BY LESLIE MONTEIRO
(Photo by Alejandra Villa Loarca/Newsday RM via Getty Images)
To say Steve Cohen’s first year as the Mets owner was a disappointment is an understatement.
Everything went wrong last season. The Mets couldn’t hit. His signature move in Francisco Lindor turned out to be a bust. Mets ace Jacob deGrom spent various times on the injured list. The owner expressed his frustration with the Mets anemic offense on Twitter during the team’s West Coast trip. The Mets shortstop and Jeff McNeil got into a fight in the Mets dugout that had nothing to do with whether there was a rat or raccoon. Lindor and summer acquisition Javier Baez expressed their thumbs-down approval of fans booing them. Mets general manager Zack Scott was arrested and charged with DWI, which cost him his job. In the end, they finished 77-85, which cost Luis Rojas his job as the Mets manager.
Cohen didn’t anticipate it would be this bad. His honeymoon ended, and he received criticism from frustrated Mets fans and even some media members in town after being hailed a hero. It was a Welcome to New York moment that he won’t forget. He also understood the reality of how hard it is to be a Major League Baseball owner, especially being a Met.
He can only hope it does not get worse in his second year as owner. It could always get worse. That’s just the life of being a Met. Already, he lost deGrom for two months after a stress reaction on his right scapula. He was fortunate Max Scherzer, his off-season’s signature free agent signing, looked good to go for Friday against the Washington Nationals after his hamstring acted up last weekend.
But Cohen should feel things can get better in his second year. It started when he hired Buck Showalter to manage the Mets this offseason. This improves the team by 10 wins already. The Mets have a manager who knows what he is doing in the dugout. There’s leadership from the managerial position that has been missing since Terry Collins left after the 2017 season. You can bet this team won’t be outworked and unmanaged anymore with Showalter’s attention to detail.
The Mets owner needed a baseball guy he can trust. He thought he got that from Sandy Alderson, but that turned out to be a disaster. Alderson failed to make a move that made the Mets better, and he fired Chili Davis for two hitting coaches who had no idea what they were doing in Hugh Quattlebaum and Kevin Howard. Davis’ successors often confused the hitters with the launch angle nonsense that Alderson preached.
He found his guy in Showalter. This is a manager who can adapt to today’s players. He is a teacher that knows how to develop players and maximize the 25-man roster. He believes in winning from within. He doesn’t believe in making excuses, and he responded well after deGrom was sent to the injured list by saying this is an opportunity for the other starters such as Opening Day starter Tylor Megill to step up. It’s a good bet he encouraged Cohen not to make the rumored trade of acquiring Padres starter Chris Paddack for Dominic Smith.
Showalter won’t let his players wallow in losses the way his predecessors Mickey Callaway and Rojas did. He will get the Mets ready to go just to avoid a losing streak. The players likely will follow his lead since he commands respect.
It wasn’t just hiring Showalter that gives Cohen a reprieve. The Mets owner hired a general manager that knows what he is doing by signing guys with the right makeup to play in this market.
The Mets signed Eduardo Escobar, Starling Marte, Mark Canha and Scherzer to provide leadership on and off the field. They also acquired Chris Bassitt, who could be valuable this season since there’s no way we can expect deGrom to make 25 or more starts with his chronic injuries. Signing Scherzer proved again that Cohen will do what it takes to win. For him to convince the former Washington Nationals star to sign with them, it showed right there Cohen has the gravitas to sell players to play for the Mets.
If Cohen needed to win the day, it was the offseason. Not bad after many general manager candidates rejected his overtures to run his ballclub. Not bad when Steven Matz of all people decided to sign with the St. Louis Cardinals rather than play for his hometown Mets again.
So the Mets owner gets a much-needed reprieve for now. But to make amends for last season, the Mets should be a playoff team at the bare minimum, especially when there are three wild-cards now.
It’s hard to think they are a World Series contender. They are certainly not going to be there or win it all without deGrom, but they should be a playoff team because of enough depth in the starting rotation, a well-balanced lineup and a good bullpen.
The Mets can get past the first round, but they will be hard-pressed to go past the National League Championship Series. The Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers are deep, talented and experienced come playoff time for the Mets to match up with them.
It is not a crime if the Mets fall short of a championship this year.
But it will be a crime if they fall short of playing meaningful games in September and playing postseason games in October.
For a team that has a projected $286 million, a reprieve can only last so long for Cohen.
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