Sunday, October 24, 2021

The Media's Unfair Rush to Judgment

A lot has happened since the last time I posted here. The Astros and Braves will compete against each other in a World Series that doesn't hold much interest for me. The 2021 baseball season is rapidly winding down to a conclusion. What started back in late March with a ton of optimism for the New York Mets and those of us who love them is ending with the Mets in their usual position this time of year — just an afterthought for all but the most diehard fans.

Steve Cohen's purchase of this franchise injected a ton of energy into the club and the fanbase, but that energy wasn't enough to put them over the top. Hell, it wasn't even enough to push them over .500. Cohen hasn't even completed his first full year as the team owner (the sale went through on Friday, November 6, 2020), but already the honeymoon between the billionaire owner and most Met fans is a rapidly fading memory. In fairness, that was inevitable with anything short of an actual World Series title this year. Still, few of us were prepared for just how badly this team played after the All-Star break.

There was a solid consensus among pundits and knowledgeable fans that the Mets really needed to put a stable, sustainable front office structure in place this offseason, starting with the person who would lead the Mets forward out of their current miasma. Last year, things were quite rushed due to that November takeover, but there is plenty of time to find the right executive this time around. And let me state right here, before I get further into this piece, that it would be absolutely unforgivable if the Mets head into the winter meetings without new, solid leadership in place.

However, the big names tossed around in the press earlier this month for the PBO job never seemed realistic to me. A couple of weeks ago, I shared some thoughts on the subject. At that point, Theo Epstein had already bowed out of consideration. Epstein was always an extreme longshot, in my estimation. It was clear that Epstein is looking to do more than just repeat what he already accomplished in Boston and Chicago.

Although Billy Beane had not yet ruled himself out when I last wrote, I didn't believe that Beane was likely to take the job for the reasons I put forward in that post. And, of course, he didn't. As for the other big name, the Brewers' David Stearns, it really wasn't any surprise that Milwaukee owner Mark Attanasio denied the Mets' request to discuss the job with Stearns. Attanasio did the same thing last year, and there were no indications that he would act any differently this time around.

Yet the same local and national baseball media that touted these guys as candidates for the Mets' PBO job — denying the basic common sense logic that made all three extremely unlikely to come here — already began proclaiming that this year's search for a PBO was another failure. Example pieces are this one from Joel Sherman in the New York Post and this one from Brittany Ghiroli in The Athletic. There were plenty of others, also.

In his piece, Joel Sherman opined that the Mets are stuck in the same place they were last fall:

Epstein, Beane and Stearns were seen as the Mets gold standard. Now, none are even in play, leaving the Mets in executive "Groundhog Day" — like last offseason they have an open position that they can't fill. As of Monday, besides Stearns, they have not asked for permission to talk to an executive elsewhere. Really, it should be a heck of a job.

Last offseason, the first of Cohen’s ownership, the team wanted to hire a president of baseball operations, who would in turn enlist a GM. But Cohen ran into a myriad of issues with desired candidates either 1) comfortable where they were, 2) unavailable because they were under contract, 3) concerned about Cohen’s reputation from his hedge fund for, among other things, being tough on employees and/or 4) concerned about the general dysfunction that swirled around the Mets.

I believe this assessment is vastly premature. The media named these 3 candidates as top choices for the Mets, despite the odds. Then, once none of them panned out, the predictable stories like Sherman's and Ghiroli's started coming out. Essentially, they created an almost impossibly steep mountain for Cohen and Sandy Alderson to climb, then piled on with the criticism when they failed.

A few thoughts here:

  • The Mets' job doesn't carry the same prestige as equivalent jobs with marquis franchises such as the Red Sox, Cubs, Yankees, and the Dodgers. Yeah, it's New York. Yes, there is a real opportunity to turn the Mets into an iconic franchise again, but that can only be accomplished by winning over a period of some years. Don't fool yourself into believing that prestige will be a factor in anyone taking the job.

  • Steve Cohen has a lot of money, but the top candidates are already making a lot of money. Money alone won't lure the desired candidate to leave a great job that they already love in cities where there just isn't the overwhelming media presence of New York.

  • Please don't tell me that it makes much of a difference that someone grew up a Mets fan or once briefly played for them. MLB is a business. Once someone makes their career in that business, their fan loyalty growing up just isn't going to be any sort of deciding factor.

  • Being a PBO, GM (or whatever name you choose to give it) in New York City is the toughest job in the sport. No other place offers the sheer number of media types and the intensive scrutiny of this market. David Stearns, for instance, can make plenty of money in Milwaukee without dozens of folks calling for his head during every losing streak, on the air and in print.

None of the above means that finding a great person to run baseball operations is impossible, but it's never going to be easy. The job just isn't for everyone. Folks scared off by Steve Cohen occasionally tweeting something about the club shouldn't even consider coming here. It's going to get much hotter than the level of heat coming from one of the owner's relatively mild offerings.

Recently I've begun to question if the media actually wants the Mets to continue to fail, supporting a narrative that has endured for many years. Folks who have covered the sport for quite a while get very comfortable with the status quo. I am not alone in asking this question. Mark Healey at Gotham Baseball did an elegant job in discussing this on Wednesday. Mark, who admits to not being a huge supporter of team president Sandy Alderson, still finds the criticism leveled at the man to be "a load of hot garbage." I agree.

Like Mark, I am not a fan of everything that Sandy has done. Sandy is far from blameless for some of the Mets' missteps over the past year, but the level of accusations made at the man is ludicrous. So is the verbal garbage being tossed at Steve Cohen. Mark quotes a former baseball executive on the matter:
"I wouldn’t pay attention to it," a former baseball executive told me recently, calling the rumors swirling around Alderson as nothing but "a cold war."  When I asked why he used that term, he said there are more than a few people who didn't want Cohen to buy the Mets, and this is the only way they can "slow his roll."
I'm not someone who easily buys into conspiracy theories, but I believe this one has become fairly obvious. To be clear, I don't blindly idolize and support either Cohen or Alderson. Both are imperfect men who have achieved a great deal of success but have also made their share of mistakes. Neither one of them is a saint, either. But I believe that there is an obvious slant in how they are covered in the press to maximize every stumble and build a narrative of continued Mets' dysfunction.

This has been a tough year for Alderson, Cohen, and Mets fans. None of us are where we want to be. Questions abound over what direction the club should be steered. The uncertainty over the health of ace Jacob deGrom and the struggles of key offensive contributors such as James McCannJeff McNeil, and Dominic Smith make the question of whether the Mets possess an adequate core to compete with going forward a difficult one to answer.

I don't want to quote too extensively from Mark's piece on Gotham Baseball, as I want you to read it in its entirety, but I did want to touch on one other point he made about Sandy's son Bryn Alderson. Bryn's name has come up in a few pieces as a potential impediment to hiring a desired person to run baseball ops. Brittany Ghiroli indulged in some speculation in her piece in The Athletic:
But there's another potential issue lurking, regarding the curious timing of the promotion of Alderson’s son, Bryn, who along with Ian Levin was promoted to assistant general manager this summer when the Mets didn't have a GM or president of baseball operations. Bryn, who joined the organization as a scout in late 2011, was previously scouting director.

Sandy Alderson has said his preference would be to transition fully to the business side. But there is skepticism within the industry that it would even be feasible, and some in the game have pointed out that Bryn is now in a high-ranking position on the baseball side regardless. The dynamic of having a high-powered father-son duo is a potentially concerning component for any new front-office hire, one that sources say has adversely come into play before in the Mets’ current organizational structure. Who, some wonder, would really hold the power to make organizational decisions?

Vague mentions of sources and the wondering of some unnamed folks seem to me a pretty unfair way to go after Bryn Alderson. I've only ever read favorable opinions on the man. Mark Healy, who has much more extensive contacts than I do in baseball, noted the following:

I talk to a lot of people in the game on a regular basis, and I've never heard a bad word about Bryn, who carries the reputation of being a hard-working talent evaluator who works very well with others.

I think it's incredibly unfair to insinuate that Bryn Alderson's promotion was due to nepotism. I laugh at the idea that the ultra-competitive and ultra-successful billionaire Steve Cohen would conceivably allow Alderson to promote his son to a job he didn't merit. It's also farcical to believe that Alderson would promote his son to be a spy in the administration of the next leader of baseball ops. But sure, whatever you say. Bryn Alderson doesn't need Mark or me to come to his defense, but I really hate this sort of crap. If a pundit cannot produce a shred of evidence that Bryn isn't deserving of his current title, they should consider leaving the derogatory speculation out of their pieces.

Getting back to our main subject, I remain convinced that the Mets have to search deeper than the most obvious names to find their PBO. I believe that there are terrific choices out there who would jump at the chance to take the Mets into a new era. It's forgotten now in the light of the man's deplorable behavior towards women, but the Mets' hiring of Jared Porter last winter was seen as a terrific hire at the time. The Bill James piece I quoted extensively in my previous post was written to applaud the move. This isn't to excuse Porter's adolescent behavior or Alderson's failure to have the man fully vetted. I just believe there are really great choices out there who can pass a background check.

I haven't touched on Brian Sabean, the new hot name for the Mets' job. If it becomes apparent that he's really in the mix, the man deserves an entire post. I would say briefly that I certainly wouldn't be against the move, but the 65-year-old former SF Giants head would most definitely need to be paired with someone younger and more versed in the techniques that successful teams are utilizing today.

In summation here, I'd like to stress that I am not a blind cheerleader for Steve Cohen, Sandy Alderson, or anyone else in the Mets' hierarchy. I'll never refer to Steve Cohen as "Uncle Steve," nor will I imagine in any way that he and I are buddies. He's the man that owns the team I care about, and Sandy is the man Cohen selected to oversee the organization. There have been mistakes made, but I am convinced that the media is grossly overstating them. For instance, a man getting pulled over for drunken driving is an example of terrible personal judgment, not a reflection on the organization as a whole. Seriously.

I expect a lot from Cohen and Alderson this offseason. I will not at all be happy if they don't get things on the right track. I "celebrated" my 63rd birthday this past Wednesday. I am going for a heart procedure tomorrow. It's not a major one, but I am keenly aware that I am not going to live forever.

There was a time, not all that long ago, when I really believed that it was inevitable that the Mets would find a way to win another title in my lifetime. Now I'm not so sure, and I really want to see another one before I shuffle off this mortal coil. I do not possess endless patience with the moves that the team chooses to make to bring a championship to Mets fans.

On the other hand, I've witnessed for many years what happens when the process that your club follows isn't sound. I've repeatedly seen that spending money on a few players does not guarantee a successful outcome. There is a tremendous amount of work ahead of the Mets if they hope to be something more than a continuing laughingstock that only occasionally manages to give their fans something to cheer about. They need to find the right person to lead them forward. Someone who is put off by tweets or the presence of Bryn Alderson need not apply — they're simply not equipped for the job.

I'm going to give Cohen and Alderson a bit more time before I start pulling out what little hair I still possess and unequivocally declare this search for a new leader to be a failure. I still believe that Steve Cohen — while clearly neither my uncle nor my buddy — is the right owner for this club going forward. And I'm not going to be swayed in that belief by a media that seems committed to finding the worst possible interpretation of events.


 Follow me on Twitter @MikeSteffanos.

2 comments:

  1. Tampa Bay was well represented in the playoffs...the search should start there.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Yeah, look at what Chaim Bloom accomplished in Boston

    ReplyDelete

The Media's Unfair Rush to Judgment

A lot has happened since the last time I posted here. The Astros and Braves will compete against each other in a World Series that doesn'...