Funny where inspiration comes from sometimes. After pondering a number of topics worth spending time researching and writing about, my best friend – and consummate life-long Mets fan – asked me what my thoughts were on the top five moves that new owner Steve Cohen has to make in remaking the team. Not even a full day into the job Cohen deserves a lot of credit for making a move I did not see on the horizon, but needs to be lauded for, by restoring full salaries for Mets employees. Few things will garner ground-up enthusiasm than caring for your people. Of course, the talk of hiring Sandy Alderson was on the docket well before closing on the team Friday, and almost certainly was critical in greasing the skids to get buy-in from the “ownership class.” Given these are done, let’s move on from them.
1. Take stock of the team. Cohen just laid out $2.4 billion for this team, so before doing anything significant just because he is wealthy, Cohen and his confidants need to take full stock of all aspects of the team from hospitality to dealing with Robinson Cano. With Alderson as a trusted leader now, he needs to appraise all aspects of the baseball side of the team. How long will it take to do this? I would guess with all the parallel activities that must also go on, probably a month or two to get to situational awareness, but much longer in reality. Having experience running a big outfit, Cohen almost certainly will be able to begin to see the internal business side of the team pretty quickly in order to eliminate the rot, and begin to reshape for his purpose. Alderson should be able to take stock of the big-league team and the pipeline, but much has changed in the two years he has been gone. In all of this, the byline should be “don’t panic.”
2. Begin to manage personnel decisions. After Cohen understands the state of the team he just bought, he and Alderson need to begin addressing personnel moves. Focusing on the baseball side of the team, a critical decision will be dealing with the search for a general manager. Most folks think that it is time to move on from the Brodie Van Wagenen experiment, a decision I am in complete agreement with. Regardless of the status of player and coaching personnel, a general manager that has the full confidence of Cohen and Alderson needs to be in place. The trade for Edwin Diaz and Cano was so bad, along with signing of Jed Lowrie, that there simply is no way Van Wagenen can remain in charge. Add the terrible clubhouse and media relations, and all that remains is burnt embers. With declining the options for Frazier and Ramos and making a qualifying offer to Marcus Stroman, there is no need for panic moves between the lines until the general manager his brought on. A new GM needs to be a baseball master, equally comfortable shifting from advanced scouting to advanced analytics. More than one beat writer has mentioned that the analytics staff will see a major growth with new ownership. Without doubt, this should be done before making a number of player personnel moves. On that front, all doors should be open to improve the team once a plan is in place. Alderson once wanted to build a perennial winner; now is his chance, but it will not happen without a clear plan.
3. Develop a “Mets Way.” In the past, especially with the hiring of Van Wagenen, there was a thought that he would usher in a bottom-to-top overhaul of the team resulting in the consistent messaging across all levels needed to make sure players are being guided by strong principles. That did not happen. In the panic to fulfill the errant notion that this team was in a “win now” state, Van Wagenen robbed and pillaged the system, with no obvious plan beyond the next game, such that we have a pile up of talent in multiple positions and emptiness at others. What we got was a team with people playing out of position because of a desperate need to get their bat in the game, with some of those players learning positions at the big-league level. This has to end and the sooner the better, so that a balanced team, filled with players prepared to go, is the end result. It is time to build the team as an holistic enterprise where every person should be developing their skills along the way (including bunting!). The Mets Way should primarily emphasize respect for the name on the front of the jersey, not just the back.
4. Do not buy in to the panic of the “win now” myth. It took all of about zero seconds before the call came for fixing the team by going after J.T. Realmuto and Trevor Bauer (among others) and laying out huge money for team-crippling back-loaded contracts. Every Mets fan wants winner in Queens and the sooner the better. However, a new Mets Way designed to get sustained success has to take precedent over the misguided panic of “win now,” which is the exact reason the team is where it presently is. There clearly is a good amount of talent on the team, but still with significant gaps, some large enough (such as starting and relief pitching) that a single off season will not be sufficient to remedy. The Braves are a strong team with incredible players at most positions – the sooner we realize that the distance between them and us is pretty significant the better.
5. Nurture fan relations. It did not take much time for a long-suffering fan base with a strong disdain for ownership to go from frowns to smiles when the news first broke about Cohen being interested in the team, only to go back to frowns after the first offer fell through. The smiles returned for real when a miracle occurred with an agreed offer. That’s already yesterday’s news now. Even with the sense of relief with Cohen taking ownership, it sure would be nice to see the goodwill go much further. Cohen is a Mets fan first. We no longer need to wake up daily with “sell the team” on our lips – and having that be a reasonable excuse for virtually every problem on the team. It is time to see more Mets stuff at Citi Field, including major recognition for Gil Hodges and a full court press to get him in the Hall of Fame. While it seems the stadium will look like a re-do of a stadium that had exactly zero to do with the Mets for some time, it sure would feel better to see more recognition of our history, including a much better appreciation for the fans that keep the enterprise moving.