Monday, June 6, 2022

Living in the Land of Plenty

Being a Mets fan no longer means sadly watching the fans of other teams get nice stuff that you can't have.

I was browsing through some of my early posts when I revived this blog in March 2020. I came across this post, written at a time when Steve Cohen had apparently backed off from buying the Mets. It was disappointing — not because I was convinced back then that Steve Cohen would be an ideal owner, but rather it meant that Fred and Jeff Wilpon would linger on the scene for a while longer. As I noted in that post, the Wilpons were "like guests that you were never all that excited about in the first place who have seriously outlived their welcome."

I envisioned a reality show based on ABC's long-running The Bachelor, where I would be allowed to bestow the ultimate rose of Mets ownership to the rich person who checked all of the boxes for me. A little arrogant? Sure, but it was my damn fantasy. I had fun writing the piece.

Although it was written with tongue firmly in cheek, I was pretty honest in laying out what kind of owner I was hoping for. Looking back on what I wrote, it's funny how well Steve Cohen ticked all of the boxes:

He/she needs to be rich. Really rich. Hate to be mercenary, but if you want my damn rose, I don't want to spend the next 10 years worrying about your finances. If you have to ask, you can't afford it. F*** off.

He/she needs to be able to hire good people and then let them do their jobs. Sure, any owner will have a say in any significant money expenditure, but my Big Bucks Dreamboat doesn't have any illusions that he can make day-to-day baseball decisions because he placed third in his fantasy baseball league 7 years ago. Remember, while George Steinbrenner brought the Yankees back to winning in the 70s, he almost buried them in the 80s.

He/she can make a plan and stick with it. I get a freaking headache when the franchise seems to retool and change direction every 5 years or so. Make it a priority to hire good people from top to bottom and build a real organization that can find talent, sign it, grow it and roll it out on a big league field. Splashy free agent signings are cool, but winning is sustained by doing the little things right.

He/she respects the past of this franchise. If you own a team, you shouldn't have to be guilted into honoring those who have shone for your team in the past. Retire a couple of numbers. Celebrate past championships. And for God's sake, I don't want to hear about feuds between you and former players.

Finally, no Drama King/Queens need apply. We've had more than enough of that with our exes. Let's just make it about baseball this time around.

Obviously, Steve Cohen is rich enough that I don't spend any time worrying that his finances could adversely affect how the franchise operates. Quite the opposite, as a matter of fact. Fred Wilpon never had a Luxury Tax level named after him.

While the hiring good people bullet point suffered through a couple of stumbles, Cohen's Mets eventually got things right. Billy Eppler and Buck Showalter were both solid hires. Eppler's front office clearly went into the weird 2021-2022 offseason with a coherent plan. Steve Cohen opened up the coffers, and the Mets quickly went from a marginal contender if everything went perfectly — basically every good Mets club in the last couple of decades under the Wilpons — to a legit contender built to take some hits without falling on their collective faces.

Skipping down the list a bit, Steve Cohen gets an A+ for respecting the franchise's history. When Citi Field was first built, the park seemed more like a monument to the former owner's love of the long-departed Brooklyn Dodgers than the ballclub that actually played there. Now there is a statue of uber-Met Tom Seaver, and Keith Hernandez will be honored with the retiring of his jersey number. A Mets fan walking into Citi Field these days can enjoy the experience of a home park that celebrates the six decades of history of his franchise.

The idea of having a real plan and sticking with it is slowly unfolding before us. The Mets made little investment in their analytics department and technology before Cohen took the team over. Along with player development, these were all areas in which the top teams in baseball invested heavily. Coming from a career in managing hedge funds, no one had to convince Steve Cohen that properly leveraging analytics and investing in cutting-edge technology would pay off for the team he owns. From what I've read, the Wilpons were a very hard sell when it came to investing in those areas.

The Mets under Steve Cohen have made significant strides in analytics. He's even reportedly loaned key employees from his hedge fund to ensure that the Mets are heading in the right direction. The idea behind analytics isn't merely accumulating a lot of data; it's finding the correct data and implementing it properly. By dramatically expanding the department and loaning the club some of his best people, Steve Cohen is building something that other teams will envy.

There can be little doubt that technology is changing the way players are developed. Trackman, Rapsodo, PitchFX, and others provide teams with cutting-edge tools for helping their young players develop and MLB players be their best. Some of this stuff is almost old hat these days, but new things are coming along continually.

A recent article cites the Mets' purchase of a machine that can actually replicate the delivery of any pitcher. The players can then use the device before a game to take some swings against the delivery and pitch arsenal of the hurler they will be facing that day. It's not hard to imagine how useful that could prove to be. Investment in this sort of technology will pay off not only in helping the current Mets to be more competitive. It will also help the club attract players into the organization. The Mets are building a reputation as an organization willing to invest in their roster and infrastructure.

When I wrote my silly little piece about bestowing a rose more than two years ago, I didn't have a lot of faith that the requirements I'd listed would be fulfilled. I mostly hoped that it wouldn't be the Dolans that snuck in and ruined another team that I loved. Beyond that, I hoped the club would be sold to an individual rather than a corporate entity like Liberty Media, which owns the Braves. As for Steve Cohen, he seemed to be out of the picture after backing off from his efforts to purchase the club.  

When Cohen stepped back into the picture, he seemed to be the no-brainer choice. There were questions about how deeply leveraged A-Rod and Jennifer Lopez's group would be, especially given the uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. No Mets fans wanted to live through the financial struggles of the club's ownership again after the post-Madoff Wilpon era.

It strikes me, however, how very perfectly things worked out. I know some are convinced that Steve Cohen is the Antichrist or, at the very least, someone who has used some questionable tactics to build his personal wealth. I don't care. The owner of this club was always going to be someone with immense wealth. That is never built by Eagle Scouts, who never cross any lines. I don't concern myself with Steve Cohen's past, no matter how hard some trolls work on Twitter and other places to try to sell me on their views.

I wanted an owner who would spend and invest in this club. Steve Cohen has proved to be that owner. This recent comment from Steve Cohen is literally music to my ears:

"I said at the beginning it's going to take a while and we still have a ways to go. We are building up our infrastructure and I think that continues, we are making progress, but that is not a one- or two-year phenomenon. That’s going to take a while because there's so many different parts. 

I know we’re making progress but I will never feel satisfied. That is not who I am. I am always trying to figure out where else we can go next and I am always in a state of constant improvement and that’s the way I want this organization to run." 

While other wealthy owners go on local sports radio shows to cry poverty and convince those of us with only a tiny fraction of their wealth that owning a baseball club isn't profitable, Steve Cohen approves large payroll expenditures and investments that will someday make the Mets organization second to none. Some in the media still try to make old "LOL Mets" references when anything goes wrong for the club, but that's a tired old meme rooted in a past that is fading away more every day.

Even his Twitter feed, the subject of some controversy at times, endears the man to me. Moments of startling honesty intermingle with corny Dad jokes. Even that little exchange with Steven Matz's agent didn't bother me, though some in the media tried to build it into some sort of big deal. Despite concerns of some, it didn't stop other agents from taking Steve Cohen's money. Did you really think it would? (By the way, Matz is on the IL right now, with an ERA sitting at 6.03)

I've rooted for the Mets for more than 50 years now. I had begun to believe that I might not live to see another Mets championship in my lifetime. I didn't even dare dream that my team might evolve into an organization that others would envy. Now I find myself looking forward to every bit of news about things the Mets are doing to be more successful.

Say what you want about Steve Cohen. He's not an angel. He's not my Uncle Stevie. Still, it's hard to imagine a better owner for this club. I never thought in a million years that someday I would write these words and actually believe them.

Please be well and take care.

Follow me on Twitter @MikeSteffanos.

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