In what many anticipate to be a winter of discontent for Major League Baseball owners and free-agent players — after the coronavirus pandemic caused massive financial losses throughout the sport this past year — Steve Cohen taking the New York Mets ownership reins has the potential to be one bright spot in the coming months.
The Long Island-bred hedge fund titan, who Forbes estimates to have a $14.6 billion net worth, could make several big splashes to kick off the new Flushing baseball regime, and Cohen already gave a clear indication he is ready to do baseball business.
“My family and I are lifelong Mets fans, so we’re really excited about this,” Cohen said in part of his statement after he gained the necessary 75% approval from the other MLB owners Friday. “With free agency starting Sunday night we will be working towards a quick close.”
Cohen, 64, who reached an agreement to buy the jewel franchise back in September, announced at the time that if he were approved, one of his first orders of business would be to bring Sandy Alderson back to the franchise as president. Alderson served as the Mets’ general manager from the end of 2010 through June 2018, when he stepped down from the post due to a recurrence of cancer.
Will Alderson’s return to the Mets’ front office signal a complete overhaul of the baseball operations staff? According to numerous baseball sources, current GM Brodie Van Wagenen might be one of the first to go. Van Wagenen, a former sports agent, was hired by Fred and Jeff Wilpon in late 2018 to replace Alderson, and his Flushing tenure has been mostly forgettable.
The Mets have failed to make the playoffs the past two seasons with Van Wagenen at the GM helm, even though the 2020 playoff format was expanded to include 16 teams, eight from each league. One of Van Wagenen’s first moves on the job was to trade prized outfield prospect Jarred Kelenic and four other players to the Seattle Mariners for an aging Robinson Cano and reliever Edwin Diaz. Cano was 36 at the time, and both he and Diaz so far have been major disappointments.
Another disastrous deal was when Van Wagenen signed infielder Jed Lowrie to a two-year, $20 million deal before the 2019 season. Lowrie ended up playing in nine games total over that two-year span.
“I think he’s history,” one baseball insider said of Van Wagenen.
Several sources also said that any Mets employees who have links to Van Wagenen or Jeff Wilpon might be in jeopardy of being let go. Jeff Wilpon was reportedly against Cohen becoming the new owner, and an earlier deal by Cohen to purchase the Mets collapsed in January because the Wilpons, Fred and Jeff, wanted to maintain control of the team for another five years.
Alderson did not return a call for comment.
The Mets’ current roster was to a large degree shaped by Alderson before he stepped down in 2018. First baseman Pete Alonso, infielder Jeff McNeil, and infielder/outfielder Dominic Smith are all home-grown players drafted during Alderson’s GM tenure. Alderson was also responsible for trading for starting pitcher Noah Syndergaard and for outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. The Cuban slugger’s bat carried the club to a surprising 2015 World Series appearance.
But there are tantalizing free agents on the market this winter who could bolster the Mets’ lineup. Right-handed pitcher Trevor Bauer, who was already voted the National League’s “Most Outstanding Pitcher” by his peers, is one of the top pitchers available. Bauer, 29, was 5-4 during the truncated, 60-game season and pitched to a 1.73 ERA.
“The #WorldSeries is over. Free agency has begun,” Bauer tweeted October 28. “A couple points: 1) I’ll consider offers from any MLB or NPB (Nippon Professional Baseball) team.”
Bauer would be a welcome addition to a tattered Mets starting rotation, with Syndergaard still recovering from Tommy John surgery and a shaky corps after ace Jacob deGrom. The Mets could also stand to upgrade their catching ranks, and J.T. Realmuto, who played for the Phillies this past season, is another prize free agent this offseason.
The pandemic wreaked havoc on MLB teams’ finances in 2020, and the Mets were not immune to millions in lost revenue. But Cohen’s arrival in Queens, and with a veteran executive in Alderson running the front office, it figures to be at the very least a pivot toward playing meaningful games at Citi Field again.