Saturday, September 9, 2023

All David Stearns All the Time

Rumors about David Stearns and the Mets swirl non-stop. I'm into all of it, but this reminds me a bit too much of last winter's sad Carlos Correa saga.

When this season began, I thought my September would be consumed by the Mets' playoff push. Instead, I'm watching a club playing out the string on a disappointing season and hoping that I might see an announcement soon concerning hiring a new person to run the Mets' baseball operations. In last week's post, I mentioned a Peter Gammons tweet stating that the employees who survived the organizational purge felt that a PBO would be "named within two weeks." I was skeptical then that Brewers owner Mark Attanasio would allow David Stearns out of his Brewers' commitment early. However, we subsequently learned that Stearns' contract stipulated that he was free to negotiate with other teams after August 1.

So, Peter Gammons's timetable is now undoubtedly plausible. Multiple reports from various sources stated that the Mets were the favorites to land the coveted executive and that the Mets and Stearns were already "down the road" in their negotiations. The whole thing is becoming reminiscent of the debacle after the Carlos Correa signing, with the added significance that the Mets are playing a series against Correa's Twins team this weekend. Minnesota is currently in first place in the AL Central, while the Mets are barely clinging to fourth in the NL East. As I write this, the Mets have just dropped Saturday's second game of the set, ensuring a series loss to the Twins.

While the Mets seem to have an excellent chance to ink Stearns to run the club, it's undeniable that another club like Houston could spoil the party for the New Yorkers. This is why, with the memory of how badly I felt when the Correa deal fell through, I refuse to allow myself any level of excitement about Stearns, no matter how positively a particular pundit feels about the Mets' chances. The Mets' job should be attractive to the New York-born Stearns. Steve Cohen can undoubtedly write a big enough check to land the talented Stearns. But there will be no party here at Chez Steffanos until an official announcement is made. We've learned our lesson well.

In today's New York Post, Joel Sherman had a good column about why Cohen "must" land David Stearns, correctly pointing out that there is no real plan B choice for the Mets. It's undoubtedly true. With Cohen hoping to hire someone to lead his organization to the promised land of serial playoff contention, there really isn't an obvious choice if Stearns elects to go elsewhere.

The simple truth is that David Stearns will be banking a hefty paycheck no matter where he elects to spend his next few working years. If he decides on Houston — the city where his wife is from — he would be stepping into a mature, advanced baseball operation years ahead of where the Mets are now. The Houston media is much smaller, less relentless, and more positive than the New York crew. I don't write this to be purposely negative. It's just a fact that David Stearns can easily not be running the Mets in two weeks or, for that matter, at all.

When Steve Cohen did his presser in August, he acknowledged that he wanted a top exec in that PBO slot but also cautioned that it might not happen this winter. I don't think that was posturing on Cohen's part. It was simply that he understood that he might not land Stearns, and he wasn't going to hire someone else just to avoid the narrative of another fish getting away. I'm sure if Steve Cohen is comfortable that David Stearns is the right man for the job — and the reports that the Mets are down the road in negotiations with Stearns would certainly indicate that — he will do everything he can to lure Stearns to New York.

Sherman notes that an MLB executive theorized that Stearns would be looking at a potential deal of around 5 years/$75 million. That would likely make him the highest-paid executive in MLB. That's a lot of money and a load of pressure for the 38-year-old. It's likely to be a topic of discussion whenever Stearns does something that doesn't seem to be succeeding.

Sherman discusses some of David Stearns' strengths and weaknesses in the article:

Cohen has made it clear he will base his ownership on building a sustainable winner that spends plenty, but is buoyed annually by a high-end minor league feeder system and an ability to find useful or better players on the margins.

In Stearns' time with the Brewers, they have not drafted particularly well (Corbin Burnes is the main exception) nor garnered much internationally (though outfielder Jackson Chourio is currently ranked among the majors' best prospects). Stearns made two brilliant trades, in particular, for Freddy Peralta and Christian Yelich, and his group was expert at piecing together value on the margins to help Milwaukee stay in contention annually despite a small market and restrained payrolls.

Interestingly, drafting and signing international talent were not strengths of Stearns's tenure in Milwaukee, given Steve Cohen's oft-stated desire to have a top farm system. But the Mets are already solid in acquiring talent in the draft. They are working hard at getting better with international signings and in their player development. While I can't speak to why Milwaukee wasn't great in these areas, the resources of that organization were likely more limited. They've also been consistent winners for a while, which limited their access to the high-end first-round talent. But Tampa is in the same boat and excels at scouting and development. Anyway, David Stearns will have more than adequate resources in those areas.

What intrigues me is the success that Sherman noted of "piecing together value on the margins." The Mets have struggled in that area. As much as anything, I believe this failure sealed their fate for 2023. This particular talent of David Stearns would be perhaps the most valuable asset he could bring to the Mets if he does come here. Building a deeper 40-man roster and finding some value for the bullpen and the bench would do much to ensure that we don't see a replay of this dreadful season.

If Stearns doesn't sign with the Mets, we just might not see a PBO hiring. There was reporting last year that Theo Epstein and Steve Cohen did not find common ground that would enable them to work together. There haven't been any rumors at all linking the Mets to Jon Daniels. Cohen's desire to hire a PBO-type would seem to preclude a no-name dark horse candidate from popping up. What would be more likely, if he strikes out with Stearns, Cohen could possibly decide to replace Eppler in the GM role with a dark horse type.

I hope by the next time I write here, there will be a successful resolution with David Stearns to celebrate. In a season of relentless losing, we could all use a win.

Be well and take care.

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  1. Stearns would be the best long term solution but at the same time a person in any kind of project management must have Plans B and C ready to go should Plan A fall through. If Stearns indeed goes elsewhere then the Mets probably muddle through another season without a POBO rather than settling for Daniels or another less glamorous addition to the management roster.

  2. I agree with that, Reese. I do believe they might replace Eppler as GM if they strike out on a PBO.


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