Cohen's goal for Mets: Champs in 3-5 years

November 10th, 2020

NEW YORK -- Steve Cohen’s earliest baseball memories are of visiting the Polo Grounds with his father to watch the Mets in their infancy. Raised on Long Island, Cohen later hopped the train to Shea Stadium, where he peered down from the upper deck to watch his idols play. He cringed when Jimmy Qualls broke up Tom Seaver’s perfect game with one out in the ninth. He rejoiced when Mookie Wilson’s grounder dribbled through Bill Buckner’s legs. He counts the final out of the 1969 World Series among his greatest baseball memories.

As the decades passed, Cohen’s allegiance to his childhood team did not wane; to the contrary, it became the backdrop for his current vision. Four days after officially taking control of the Mets, Cohen on Tuesday described a future of high ideals in Flushing, with a commitment to both immediate and sustained success.

“The amount of work that's going to be required here is more than a hobby,” Cohen said. “I consider it something that I’m essentially doing it for the fans. When I really thought about this, I can make millions of people happy. And what an incredible opportunity that is.”

Cohen has already begun that work, hiring Sandy Alderson as team president and overseeing the initial stages of significant front-office turnover. Much more will come for an owner uniquely positioned to take the franchise to places it has never previously explored.

Cohen’s ownership begins with fandom

Mostly dormant until this month, Cohen’s Twitter account has since exploded with activity as he’s used it to interact directly with fans. Cohen has broken news on social media, offering updates on the sale of the team. He has bantered about his desire for an Old-Timers’ Day at Citi Field and offered optimism for the future.

“I don’t have a big ego. I’m doing it for them,” Cohen said of his purchase. “I’m a low-key guy and I relate to them. I know how they feel. These are smart fans. They know what they’re talking about. And if they’re emotional, that means they care. I’d rather have emotional fans who are passionate than fans who don’t care.”

Cohen knows because he is one of them. A Great Neck native, he did not want to own a Major League Baseball team simply for the sake of owning a team, nor does he expect to profit from it financially. For various reasons, Cohen wanted to buy the Dodgers about a decade ago. He entered negotiations to buy the Mets about a year ago, but those fell through. Many other clubs did not interest him and, for a time, Cohen assumed his dream of owning a team was dead.

When the Mets went up for auction earlier this year, however, Cohen considered it the perfect opportunity to turn his childhood ballclub into his own.

There will be autonomy within baseball operations

Despite his commitment to the Mets, Cohen still has his “day job” at Point72, the hedge fund that made him one of the country’s richest people. He intends to check in with Alderson regularly, asking “probing questions” and expecting “reasonable answers.”

“But ultimately,” Cohen said of the Mets’ baseball operations department, “they’re the experts.”

That is a departure from previous ownership, which was intimately involved in even minor baseball decisions. As chief operating officer, Jeff Wilpon played a significant role in shaping the franchise; Cohen, by contrast, intends to leave most decisions up to Alderson and whomever he hires as his top-ranking baseball ops official.

“I’m not a micromanager,” Cohen said. “I hold my people accountable, but I give them a lot of rope to run.”

The Mets intend to spend

As the game’s richest owner, Cohen is uniquely capable of signing off on significant increases to the Mets’ annual payroll. He cautioned Tuesday that the Mets will not spend “like drunken sailors,” but he also indicated a commitment “to act like a major-market team.”

“We want to be thoughtful about it,” Cohen said. “We’re in an unusual market today given COVID where we’re starting to see a lot of players maybe offloaded because of financial concerns, and I think Sandy and I want to take advantage of that. So I think there will be lots of opportunities. I think teams are going to want to talk to us, and we’ll see what’s available.”

Alderson described it as emphasizing “the acquisition rather than the cost,” indicating that the Mets will still practice prudence while reaching for players they believe are worth the risk. And they have a unique ability to take risks this winter, with tens of millions of dollars coming off the books. Combined with Cohen’s deep pockets, the Mets should be well-situated to fill their needs at catcher, in the rotation and the bullpen, among other places. He also intends to build up infrastructure in areas such as scouting and analytics.

The commitment to winning

Every incoming owner, executive, manager and coach speaks glowingly about his passion to win. That is not unique to Cohen. Oftentimes, such platitudes do little to change the trajectory of a club.

What’s different with Cohen is the confluence of factors above. Under previous ownership, the Mets made the playoffs three times in 19 seasons. Cohen has not only the desire as a lifelong Mets fan to change that, but also the business acumen and deep pockets required to run things at an optimal level. Asked Tuesday about his aspirations, Cohen said bluntly that he will be disappointed if the Mets do not win a World Series within three to five years.

“The Mets are a storied franchise, if you will,” Alderson said. “Some of the stories have been good. Some have been bad. If we want to be an iconic franchise, which I think we are capable of doing, we need to write more good stories than bad, and occasionally, we have to write a really epic story. That's what really excites me about these next few months and years.”