. I want integrity. I’m not going to put up with maybe the type of stuff that’s happened in other places,” Cohen said, alluding perhaps to sign-stealing allegations that ensnared the Houston Astros, Boston Red Sox and Yankees. “I want to hire the best and brightest. I want to create a great farm system, develop our players and also, let’s not forget the fans. Provide a product and when they interact with me at the stadium or on our media platforms that their experience is extraordinary.
“I’m not in this to be mediocre,” he added later. “That’s just not my thing. I want something great.”
There is work to be done there. The Mets went 26-34, tied for last place in the National League East, during the pandemic-shortened season. In the 34 seasons since they won the ’86 World Series, the Mets have made the playoffs just six times. Today, they need pitching. Lots of it. They need to sort through their bats and figure out who fits in what position where defensive butchery is no longer tolerated. And then, Cohen said, MLB will see its newest fully deployed juggernaut.
“When we need to fill a gap, we’ll fill it,” Cohen said. “It might be through a free agent, it might be through a trade.
“You build champions,” Cohen added. “You don’t buy them.”
“This is a major market team,” Cohen reminded. “It should have a budget commensurate with that.” He had an answer for everything. After years of the Wilpons’ peskiness at times derailing the Mets, Cohen barging in as a know-everything fan would’ve been more of the same. Instead, he said, “I played Little League once. That’s about it. I’m gonna let the professionals, Sandy and the people we bring in, let them run baseball.”
Those other people are sources of widespread speculation around baseball. Because of the plans and resources, the Mets’ president of baseball operations job has become one of the most coveted in the game. The Mets, sources said, have indicated they plan to build an enormous infrastructure with some of the game’s best front-office minds, from president to general manager to scouting director to farm director. The Mets, Alderson said, likely will keep Luis Rojas in the managerial chair, though that decision will fall on the new head of baseball operations.
It’s a plan similar to the one undertaken by the Dodgers when Andrew Friedman left the Tampa Bay Rays to serve as president of baseball operations with a veteran team president, Stan Kasten.
Friedman assembled a team that includes two others who have left for president of baseball operations jobs: Farhan Zaidi (San Francisco) and Alex Anthopoulos (Atlanta). To build a more robust analytics department and create a player-development pipeline after the purge of former GM Brodie Van Wagenen and his consiglieres last week, the Mets will be on a hiring spree that goes beyond free agency.
Though there, the Mets won’t be afraid to pursue George Springer, the free agent outfielder shaping up as a clear target, or Trevor Bauer, who’s expected to win the NL Cy Young this week. The bridesmaids Mets of past no longer are a thing. Not when iconic is the goal.
“I’m not competing against the Yankees,” Cohen said. “This is the Mets. We’re going to create our own excitement. I’m competing against 29 other clubs in MLB. It comes down to us making good decisions. Taking advantage of opportunities that arise. I’m a very motivated, proactive type of guy. I don’t just sit back and accept mediocrity. You’ve got to set goals for the team, the fans. We should set high goals. We shouldn’t accept just making it to the playoffs. That’s not good enough.”