Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Still the Right Man for the Job

Amidst a season of poor play and uncertainty, I still feel good about the guy who owns the team.

I'm beyond the point now where I believe the New York Mets are more likely than not to turn things around in 2023. I thought the team deserved the benefit of the doubt for quite a while based on last season's performance. But their inability to sustain a level of quality play for more than a handful of games here and there has made it abundantly clear that this club could legitimately be the crushing disappointment they appear to be 66 games into the season. Things have to change considerably over the last 96 games for 2023 to finish as anything better than an unmitigated disaster. Could they do it? Sure. But it doesn't feel like the likely outcome any longer. The Mets certainly don't look like the type of team we hoped they would be back in March.

With all of the struggles this season, many fans are calling for the head of GM Billy Eppler and manager Buck Showalter — the two most visible faces of the Mets' organization. Both certainly bear responsibility for the poor performance of this expensive team. However, I don't believe either of them has done such a poor job that they should be handed a pink slip and a bus ticket out of town. It would appear that owner Steve Cohen feels likewise. Based on his own words in a long interview with the New York Post's Joel Sherman published over the weekend, he has no intentions of pulling a George Steinbrenner-type of tantrum. As Cohen stated to Sherman:
"When things get really bad, I'm not going to blow up," Cohen said. "I don't think that's the proper response. I don't think it solves anything, other than it gives people a one-day story. But it doesn't really solve anything... And I think in some ways it can be demotivating.

..."You have to take a look at your process. Work hard. Try to fix what you can fix. And not be reactionary. I think that's the worst thing you can do is to be overly reactionary. General fan reaction, it's usually, 'I can't believe Steve's not going nuts, fire somebody.' My answer to that is, 'OK, let’s say I went nuts. Let's say I fired somebody. Then what?' What does that accomplish? Who are you gonna replace them with? This is the middle of the season. And then if you actually ask people [who are the replacements], they have no answers, other than they're just angry, and I get that. I'm frustrated too. The players are frustrated. The front office is frustrated. We are frustrated. No one expected this. This is really surprising. It doesn't mean that things won’t get better. If we can find ways to fix our weaknesses, we'll try."

I found Cohen's words in the interview quite reassuring. I'm 64 years old, and I've been a Mets fan for most of my life. Decade after decade, the Mets organization was markedly inferior to all of the best organizations in baseball. The biggest reason seemed to be a decision-making process that was deeply flawed. When things seemed to be going well for a period of two or three years, there was always the nagging feeling that prosperity wouldn't last. And, sure enough, that would inevitably prove to be the case.

I've written a lot of words of criticism about Fred and Jeff Wilpon in this space. I took writers to task who lectured fans that criticism of the Wilpons was somehow "unfair." I thought the Wilpons deserved the harsh words for a simple reason: they ran the club for decades and never seemed to learn a damn thing. They were the one constant that connected failed regime after failed regime. The reason things always went bad had nothing to do with bad luck or Ponzi schemes. The owners were unwilling or at least unable to do the hard work required behind the scenes to build a winning organization. While the Mets would occasionally get some stuff right, they would get so much wrong. Inevitably, this failure of vision would come back and bite the Mets in the ass.

I remember listening to Steve Cohen's first press conference in November 2020, just hoping that he would say some things that would allow me to feel hope that this owner would be different from the last. After all, I was 62 years old at the time and it's quite unlikely that I'll still be around for the next owner. I was so exhausted by the endless negative narratives swirling around the Mets. Steve Cohen was presumably my last chance to root for a Mets club with a different vibe. Fortunately for my mental health, the vision that Steve Cohen expressed for his new club was something I could get behind. In fact, it was just about exactly what I would have talked about if I was the guy with the billions required to buy the Mets. 

Cohen spoke about giving his clubs the resources to go out and get enough players to compete in the short term, while beefing up the infrastructure to develop homegrown stars in the future. To quote Cohen from that first press conference:
"I want an exceptional team. I want a team that’s built to be great every year. I want Mets fans to have a great experience with us. I'm going to be an owner who builds a team that has continued success."
When asked about his time frame for the Mets winning a title, Cohen said:
"If I don't win a World Series in the next three to five years, I'd like to make it sooner, then I would consider that slightly disappointing."

It's an interesting quote, one that has been co-opted and misrepresented over the ensuing years by media types as Steve Cohen boldly stating a 5-year timeline for a title, with the implication being that failing to win that title in 5 years would result in the owner's displeasure with his baseball ops personnel. Allegedly, the fear that Steve Cohen would unreasonably demand results was a reason for targeted executives declining a chance to interview for the PBO and/or GM jobs in previous winters. But that's extrapolating quite a lot from the words "slightly disappointing."

So let's step back to the present now. While GM Billy Eppler clearly has not received the results from his moves in building this year's club that he wanted, I'm not at all sure that Eppler's performance has warranted dismissal from the job. Frankly, to make a fair assessment would require a level of access to the inner workings of the Mets organization that I'm never going to have. But an in-season dismissal 66 games in after a 100-win campaign the previous year would send the wrong message to the rest of baseball. It would be Steve Cohen living up to the silly caricature of himself that the media created based on a single quote and their desire to make him into a modern-day Steinbrenner.

So essentially, for a firing (Eppler) that would have almost no chance of making any difference for the 2023 Mets, Steve Cohen would be sabotaging his chances of getting the top candidates to work for him in the future. Firing Buck Showalter would be more likely to impact the current club — in a negative way. The players like Buck and any move to replace him would likely backfire. This isn't a Joe Girardi/Phillies situation where the players didn't like the manager.

It's not that I'm sanguine about the Mets' chances to reverse things. But there is enough talent here for it to happen. If I were the owner, I'd to do exactly what Cohen said he will do in Sherman's interview: ride things out and try to help fix anything that can be fixed for the 2023 Mets. This isn't to say that Steve Cohen isn't constantly evaluating his options for after the season. As Bob Nightengale reports in US Today:
The New York Mets may be struggling with the largest payroll in baseball history, but there are no plans to fire manager Buck Showalter or GM Billy Eppler. Their jobs are not in jeopardy, at least not during the season. 

They instead are expected to hire former Milwaukee Brewers GM David Stearns, whose contract expires after this season, for a high-ranking position in the front office.

I take this with a grain of salt as far as being anything more than speculation on Nightengale's part. But the rumors about Stearns and the Mets have been fairly consistent. It would seem to make sense, providing Stearns wants to come back to baseball this quickly. He is originally from New York. The scenario where Stearns is hired and placed above Eppler in the Mets' baseball ops would make a lot of sense. Eppler seems to be a strong administrator and an effective collaborative leader, while Stearns has a track record of success in running the Brewers which makes me want to see what he could do with more money in New York.

We don't know if Stearns had any reservations about working for Cohen, as Brewers owner Mark Attanasio never gave permission for Stearns to interview. But if he did, those concerns would certainly be assuaged by Steve Cohen's measured approach to the expensive disappointment of the 2023 Mets. The same would assuredly be true for any potential Mets target to fill an important position going forward.

Back in November 2020, Steve Cohen seemed like the one I'd been waiting for. But I've been fooled before. I knew that only time would show whether that initial assessment was true. As with any relationship, you get to know the truth about someone when times are tough. As much as this season has undoubtedly sucked, there is at least the comfort that, even when things are going poorly, Steve Cohen still looks like exactly the right owner for the New York Mets.

Be well and take care.

Follow Mike's Mets on social media:

 Follow us on Twitter @MikeSteffanos.
 Follow Mike's Mets on Facebook.
         Follow me on Instagram.
         Follow Mike's Mets on Spoutible @MikeSteffanos.
         Follow us on Mastodon @MikesMets@mstdn.social.
         Follow us on Post News @MikesMets.
         Follow us on Tribel @mikes_mets.

No comments:

Post a Comment

The Defense Doesn't Rest

A renewed emphasis on defense would be a good thing for the New York Mets. Mike Vaccaro had an interesting column in the New York Post  abou...