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  • Writer's pictureLiam F.

The Steve Cohen Mets: A Snapshot

When billionaire Steve Cohen bought the New York Mets in 2020 for $2.4 billion dollars, the future seemed so bright, the fan base collectively put their shades on.



A new chapter of Mets baseball had begun in Queens, a borough that had grown accustomed to high expectations and disappointing realities. Now, entering season four of the Cohen era, Mets fans are left scratching their heads at what direction the franchise is moving. 


Mets fans couldn’t have said goodbye to the former ownership group quick enough. The Wilpon family had principal ownership of the Mets from 1987 up to 2020. In that span, the Mets went from the high of winning their second World Series a year prior to the Wilpons taking over, to a punchline again in little to no time. From the “worst team money can buy” in 1992, to the Wilpons involvement in the Bernie Madoff scandal, the light was dim in Flushing. That was, until Cohen came along. 


The Wilpons purchased the Mets in Nov. 1986, immediately following the franchise's 2nd ever championship in the prior month, and their ownership was marred by poor management decisions, including the brothers' involvement in the Bernie Madoff multi-million dollar Ponzi scheme, which financially hamstrung the team moving forward.


After a failed acquisition in the early months of 2020, talks picked up again, and eventually a deal was finalized in October. Cohen, the richest owner in Major League Baseball, pointed to the Los Angeles Dodgers’ model of spending whilst building a farm system. He even vowed to win a championship within the first three to five years he owned the team. Since then, the Mets have posted a 253-233 regular season record. Twenty games over .500 seems impressive on the surface, but misleading, considering in 2022, they finished 40 games over. They’ve hired four General Managers and now leave the seat unfilled after hiring former Brewers GM & President of Baseball Operations David Stearns to be President of Baseball Ops -- A New York City native and childhood Mets fan who got his professional start with the Mets nearly two decades ago. 


38-year-old David Stearns. Harvard graduate, has long been regarded as one of the brightest minds in baseball. He has now been hired by his childhood team in the Mets and is presumed to bring a different approach to team-building from what the organization had grown accustomed to in Steve Cohen & former GM Billy Eppler's now-defunct marriage.


For Cohen, Stearns was the cream of the crop. Back in 2021, the Mets asked for permission to speak with Stearns, but were denied by the Brewers. After the 2022 season, Stearns stepped down as Brewers President and moved to an advisory role with the club. In August of 2023, Stearns began talks with other teams. Stearns was officially introduced on Oct. 2, 2023. Stearns, one of the most respected executives in baseball, was another sign that Steve Cohen’s Mets were to be taken seriously. 


But it’s difficult to get rid of a poor culture overnight. Just days later, Mets GM Billy Eppler resigned amid a league investigation regarding “improper use of the injured list”. Of all the General Managers Cohen has hired, Eppler was the longest tenured, and had one of the better excuses for leaving his role. (Jared Porter, Cohen’s first GM resigned after sending inappropriate text messages to a female reporter & Zack Scott after a DWI charge.


Now, four months into his Mets career, the highly touted Harvard graduate’s offseason is headlined by the likes of Luis Severino and Harrison Bader. After the departure of Buck Showalter, former Yankees bench coach Carlos Mendoza was tapped as manager. Showalter was credited with changing the culture in 2022, bringing a 77-win team the year before up above the 100-win mark. Showalter won National League Manager of the Year in ‘22, and after an offseason where Jacob deGrom was replaced by reigning A.L. Cy Young award winner and World Series champion Justin Verlander. With the highest payroll in Major League Baseball history, the Mets were considered World Series favorites going into the 2023 season.


Steve Cohen took some big swings with his signings of two of the most successful pitchers in MLB history -- signing 3x Cy Young Award winner & 2019 World Series Champion Max Scherzer to a 2 year, $86.6 million deal in 2022, and 3x Cy Young Award winner & 2x World Series Champion Justin Verlander to a deal with the same value as Scherzer's.


The story continues as follows: Verlander was inactive until the first week of May. By the time he was back, the Mets were hovering around .500 ball and the team's de facto ace, Max Scherzer, was pitching to an ERA above five and a half. By the trade deadline, the Mets were out of it.


Their first order of business was trading away the linchpin of their otherwise ungodly bullpen, David Robertson. Scherzer and Verlander were not too far behind him, and by the time the deadline passed, the Mets were paying more money to players not on the team compared to who was still suiting up in the orange and blue. 


The Mets' early-season failures in 2023 led to a dramatic shift in the team's plans with their two premier rotation signings; both Verlander and Scherzer were dealt to AL West contenders ahead of this past season's trade deadline. Scherzer won this past season's World Series title with the Texas Rangers, despite dealing with injury.


After spending seven years as the GM of the Brewers, helping them reach the postseason four times, Stearns was supposed to bring the expertise that made a small market team a playoff contender to a big market team with a blank checkbook. In theory, the richest owner in baseball shouldn’t be afraid to give his golden goose a blank checkbook. Considering this offseason saw the likes of Shohei Ohtani and Yoshinobu Yamamoto, you would think Cohen would go after a once in a lifetime player in Ohtani. Right? 


Right? 


Before the offseason started, both Japanese stars Shohei Ohtani & Yoshinobu Yamamoto were either rumored or reported to have interest in the Mets. Both players wound up signing with the Dodgers, and later reports stated the Mets were never really close on either player.


Nope. The Mets were out on Ohtani before the bidding war even began, and never got the opportunity to match the Dodgers’ offer to Yamamoto. After a disappointing end to another 100 win season for the Dodgers, they spent over $1 billion on the two Japanese stars alone. 


It is worth noting that high payrolls don’t guarantee success, if you think otherwise, feel free to read through this piece again. However, when you avoid giving pitchers nearing age 40, 40 million dollars a year, you may have a better shot at short and long-term success. Considering Ohtani turns 30 in July and Yamamoto turns 26 in August, the window would be open for years to come. Instead, the Mets course of action is to hold off on spending for an offseason or two and load up for 2026 and beyond. 


A well-known recipe to success -- sitting on your hands and watching everyone around you get better. The Dodgers show no sign of slowing down, the Braves aren’t going anywhere, and the Phillies still have better odds to win the N.L. than the Mets. (Doesn’t mean much, but the public perception of the team in Queens is not a positive one.) 


So what’s next? An optimistic look on the future could be that the Mets use this offseason to build some depth, however it’s overlooking the fact most of their signings have been for one year. Sean Manaea is the lone exception, however he has an opt-out after the first year. 


The 2024-25 free agent class is another star studded one. It’s headlined by the Yankees’ Juan Soto. General feelings are that Soto will stay in the Bronx, but the front office situation across the river may be just as fraught. 


The Mets' crosstown rivals made a splash during the winter -- 25-year-old superstar Juan Soto will don the pinstripes at least for one season in the Bronx with the Yankees.


If the Mets want to go after Soto, they’d need to be prepared to knock his socks off. They lost out on Yamamoto because they never got a chance to match the Dodgers’ final offer. Cohen has the ability to completely blow everyone out of the water, and has in the past, but never had a wise mind making the decisions. 


Now he does, well supposedly, but Stearns made it work in Milwaukee with a small town budget. In the biggest market on earth, with the richest owner in the game, he should have full reign to spend what he wants on who he thinks is best for the team. I’m not confident that’s the case. Maybe he will next year, or the year after that, but what is Cohen waiting for? He shouldn’t be held to the “three to five year” promise, but should at least try to hold up his end of the bargain. 


You can’t go “all-in” once and ditch your plan when it doesn’t work out. Cohen didn’t become as successful as he is by doing that. The longer you put off becoming a perennial contender, the less seriously you’re taken. The aura of Steve Cohen and his “deep” pockets won’t be sustained as long as your offseasons are headlined by Sean Manaea. Not to knock Manaea, it’s a fine signing, but it can’t be the big move. 


Neither can Luis Severino or Harrison Bader. Both of those deals are great, but more is needed. The new playoff format allows teams to squeak in, and those teams have been damn successful too. But if that’s going to be Cohen’s new masterplan, may we all be saved. 


If it’s about the money, and the mountains of cash the Mets owe players of the past, then maybe he shouldn’t be concerned with building a giant casino resort outside Citi Field. Yes, it’s plopped right in the middle of a sea of concrete and chop shops. But Cohen should be focused on the baseball team. It was a “passion project”, but not even four years in, he seems bored with it and just wants to build an adult playground. 


Not to say that this whole fandom thing was a sham, nor that he only did this to push his name out some more. But this doesn’t feel like what a diehard fan would do sitting on a net worth of nearly $20 billion. 


So, for now, it seems like you can put those sunglasses away. At the end of the day, business is business. As long as people still attend the games, pay $40 for parking and spend $6 on an oversized soda with their $7 hot dog, all is well in Mets land. Mets fans are passionate, and no matter what will fill the seats, buy the jerseys and root on the team. Cohen knows that, either by observation or by experience. That distinction is important and if it winds up being the former, maybe donate those sunglasses.


Will 2024 signal new success for the Mets, or will the front office's new cost-cutting approach remind fans more of the Wilpon era than they'd like?

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