The time has finally arrived. The ideal candidate, the object of the savvy Mets fan’s affection will be free to reciprocate in a matter of three weeks. Heck, he’s already free to negotiate with whoever he wants right now. David Stearns will finally have his Suds City chains broken and he will, if he so chooses, become the President of Baseball Operations for the team in his hometown and for which he grew up rooting. This would dovetail fairly nicely with the Mets’ owner, who may – or may not – have had a similar, if earlier, youthful fan experience. If it happens – this is the Mets after all; this franchise has an uncanny ability to screw up a one-car funeral – it would seem a marriage made in heaven.
On the surface, it would seem ideal from Stearns’s end: coming from the ultimate small-market team, Bud Selig’s former franchise and the poster child for big league revenue sharing to the ultimate overdog city, the Center of the Universe, whose owner has seemingly unlimited financial resources and has shown a propensity to spit on the very idea of the luxury tax, would definitely seem appealing. There is also the relatively simplistic idea that since Stearns achieved a great measure of success while being hamstrung by budgetary restrictions in Milwaukee, imagine what he could do with free rein to spend beaucoup bucks in New York. This was the similar attitude of hockey’s New York Rangers in the early 2000s, when they hired Glenn Sather, the architect of the small-town Edmonton Oilers’ dynasty of the 1980s. “Give Sather the Garden’s checkbook? This will be Oilers East,” said the pundits. It didn’t turn out that way for Sather – Ranger fans are still waiting for a repeat of 1994’s Stanley Cup championship – and Sather made quite a few missteps in terms of player acquisitions early on, wielding that mighty checkbook. So, it’s not a given that Stearns will be able to adapt Milwaukee’s success-on-a-shoestring formula – which has also recently worked in places like Atlanta, Tampa Bay, and Baltimore. We Mets fans look to those teams with longing eyes this year. Let’s face it: Cohen spent a mint to put together a 77-win team – at best. If Stearns can ride in and straighten out this mess, he will be well worth whatever ransom Cohen is willing to pay for his services.
As for how things stand now, the ground has been prepared for Cohen’s arrival. In the past two weeks, the Mets have jettisoned their Pro Scouting Director, their Farm Director, their Performance Director, and their Baseball Development Director. This would indicate a willingness on Cohen’s part to allow Stearns to bring in his own people to man these positions, and if they happen to be some parts of the same team that facilitated his success in Milwaukee, so much the better. Current General Manager Billy Eppler – de facto President of Baseball Operations for the moment – would retain that title but would move down a rung on the management ladder. In my opinion, Eppler would best serve the team by spending most of his time in the Far East. His greatest successes have come from his importing of Asian players, for whichever franchise he has worked. He found Masahiro Tanaka while he was Assistant GM of the Yankees. He found generational talent Shohei Ohtani while GM of the Angels and he brought current NL Rookie-Of-The-Year candidate Kodai Senga here. Were Stearns to come aboard, his first act should be to dispatch Eppler to Japan to negotiate with the Orix Buffaloes and not come home until he’s secured the services of Yoshinobu Yamamoto, the Buffaloes star right hander.
For his part, Cohen just needs to do what we pleaded with M. Donald Grant to do, but never did, and what we pleaded with the Wilpons to do, but never did: just sign the checks and stay out of the way. Acknowledge that you’re merely a fan, however rich and powerful a fan you may be. Put the team in the hands of the baseball people and let them run things. There will be a temptation to look under the lid of your investment to see if it’s come to a boil yet, but you know what they say about watched pots. It’s going to take patience on Cohen’s – and the fans’ – part, but much like how things were early on in Frank Cashen’s tenure, the early bumps will pay off in the end.
Meanwhile, let’s just make sure David Stearns doesn’t end up in Houston.