You might think you know what comes next here. It should be a roasting of the Mets for letting another One Who Got Away get away, for not knowing how to get the most out of their own players, for being so inept or so enamored with others’ players that they don’t understand what is right in front of them.Wrong. Maybe the above is true, but their real Paul Sewald lesson is different — and crucial to incoming president of baseball operations David Stearns' overarching goal of building a perennial playoff team. The Mets need to be much better at turning fringe players into impact players.
I understand some Mets fans don't get why folks like me are so excited about Stearns being hired. Certainly, no one person can "fix" a struggling org by themselves. There is way too much to be managed for solo acts. What gives me some confidence that David Stearns can accomplish the task of elevating the Mets to the next level is that he has already done this in MLB with the Brewers. This distinguishes him from Chaim Bloom, just fired by the Red Sox, and beleaguered San Francisco Giants exec Farhan Zaidi.
What Stearns represents to me is a Mets organization finally willing to hire the best possible person for the job after decades of "settling" for lesser names for reasons of cheapness and ownership's desire to have an oversized voice in baseball decisions. Stearns's success with the Brewers in finding value in building a deep roster denotes a skill the Mets can badly use. But, while that's vitally important, it's only a piece of the puzzle.
Besides bringing his own talents and intelligence to a job, an outstanding baseball operations leader these days has to be gifted at running a massive operation with a lot of moving parts. A feature on David Stearns by Howie Kussoy in the New York Post this week included a quote from an MLB executive who has worked with him alluded to Stearns's people skills:
He's smart enough to use the data side, but to peg him as an "analytics" guy is not right. He has a great baseball mind. He's a good listener. It's consistent. It's authentic. When he talks to you, you feel comfortable, even if you don't like what he says.
In the past three years under Steve Cohen, the Mets have brought many talented people into their organization. While it's still a work in progress, this front office is miles ahead of where it was in the final years of the Wilpon era. By committing to a man who is acknowledged to be one of the most talented executives in the sport, the owner is showing that he's not willing to compromise in his quest to help the club outgrow the old, tired LOL Mets label.
I read a piece in The Athletic yesterday that honestly caused me to feel a bit of PTSD. The article by Sam Blum attempted to answer the question as to how the Angels managed to squander the prime of two of the best baseball players who ever stepped into a pair of cleats. The answer Blum offered was generally in being extremely cheap in spending on all of the behind-the-scenes infrastructure that tends to separate great teams from the rest of the pack.
It was the subject of a post that I wrote almost three years ago, where I quoted extensively from a Bill James piece complimenting the Mets' hiring of Jared Porter. This was, of course, before the sexual harassment stuff that led to Porter's termination. James differentiated between what he termed as "top-level stuff" — essentially the work of a baseball organization that is most apparent to the public — as opposed to "ground-level work," which, although much less public-facing, James asserted was "60% of what makes an organization successful."
The Wilpon-led Mets were terrible at ground-level work, primarily because the frugal ownership balked at financially investing in it. They failed to realize that investment in that area would eventually save them money down the road in free agent spending. Moreover, the increased success on the field that would have resulted would have brought it much more revenue, essentially canceling out some of the spending. As the old saying goes, Fred and Jeff were very much penny-wise and dollar-foolish. Turns out, at least according to Sam Blum, Arte Moreno of the Angels has that in common with the Mets' former owners:
For many of those who have worked for Moreno... they'll tell you that good investments — the kind that don't make headlines, but that differentiate winning organizations from losing franchises — have been few and far between.
"Everyone in that organization knows that you're going to be nickel and dimed," said one former Angels employee. "The overwhelming perception that I got was that winning games was not the top concern from (ownership). It's 'How can we make at least one penny more than we did the year before?'"