Wednesday, September 16, 2020

He's Our Billionaire Now

In yesterday's post I noted that the lack of any real indication of how Steve Cohen might choose to do with the Mets allows all of us to project our own hopes onto the guy. Frankly, I'm just happy to have hopes again when it comes to the Mets. I was really disheartened in February when Cohen's initial attempt to purchase the team fell apart. The fact that 18 years of Wilpon sole ownership has translated into only 3 trips to the playoffs, one of them a wild card game loss, made feeling hope about the future of the Mets seem pretty foolish. Steve Cohen can run this team like an absolute dunce and I'd still be grateful that, after years without it, I enjoyed a few months of hope before that became apparent.

And before we go any further here, let me just say in advance of the pieces that will surely begin to come out in the coming days, I really, truly don't care that Steve Cohen's firm received a huge fine for insider trading a few years ago. I am not employed in law enforcement or in the financial industry in any capacity. Don't ask me how it feels to root for a team owned by a "bad guy" in a city that once celebrated George Steinbrenner. No fan has any say at all in which rich guy buys their team, nor should those fans trouble themselves with the real or alleged actions of those guys. I don't know Steve Cohen, and what he does in his other business ventures beyond running this team doesn't concern me.

Back to our current discussion, the very unpredictability of what actions Cohen might take once MLB owners give him their approval also lends itself to pundits being able to write any story they want about the man and how things might go with him signing the checks. Tyler Kepner of the New York Times has the latest entry in the hey Mets fans, let me rain on your parade genre. The title, "Can Steven Cohen’s Billions Solve the Mets’ Problems? Not So Fast", was both good click bait and a reasonable summary of what was in the article. I don't fault Kepner for writing it, but I do question why fans weren't given a couple of days to celebrate the end of the Wilpon era before Kepner felt the need to harsh our buzz with a dose of bitter medicine.

Kepner makes a fairly obvious point (and one that Mets fans are reminded of constantly) that running the Mets carries the burden of having the same expectations as the Yankees with lower revenues. He also uses Arte Moreno, the owner of the Angels, another #2 team in a large market, as a cautionary tale against the idea that just spending money can make a team a playoff contender. And it's very true, Moreno has made some dubious free agent signings. He seems more intent on getting some big names in his team's uniform rather than doing what it takes to field a well-balanced team.

I've never personally met any billionaires or even multimillionaires. We just don't seem to run in the same circles. But I've known a few guys who managed to make themselves fairly wealthy. Some of them were really smart and impressive mentally, and some of them make you wonder how they ever succeeded. The lesson to me was that you don't have to be very intelligent or even possess a great deal of common sense in order to do very well for yourself. You have to be quite driven to succeed and then have some luck. You might have some talent in one area that absolutely doesn't translate into another, like, say - baseball.

In the case of Steve Cohen, I just don't think you could have that level of success in the financial markets without being really, really smart. Now does that mean Cohen will avoid the Arte Moreno example of making a splash over building a winner? We really can't know that until we've seen what he chooses to do once he gains control of the team. On the other hand, we already know that the Mets under Wilpon management neither spent nor did all of the little things required to build a strong organization. We're seeing the final results of their stewardship play out as we watch another Mets season circle the drain. So, while I'm not at all certain what sort of owner Steve Cohen might be, I'm pretty darned sure that he will be an improvement over what we have right now.

Some people familiar with Cohen point out that he will likely place importance on analytics, which is something we've heard has already been a focus since Brodie Van Wagenen became the GM. Beyond that, I'm going to guess that you don't go from a middle-class beginning to a fortune of over $10 billion by ignoring the fundamentals when you built your own organization. I have hopes that Cohen will do the same with the Mets.

In the Post today, Mike Puma discussed what might happen to Brodie Van Wagenen and the rest of the current front office once Cohen is handed the keys. Puma cites a source that there is "optimism" among the staff that they might get one more year to prove themselves. As Puma states, the timeline would be tight for a new front office to get up and running once Steve Cohen takes over. I've thought about this myself, and I'm not desperate for the scalps of Van Wagenen or anyone else in the organization, including the current coaching staff. They all probably deserve a shot at operating under a real budget. Either way, it's going to be a fascinating year coming up, devoid of all of the usual dreary Wilpon insistences that the team has no spending restrictions when it's clear to all of us that's not true.

Getting back to Kepner's article, which was fair and made some good points (but seriously, dude, allow us a few days of afterglow), I agree wholeheartedly that you can't spend your way to a winning team. Even with the Mets' relatively middling payroll now, it wouldn't take the signing of more 2 or 3 star-level free agents to hit into the luxury tax payroll range. The Mets simply have more holes to fill than can be spackled with 2 or 3 or even 4 top-of-the-market free agents. Yet once you dip down into the lesser players that carry lower price tags, you run the risk of coming up with another Porcello or Wacha. There are a lot of needs for this team to be a contender, and it will take a smart and nuanced approach to filling those needs, not just in 2021 but also going forward.

Kepner's example of the Dodgers' multi-faceted approach to building out their roster would be an excellent road map for Steve Cohen to follow with his shiny new baseball team. While there is no guarantee that this is the way he will go, I'm going to hold onto the hope that he will. I'm 61, and the last couple of decades under the Wilpons have been awful. I'd love to spend some time watching a smart, well-run Mets team operate, and maybe even make the playoffs in most years. That pleasure is long, long overdue, and I don't have forever to wait for it to happen.

Okay, that will do it from me for today. Please stay safe, be well and take care.

 Follow me on Twitter @MikeSteffanos


  1. Thank you Mike for a well written and thought out article. Being 70 years old and a long time Mets Fan ( since 1967) I don't have time for a long wait either. I do have faith in Mr. Cohn and his abilities and money to get the Mets up to respectability soon. I have suffered under the Wilpon curse for too long and the idea of my team now being a contender is exciting. Looking forward,starting next year, to watching the Cohn Mets take the field and playing the game the way that it is supposed to be played.

  2. Thanks for the compliment. I'm with you, I'm looking for some celebrations while I'm still around to join them.


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