The first thing you notice about new Mets baseball honcho David Stearns is the ability to maintain a wide smile while speaking. He’s always been able to do this, but it probably doesn’t hurt that he just landed an enormous job, if not his “dream” job (the dream would be winning the World Series, he smartly maintained). Nor does it hurt that he didn’t have to endure perhaps the most disappointing season in Mets history, and instead started his big gig the day after.
The most important thing about Stearns, of course, is that he’s the right man for the job, and not just because Steve Cohen thought so after four long in-person meetings and what Stearns guessed was 12 phone calls that culminated in one of the biggest contracts ever bestowed on a baseball executive (an estimated $10 million per, plus incentives). Cohen said his due diligence uncovered universal praise, and I’d say the same after quite a bit less diligence by me.
One rival told me Stearns is one of baseball’s “top two executives,” and notably, he somehow was able to fashion sustainable winning on a relative shoestring — four straight playoff appearances in Milwaukee, which is something considering the 62-year-old, big-market Mets have never strung together more than two.
Stearns chooses words precisely, owing more to his Harvard background than eight years in small-market Milwaukee as their top baseball guy. He also selects words carefully, but I believe his answer to the big Pete Alonso question, which was, “I expect Pete to be the Opening Day first baseman next year.”
Some might suggest that prediction was less than revelatory as it leaves room for mind changing. But I believe it’s reality. And it is also correct. So I’d say Stearns went 1-for-1 on Day 1.
Let’s face it: The Alonso call comes down to this: 1) Lock him up to an extension an offseason ahead of free agency, 2) Keep him and hope you can lock him up after the season, as the Yankees did with Aaron Judge, or 3) Trade him for what will amount to about 50 cents on the dollar, which is what the Red Sox did with Mookie Betts.
Since the third choice stinks, I’ll assume Stearns is off to a great start. But as he suggested, diplomatically, there’s plenty more to do.
I’m going to be quite a bit presumptuous and offer some advice to the man who was suggested to be one of the “top two” baseball executives going. But hey, that’s my job.
He’s already made one managerial call, and while I might have given Buck Showalter another year, it’s understandable and pretty predictable he preferred to bring in someone he believes he aligns with philosophically.
Stearns also said he would consider candidates without any managerial experience, which is the right thing to say but ultimately probably not the right thing to do. Let’s face it, the most successful Mets managers were Gil Hodges, Davey Johnson, Bobby Valentine, Terry Collins and maybe Showalter, and all but Johnson had prior big-league experience.
Eric Chavez and Joey Cora from the coaching staff, and Joe Espada, George Lombard and others should make great big-league managers someday, and somewhere. Stearns did say he sought someone he could “grow with” but he’s here because he already had eight years in this very job.
So why assume a neophyte can do a proven man’s job? As I’ve said, I’d target Dusty Baker or his old friend from Brew City, Craig Counsell?
Stearns said the goal is “sustainable competitiveness,” and he and Cohen don’t sound like they’re writing off next year. Keeping Alonso is a big step. But obviously, considering the Mets finished 10 games behind the small-revenue Marlins, incremental moves won’t do it. So let’s look at some of the bigger options out there.
Keeping Alonso is imperative to competing next year, but it wouldn’t hurt to look at Juan Soto, too. I’m not convinced it’s in the Padres’ DNA to trade a mega star, but maybe the Mets can make a Mookie-like trade for him (while of course locking him up). He’d make a nice and long-awaited lineup complement to Alonso, who sometimes seems naked in that order.
Since the Mets have only two certain starting pitchers, it’s vital they improve the rotation. They have seemed very interested in Yoshinobu Yamamoto as he’s only 25 and wouldn’t cost a draft choice (and also a two-time MVP in Japan). He’d be a plus, as would any of free agents Blake Snell, Aaron Nola, Sonny Gray or Jordan Montgomery. But just as important is the need to bulk up a leaky bullpen. Edwin Diaz’s return will help, but the pen needs a major makeover.
The biggest query of course regards Shohei Ohtani, who remains a two-way threat (hitting and marketing) even though he won’t be able to pitch in 2024. He’d make the Mets must-see baseball, and I don’t want to discourage Cohen too much since he loves to collect the best of everything (and Ohtani qualifies).
Whatever they decide, they’ve already hired the best baseball guy — allegedly, one of the top two, anyway.
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