Two “ifs” first:
“If” Steve Cohen gains control of the Mets by receiving the necessary 23 ownership votes and “if” he decides to remove Brodie Van Wagenen as head of baseball operations, then his priority should be securing Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein.
Talent to do a job must come first, and Epstein was the architect of two champions. But what makes him ideal for the Mets is the identity of the two champs — the cursed Red Sox and Cubs.
The Mets must stop operating as if they are hexed and a second-class citizen in New York. They need a black-cloud extraction. No one can provide credibility in that area like Epstein.
He helped make the Curses of the Bambino and Billy Goat vanish. The Yankees have not wanted to see Alex Rodriguez as Mets owner. Beware what you wish for. Imagine how the Yanks would feel, though, if Epstein showed up in their neighborhood with Cohen’s billions of dollars backing him? The Red Sox have won four titles to the Yankees’ one since Epstein helped change the narrative of that rivalry forever.
Will Cohen do this? He is not publicly providing insights. Maybe he will value continuity in the short term. When he was close to buying the Dodgers before the 2012 season, word was he would have strongly considered Arn Tellem — coincidentally with an agent background like Van Wagenen — to be team president. It is possible Cohen could try for Tellem (now vice chairman of the Detroit Pistons) or someone with that gravitas to come in as president to oversee Van Wagenen and see how that works for 2021.
But I do not believe Cohen will feel pressure to stand pat simply because of the calendar, should he not be approved (if he is approved) until late October or November. This is not a billionaire from Minneapolis buying the Mets.
Cohen grew up in Great Neck and is a lifelong Mets fan. He has owned a minority stake in the team for eight years. He watches the games (his wife and father-in-law are avid Mets fans, too). He has talked baseball philosophy with Van Wagenen. Thus, he would take over with a strong opinion on everything with the Mets, including if Van Wagenen, midway through a four-year contract, should stay.
He plans to own the team for the rest of his life and is not going to be dissuaded for what is best for just 2021. Besides, with the lost revenue in the game in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, the expectation is the free-agent market is going to be flooded with a bunch of non-tenders and be slow moving, as a majority of teams aim to cut payroll next year.
There usually is a new-owner syndrome to spend money immediately to make a mark, so do you — for example — think the agents for J.T. Realmuto, George Springer and other high-end players will wait to see what Cohen wants to do with his $14 billion even if a GM is not hired until, say, mid-November or not?
So the only question is: Does Cohen want Van Wagenen? If not, he could look into New York or New York-area-raised Mets fans like him, such as Indians GM Mike Chernoff (his first baseball job was as a $50-a-week Mets intern), Rangers GM Jon Daniels and Brewers GM David Stearns. All are qualified, with Stearns (who previously worked for the Mets) particularly intriguing and attractive.
Cohen’s hedge fund is facing a gender-discrimination suit, and to counter perceptions maybe he would like to hire the first female head of baseball operations. Yankees assistant GM Jean Afterman has never shown the desire for such a job, but if she did, this would not be a token. She is tough, smart and would have credentials as good or better than someone like Tellem.
If Cohen were thinking groundbreaking and long term, he could hire the first black baseball GM in New York history by promoting Brooklyn-born Mets executive director of player development Jared Banner, whose star is rising in the game — he is just 33. But Brian Cashman was just 30 when the Yankees tabbed him, and the youngest GM hire ever was just 28 — that was Epstein by the Red Sox after the 2002 season.
Three questions to answer why the now 46-year-old Epstein would be the right hire:
Why would the Cubs let him go? Epstein has always said his life span in any baseball executive job is 10 years. He is in Year 9 with the Cubs. He is owed about $10 million next year. One area that owners have indicated cuts could be coming is in the high-priced baseball operations heads (Cohen’s billions would be more immune to this). Cubs owner Tom Ricketts probably would not stand in Epstein’s way, especially since a succession plan with current Chicago GM Jed Hoyer has been long layed out.
Why would Epstein do it? When contacted by The Post, Epstein offered no comment. And Epstein is of the status that you should expect: 1. He would interview a next owner as much as the owner would interview him; 2. He would demand an ownership stake, akin to, say, what Billy Beane has in Oakland.
But no matter what they say, executives care about legacy. The Red Sox and Cubs titles almost certainly ticketed Epstein for Cooperstown. But if he helped get a parade for a third cursed franchise, Epstein arguably becomes the greatest North American sports executive in history.
His wife is from Bloomfield, N.J., and we know Epstein is adrenalized by big markets and massive projects.
Why would the Mets pick him? To repeat: He is talented, proven and a hex-breaker. He is smart, competitive and collaborative. Also, the Mets should have no fear of a late start with him. He was hired as a first-time GM on Nov. 25, 2002, after Beane spurned the Red Sox at the 11th hour. Before spring training ended, he made seemingly small trades or free agent signings of Bronson Arroyo, Kevin Millar, Bill Mueller, David Ortiz and Mike Timlin — a quintet who helped Boston go to ALCS Game 7 in 2003 and end The Curse the following year. A late start won’t hurt on player personnel with a skilled person who has been working for an NL team and has firm opinions.
It would have greater impact in forming a staff. But Epstein hired Banner and Mets assistant GM Allard Baird in Boston, so he would enter with strong ties to two key lieutenants. Plus he’d be able to pick from the scores of executives and scouts who have been laid off recently throughout the game in COVID-related cutbacks.
Epstein would be an ideal choice for the Mets. Does Cohen want to make a change? Would he come?
New York Post
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