Mets’ baseball ops job down to its riskiest options

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It really should be a heck of a job.

Big baseball-loving city. Huge, passionate fan base. Owner with the largest wallet in the game.

I would hesitate to advise anyone who might be interested in running Mets baseball operations that there is no place to go but up because the baton passes over the last quarter century of Steve Phillips to Frank Cashen (interim) to Phillips to Jim Duquette to Omar Minaya to John Ricco (interim) to Sandy Alderson to Ricco/Minaya/J.P. Ricciardi (interims) to Brodie Van Wagenen to Jared Porter (zero games) to Zack Scott (very interim) back to Alderson (kind of) has proven that there are sub-basements even in hell.

But what I do believe is there are resources — including a great stadium — to get it right. And if anyone were to ever put the Mets on the sustained path of contention, then think about the rewards.

Yet, the person on Earth who might know that feeling best from having been the architect of Curse-ending titles with the Red Sox and Cubs, Theo Epstein, was barely interested. Neither was Cleveland Browns executive Paul DePodesta, who saw firsthand when he was a Mets official and the team went to the World Series in 2015 just how much New York would embrace the Mets.

The Mets recently received permission from the A’s for Sandy Aldrson to speak to his one-time protege, Oakland’s vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane, to see if there were interest and — if there were — the Mets would ask for more formal permission through the league to have Steve Cohen interview Beane to run baseball operations. But Beane told Alderson he was withdrawing from consideration.

The Mets did ask for permission to speak to Brewers president of baseball operations David Stearns and were denied over the weekend by Milwaukee owner Mark Attanasio. Stearns has one guaranteed year left on his pact, but is believed to have options beyond that. Attanasio is a small-market firebrand and does not want to hire, promote and pay executives on his time and dime and see them poached by bigger markets.

Mets Theo Epstein, Billy Beane, David Stearns
Theo Epstein, Billy Beane and David Stearns are no longer options for the Mets.
Getty Images (3)

Epstein, Beane and Stearns were seen as the Mets gold standard. Now, none are even in play, leaving the Mets in executive “Groundhog Day” — like last offseason they have an open position that they can’t fill. As of Monday, besides Stearns, they have not asked for permission to talk to an executive elsewhere. Really, it should be a heck of a job.

Last offseason, the first of Cohen’s ownership, the team wanted to hire a president of baseball operations, who would in turn enlist a GM. But Cohen ran into a myriad of issues with desired candidates either 1) comfortable where they were, 2) unavailable because they were under contract, 3) concerned about Cohen’s reputation from his hedge fund for, among other things, being tough on employees and/or 4) concerned about the general dysfunction that swirled around the Mets.

So the Mets tabled hiring that position and just went for a GM, Porter, who lasted a month before being dismissed after revelations of harassing text messages to a female reporter. The recently hired assistant GM, Scott, was promoted to interim GM and in early September was placed on administrative leave after being charged with DWI.

Mets
Mets acting GM Zack Scott was placed on administrative leave after being charged with DWI.
Corey Sipkin

The Porter/Scott debacle accentuated another losing season tinged with Wilponesque folly. It was hardly the best foot forward year to seduce the best and brightest to come join the circus. Thus, the Mets are in a similar spot as last offseason facing all the same hurdles to hire this position.

There are many reasons why Cohen has attempted to be subterranean in this search, including that at some point it becomes frustrating and embarrassing to be unable to get who you want to get. In his day job, Cohen basically does not have to worry about asking permission and can simply talk to and try to hire whom he wants.

In baseball, he again is seeing his candidate pool shrivel. One on-paper qualified candidate for whom he would not need permission is Jeff Luhnow, who, among other things, hired Stearns to be his assistant GM in Houston in 2012. Luhnow was suspended for 2020 for his role in the Astro sign-stealing scheme (he denied knowing anything about the operation; MLB was incredulous and banned him for lack of oversight).

Mets Jeff Luhnow
Former Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow
AP

Alex Cora (Boston) and A.J. Hinch (Detroit) came back from their suspensions to instantly land managing jobs and regain reputations for, at least, being superb at that role. The core of the team Luhnow built in Houston has proven excellent even after his dismissal, making the ALCS the last two years.

Yet, can the Mets really hire Luhnow? It is not just the sign stealing. Cohen had “Me Too” problems at his hedge fund that gave pause to his approval to run the Mets by other owners. In his first year on the job, he had the high bid on Trevor Bauer (on administrative leave while authorities in California determine whether to charge the Dodger pitcher in an alleged sexual assault), had harassment revelations emerge about Mickey Callaway and minor league coach Ryan Ellis from their Mets days but pre-dating Cohen’s ownership and had to fire Porter. Cohen and Alderson promised a shift both in culture and intentionality in the hiring process, so what do they tell employees (especially female employees) if they were to enlist Luhnow?

Luhnow, as Astro GM, acquired Roberto Osuna while the reliever was serving a suspension for violating MLB’s domestic abuse policy — part of the case against the Luhnow administration dismissing humanity for wins. The assistant GM Luhnow hired, Brandon Taubman, harassed three reporters in the victorious 2019 ALCS clubhouse, taunting them about being happy to have Osuna. He initially lied about it, leading to the Astros at first sticking by him, including to attack the female reporter who broke the story. The Astros backtracked a few days later when it became obvious what Taubman did.

Luhnow, who did not reply to multiple inquiries about whether he is in play for the Mets job, can offer plausible (depending on your view) deniability about the sign stealing. But not with Osuna and Taubman. Those were his choices.

Maybe that is enough to keep Cohen from pivoting in that direction. But he is looking at a chessboard similar to last offseason. His preferred candidates are beyond his reach. He has no president of baseball ops, no GM and no manager.

He has a heck of a job to offer. Doesn’t he?

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