'Starting to look stacked': Cohen bullish on Mets' present, future

March 17th, 2024

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- It has been three and a half years since Steve Cohen finalized his purchase of the Mets, saying -- rather notably at the time -- that it would be “a disappointment” if they didn’t win a World Series within three to five years. They have not, leading Cohen, who is often reminded of that statement, to note on multiple occasions that he’s come to regret his words.

With that as Cohen’s backdrop, it was a more subdued version of the owner who addressed the state of the Mets on Sunday morning at Clover Park. Calmly but firmly, Cohen said, he’s been pleased with the progress of this organization behind the scenes. Optimistically, he added, he believes things are growing healthier by the year.

“I would have hoped we would have had more winning seasons,” Cohen said. “But it’s not easy. In the end, I was given what I was given. I’ve always said I want a sustainable farm system. Well, they don’t grow on trees.”

Regarding that farm, Cohen added: “For the first time, I would say that we’re starting to look stacked.”

Cohen is aware that, from the outside, franchise success is measured in championships and not Minor League growth. But as he’s become more familiar with the day-to-day operations of a Major League Baseball team, the owner has learned the value of patience. He’s more willing to play the long game. Last July, for example, Cohen authorized the widespread sell-off of several of the Mets’ highest-paid players -- including Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander -- before the deadline. That resulted in an influx of prospects to hasten the Mets’ farm system fortification.

Cohen subsequently hired a new president of baseball operations, David Stearns, who spent his inaugural offseason filling the roster with cheaper free agents on one- and two-year deals. In that fashion, Stearns and Cohen believe they’ve built a team capable of competing with others in the National League’s substantial middle class, without sacrificing a single ounce of future competitiveness.

When asked directly on Sunday what would constitute a successful season, Cohen replied: “I think making the playoffs.”

“Obviously, last year was a real disappointment,” Cohen said. “We came in with high expectations. … I think this year, we’ve built up sort of the floor of what’s possible. Listen, there are a couple of great teams in the National League. But other than that, I think we’re as competitive as any other team.”

With Stearns leading the baseball side of things and M. Scott Havens recently hired to head up the business side of the company, Cohen doesn’t feel the same pressure he did a year ago to be involved in the day-to-day operations of the Mets. But he’s still plenty involved in the organization’s “high-level thinking,” which he called “the thing I think I do best.” Among the other high-level topics Cohen discussed on Sunday were:

• Pete Alonso’s contract situation, which Cohen labeled status quo. The Mets haven’t had any discussions with Alonso on an extension, Cohen said, but they feel just as confident that they can retain him through free agency as they did with fellow stars Brandon Nimmo and Edwin Díaz.

• The Willets Point area around Citi Field, which Cohen hopes to build up with a casino, a hotel, bars, restaurants, public parkland and more. He called it “a great plan” with “overwhelming” community support, which New York State must approve over the next 12-18 months.

• Citi Field itself, which Cohen jokingly referred to as a “money pit.” The Mets continue to look for ways to improve their home ballpark, including an expanded luxury club that will open next month.

But even while all that unfolds, Cohen’s attention will still be on the big league roster. In addition to the farm system, he lauded the Mets’ defense, which he believes will be markedly improved over past seasons.

Put it all together, he said, and the team could do more than much of the public believes it will.

“We’ve talked about being competitive, and my expectation is we will be,” Cohen said. “I think the club looks pretty good. I think the general expectations are pretty low, and I think we’re going to surprise to the upside.”