Steven A. Cohen did not expect to be in this position when the season began. Cohen, the billionaire owner of the Mets, had committed nearly $500 million to free agents this off-season, looking to improve a roster that was coming off a 101-win season. And yet there he was on Wednesday, sitting in the Citi Field news conference room fielding questions about the sorry state of his fourth-place team.
“We have quality players, and for some reason or another, they’re not gelling,” Cohen said. “It’s kind of weird.”
Not gelling is an understatement. The Mets entered Wednesday’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers 16 ½ games behind the Atlanta Braves in the National League East and 8 ½ games out of the final wild-card spot. They were closer in the standings to the American League’s Oakland Athletics, an organization stripped to spare parts as it plans its escape to Las Vegas, than they were to first place in their division. Then they lost by 5-2 Wednesday, taking their seventh defeat in the past 10 games.
Cohen had announced the surprise news conference a day earlier on Twitter, sparking speculation that he might channel the fiery scenes that were common in New York when George Steinbrenner owned the Yankees.
Instead, Cohen seemed resigned to the fact that the Mets are now a playoff long shot this season — those odds were 12.8 percent, according to FanGraphs. But seated on a chair designed to look like a baseball mitt, and in front of a circular table with a Mets logo on it — both of which were brought in special for his news conference — he said he won’t be making rash decisions to try to turn the team’s fortunes around.
Known for his shrewd moves as a hedge fund manager, Cohen preached patience and focusing on the long-term stability of the organization. That means, Cohen said, that Manager Buck Showalter and General Manager Billy Eppler will be keeping their jobs for the remainder of the season.
“I’m a patient guy,” Cohen said. “Everybody wants a headline. Everybody says, ‘Fire this person,’ ‘Fire that person.’ But I don’t see that as a way to operate. If you want to attract good people to this organization, the worst thing you can do is be impulsive.”
In seeking to rebuild the club inside and out, Cohen confirmed that he wants to hire a president of baseball operations — a statement that will only further fuel the speculation that Cohen covets David Stearns, the former president of the Brewers who is currently in an advisory role with that team — and to build a sustainable player development system, neither of which the Mets currently have.
Money alone isn’t going to fix the organization’s structural flaws. To do that, he said, he needs to “attract the best, and they’re not going to want to work for somebody who has a short fuse.”
That means that any changes Cohen makes during the season will be with the roster, and based on the current state of the team, the Mets are more likely to be sellers than buyers ahead of the Aug. 1 trade deadline.
When asked whether he would consider trading the team’s co-aces, the right-handers Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer, should the Mets continue to spiral, Cohen dodged the question. “These are great pitchers,” he said. “We brought them in for a reason.”
That reason was to win, and the Mets aren’t winning.
Scherzer, 38, is 7-2 with a 3.95 E.R.A. but also served a 10-game suspension for a violation of the league’s prohibition on the use of foreign substances on a baseball. Verlander, 40, is 2-4 with a 4.11 E.R.A. a year after winning the A.L.’s Cy Young Award for the Houston Astros. He signed with the Mets to great fanfare but has had uneven results after beginning the season on the injured list with a shoulder strain.
With Cohen playing the long game, the ace pitchers could be more valuable for what the organization could get in return in a deal for them than they have been on the field.
Last week, when the Mets traded the veteran third baseman Eduardo Escobar to the Los Angeles Angels for two pitching prospects, they agreed to pay all of Escobar’s $9.5 million salary. They would almost certainly have to do that if they were to trade Scherzer or Verlander, too, with both making a league-record $43.333 million this season on a team with a record payroll.
“I already consider that money spent,” Cohen said. “In an unfortunate circumstance, if I can find ways to improve our farm system and that’s the path we take, I’m willing to do it.”